Print Features Editor Jaysim Hanspal reviews Maverick Sabre at SWX, Bristol
I interviewed Maverick last summer for his new album When I Wake Up. Sabre has been making music for a while now, but remains understated and makes his music with the integrity of an artist who still cares about what he’s producing. He was endlessly charming (probably the only time I’ve blushed during a phone interview), and normal in the best sense of the word. A large influence on the Irish hip-hop scene, he’s completely different to what you would expect from your run-of-the-mill Irish hip-hop rapper (if indeed you had any expectations). With the thickest Irish accent you’ve ever heard he talked about his “rock-n-roll” lifestyle of cleaning his flat and doing endless phone interviews on a rainy day. His show, on an average Wednesday almost a year later, was equally as intimate: a small crowd of people that could’ve easily been family and friends, standing around watching their housemate/son/uncle doing the thing that he loves.
Sabre’s set was predominantly acoustic versions of his classic hits, an unexpected choice for a singer who usually makes the most of his band. With a single blue light illuminating Sabre for the audience, this modest set-up made the gig feel even more intimate. He used the crowd as his backing for almost every song, and it almost felt like we were in a church – a crowd of people worshipping, hands held high in the air. This soulful vibe was both sad and uplifting, and it’s clear he was working hard to make every note perfect.
It almost felt like we were in a church – a crowd of people worshipping, hands held high in the air
His first song ‘Slow Down’ (originally performed with Jorja Smith), was almost wistful in its quiet cool. Like most of his songs, ‘Slow Down’ is produced to be crystal-clear both digitally and live, and unlike many artists live, he doesn’t disappoint at all. Just like Vin Diesel, Sabre describes Smith and Chronixx as “family” and it’s clear that he doesn’t trust just anybody with his music. These new songs are much more vulnerable than his previous records, and he makes you feel like you’ve intruded in on a private moment, which makes it all the more powerful. “I’ve been tryin’ not to let you go/But I’m fighting on my own”. While his lyrics sound classically pop, the emotion he uses to fill his songs is clearly what draws people to his music.
Thankfully for the fans, Sabre also played some new renditions of his more well-known songs like “I Need”. His voice was melodic and he was practically drowned out by the voices mirroring his right back. His songs are vaguely nostalgic, and so you find yourself thinking about warm moments in your own life: “Something good/And I need blue skies/I need them old times”. Every line is comforting. This was a supportive crowd, but he kept them at his own pace, strumming along like a busker at the end of a long day.
By the time Sabre got to ‘Her Grace’, he was giving it his all. With the passion of a student spoken word poet, he threw the lyrics out angrily: “She’s lying on the bathroom floor/And she don’t want to feel no more/And she can’t even scream to call/He beats, he tore, she bleeds, she hurts”. Even without music, the lyrics form incredibly powerful poetry, and the hip-hop roots are clear to see. For a male artist, content like this is sometimes quite surprising, but as Sabre says “we’re at a time at the moment, where messages like that need to be heard”.
His socially conscious take on music is not new, he’s always been passionate about social issues, but this image has never really concerned him. Mid-song he asks the audience to vote, no matter who they vote for (“just not Boris”) because “this is young people’s opportunity to choose”. Sabre writes what he sees, and that is what I think makes his lyrics resonate. Undeniably the best song of his set, there was an atmosphere in the air that tied everyone together. No arms were waving this time, and you could feel every sad lyric pass over the audience like magic.
He kept the crowd at his own pace, strumming along like a busker at the end of a long day
By the time his short 30-minute set was over, the crowd seemed satisfied, filtering out in an excitable chatter, as young girls elbowed their way to the merch line. I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to hear ‘Guns In The Distance’, but a short and punchy set was just as satisfying. I left SWX with a crisp white t-shirt and a smile.