“I had a really good time, that venue is fucking sick.”
Shura is referring to the ‘Gimme Shelter’ gig she just played at the Moth Club in Hackney as part of the homeless charity Shelter’s series of events to celebrate their 50th anniversary and, needless to say, she enjoyed herself.
She’s right about the venue. It somehow mixes the faded glory of a working mens club with some serious bling; gold glitter adorns the arched ceiling and the back of the tiny stage is decked out a similarly glitzy curtain and a gold sign that spells out Moth.
Or as the 25-year-old describes it: “It’s like if David Lynch designed a working mens club, in East London. There’s something a bit Lynchian about it, but not in an expensive way - with a really low budget.”
It’s size and low ceilings also turn it into a sweatbox on this particular summer’s evening, and Shura soon dispatches the wooly hat she’s inexplicably wearing as she takes the stage.
However, her trademark oversized denim jacket is not dispensed with: “I have never sweated that much at a gig in my life. It was really hot, and I always try and play in a denim jacket, because I really like them. Then I always get too hot, but you’ve got the sweat patch scenario, so you can’t take it off and you’re kinda screwed.”
For those not up to speed, Shura first came to public attention when she was long-listed in the BBC Sound of 2015 poll. Roll forward to July 2016 and her debut album was released to widespread acclaim.
Nothing’s Real is a record that both embraces and belies the youthfulness of its creator. With more than a slight nod to 80s pop, the predominantly electronic record expertly weaves vulnerable, romantic lyrics into energetic pop bangers, whilst avoiding tedious retro posturing. It’s very much a record for here and now.
It’s Nothing’s Real's contrasts that make it such a delight, and Shura believes that it is a reflection of her own personality.
“I think that comes from a dichotomy in my personality. On one level I’m really fucking awkward and can be incredibly embarrassing, and yet on another level I’m perfectly confident talking to strangers about things in my personal life in a way as a result of this record, so that's a kind of confidence.
“So I think I have this personality of two extremes. I think in music I do that as well. My lyrics, when you listen to them, it’s like: 'Holy fuck I wanna cry.' I’ve always loved that about Whitney Houston for instance. I think her songs are an incredible example of, if you actually think about it for a second, she’s talking about some guy cheating on her. It’s just something I’m interested in I guess.”
Shura was born in the early 90s, so you might wonder why an era she wasn’t even alive for had had such an impact. But she explains it was by osmosis, and it took her a while to reconcile herself to its charms.
“I just grew up with it, hearing it in the house. It was what my parents listened to, which is why for a very long time I didn’t like it. I was resistant to say in public that was what I listened to.
“You get a bit older, and it reminds you of being young, reminds me of being free, and not having any complications in life. It becomes this source of comfort. In later life, you learn to embrace it. I made peace with pop music through being nostalgic about an era of music I heard, not through choice, but because of the house I lived in.”
She footnotes her perfectly articulate answer with, “Sorry, that’s a really weird answer. It’s a normal answer phrased in a really awkward way,” and for the first time in our conversation her open, chatty, and confident manner is peppered with a glimpse of the awkwardness she speaks of.
So often her music plays out the same way. 'What’s it Gonna Be' pleads: "I still wanna give it try / If you let me down, let me down slow" while ‘What Happened To Us’ laments "I was never ready for your love / No, I'm no child but I don't feel grown up.” And yet both songs blindside the listener with infectious up-tempo beats and inescapable hooks.
Live, you wonder how this dichotomy might play out.
She says of performing: “I wouldn’t say I’m a natural performer - in the sense that I don’t practice in front of a mirror singing with the hairbrush.
“Performing wasn’t part of my imagined life as a musician. I like playing songs as if I were in a band. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to be a musician - to be in a band. So now I’m a solo artist making pop music. There’s elements of pop music - like the end of 'White Light' - that’s a slightly prog instrumental, and ‘What Happened To Us’ is a bit Bruce Springsteen.
“And I’m learning to enjoy it. In the beginning, I was like: ‘Fuck I’m really nervous!’ So that was the initial emotion associated with playing live. I still feel awkward on stage, but I don’t see that as a problem. I just sort of go ‘thats what I am’ and I’m just gonna live with it and love it.
“Not everyone needs to see someone move on stage like Beyonce and fucking kick ass. And yes she’s incredible at that. I can’t… I’m never gonna be as good as Beyonce, so I’m just gonna let her do that and be me. But thank god there is a Beyonce!”
She may not be Beyonce, but Shura’s performance at the Moth Club evokes much the same feeling as on the record. Her ever-so-slightly gawky demeanour is a charming companion to her slick musical prowess that results in joyous, danceable tunes with solid emotional purchase.
Added to this the show is all for a good cause, and one that Shura is keen to support.
“As I said in a very clumsy way yesterday, I think in London it’s incredibly fucking important, it’s important anyway, but especially in the city where rents are just mental. It’s so difficult.
“I mean I’m really fortunate where I live in a flat. I still pay rent and it’s normal pricing for London, but it’s in a nice part of town, because my parents own this flat. Now I pay more rent, but when I first left university they were like: ‘You can have it for a reduced price’. I wouldn’t have been able to stay in London if it wasn’t for that.”
“[The gig] was boiling hot which means people get a little bit tipsy, and maybe give a little bit more money.”
In addition to her music’s referencing of the decade that spawned Madonna’s ‘True Blue’ and Whitney’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, her self-made videos are influenced by the films of John Hughes.
‘What’s It Gonna Be’ is like a rebooted ‘Breakfast Club’ and unsurprisingly, it’s the singers favourite film from the late filmmaker.
“I’m gonna be really boring and say the ‘Breakfast Club’. Mainly because of all the clothes in it, and obviously I referenced it quite heavily for ‘What’s It Gonna Be’.
“I came to it really late in life,I was in my 20s; it wasn’t something I watched as a kid. So this whole aesthetic of social awkwardness passed me by. Where was this when I needed it a few years ago?”
You might think that social awkwardness might well be a thing of the past now the album is out and has received such a positive response, but even then Shura seems a little wary of settling for critical praise.
“It’s been bonkers. I knew I liked it (laughs). I thought it was good, otherwise I wouldn’t have put it out, but of course I was worried. I did that thing of being like [mock moody teenage voice] ’I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I love it’. But then you get your first few reviews and they’re nice, and it’s like: ‘Thank fuck for that.’ Clearly I did care, which is an interesting one, because the thing is none of it matters. If someone says ‘your record’s shit’ it doesn’t matter, then if someone says ‘it’s brilliant’ it doesn’t matter.
“But it is nice, and I am pleased with the response, and maybe the poor sods who have been fans of me for a long time and have had to wait aren’t disappointed. That’s a big part of it - ‘all that waiting and it was not fucking worth it. On to the next whoever is on the sound poll’”, she quips.
“I’m really proud of my record. I really love it. I’m really glad that it’s the first thing I put out into the world. I know I can look back in ten years and not be embarrassed or ashamed. I might be like: ‘I wish I was better at producing’, or, ‘I wish I’d sung that better’, but then at the same time you know what, fuck it, I just tried my best.”
Speaking of trying your best, pre-pop stardom Shura played football for Manchester City when she was younger, but gave up kicking a football about out in the cold for her musical ambitions.
Does she still have a kick about now and again?
“Yeah I definitely do. I love sport, not that I’m a super fitness freak, but in a fun way. I definitely still play in the summer - I’m not going to do it right now - I’m gonna sit down and have an ale and play some board games.”
Sounds reasonable. Seeing how she loves sport will she be watching the Olympic Games?
“I get really emotional watching them because just seeing people win and be good at stuff is an emotional experience, because if you’ve been training that hard for something then to have your dream come true that must be such a brilliant emotion.
“It’s fucking amazing to watch people be good at stuff, especially in a world where we’re so negative, all constantly being negative about things. So, it’s nice to celebrate.”
And there’s another thing Shura’s right about, it is amazing to watch people be good at stuff and well worth celebrating.
Gimme Shelter was a series of events that took place across the capital to mark the housing and homelessness charity’s 50th anniversary. Focused around literature, art, music and film, the four unique events throughout the summer will support Shelter’s work to help people facing homelessness and bad housing. More information about the charity's work, and the events they put on, can be found on their official website.