Belgrave Music Hall seems to be cementing itself as the home of neo-jazz and soul in Leeds. Oscar Jerome; Nubya Garcia; Alfa Mist and more – Pip Millet and her support duo the KTNA add to that bill with a perfect dose of R&B goodness.
The KTNA reel the crowds in from bagging pints with their powerful, gorgeously paired voices. The sisters, who were born up in Kenya and grew up in Manchester, have the kind vocal range that you can’t help but gawk at; their straight-talking, no-shit-taking lyrics are effortlessly enticing, as they stand confidently in all-black boots, matching cropped blazers, and cat eye sunglasses.
Their steely, soulful track ‘B.S’ was written in the depths of the pandemic for the duo’s first full album ‘Resurgence’. Whilst the song was written at the height of government incompetence during the resurgence of COVID-19 in 2021, the song resonates with whatever ‘bullshit’ those running the country are pulling at any current moment: which right now is punctuated by the scandal of parties held at 10 Downing Street at the beginning of the pandemic. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore”, the duo makes the crowd repeat after them – it rings true now, as much as ever.
If the KTNA’s voices were powerful enough to drag everyone into the gig room, Pip Millet’s voice is soft enough to keep everybody transfixed. And Millet is all softness: her
tracks are constantly treading the line between defiance and vulnerability, but her demeanour, her vocals, almost everything about her is steady and controlled. Though at first her presence seemed somewhat drowned out by her backing tracks and band, as she settled into the set, I began to think how refreshing it was to have somebody so laidback, and so calm on stage. Instead of forcing out false energy, she held back with tender restraint.
If Millet’s band do feel a little detached from the singer throughout the set, in a way it holds Millet more steadily as a self-standing artist that she is. The live melodies undoubtably bring to life the art of her recordings, and Millet gives praise to the bassist on her left who, she explains, only learnt the tracks the day before.
The artist’s recent EP ‘Motion Sick’ are some of the biggest crowd pleasers: ‘Hard Life’ is one of them, sampling Family Connection’s ‘This Time’ underneath a soulful groove in a style reminiscent to Loyle Carner. Experimental samples are often in the background of the set, mixed in behind the live instrumentals, whilst a couple of covers display Millet’s tastes more obviously: her rendition of Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, released as a single in 2019, resounds with sultry smoothness, while Bob Marley’s ‘Could You Be Loved’ is a simple, joyful moment.
‘Lost In June’, Millet’s 2020 EP, is attributed to the loss of her grandmother. Introducing ‘Ava’, Pip explains how she wrote the song about grief, and how her own song has helped her through this grief since. Millet isn’t writing music with only intension for the masses: she is writing it for herself as much as anybody else.
Announcing that she is near the end of her set, it’s clear that the artist is suddenly overwhelmed by the increased clapping and cheering of the crowd. On the verge of tears, Pip aptly follows into her final track, her most popular single ‘Don’t Make Me Cry’. There is a hint of shyness in the twenty-three-year-old – perhaps this is part of her restraint – but though she holds back, she is assured of her talent all the way through the night, right the way through to the shouts for more songs into the darkness.
Words by Kate Wassell