Electric Picnic review: Mavis Staples – We’re watching music royalty

The Chicago blues legend’s deep, mellow voice drips with life and experience

Mavis Staples: the singer is heading for 80, but you wouldn’t know it. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Mavis Staples: the singer is heading for 80, but you wouldn’t know it. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

MAVIS STAPLES

Main Stage
Waking up to the news that Donald Trump is coming to Ireland, it can be hard to remember there’s good in the world. That’s why we need people like Mavis Staples. Chicago blues singer, gospel singer, civil-rights activist and all-round music legend, Staples is heading for 80, but you wouldn’t know it to see her on stage. “I’ve got people who love me,” she sings in a deep, mellow voice dripping with life and experience. Listening is like being washed over by whiskey, or hot chocolate, depending on your fancy. Covering Talking Heads’ Slippery People three songs in, she and the band find their groove, and we get ours on, too. The music gets deep into your bones as she totally owns Respect Yourself, The Staple Singers’ 1971 classic. She promises us blues later on, but now she’s offering “joy, happiness and positive vibrations”. She goes on to sing of a divided country, and opening the shades to let the light right in. If music could do it, we might yet be okay. “What took you so long?” she asks the crowd. “We’ve been around an awful long time.” She’s right: she was there on the Selma marches. We’re watching music royalty. In one of the Picnic’s worst-kept secrets, she’s joined on stage for a “surprise” session with Hozier, to sing The Band’s The Weight, and together they pull into Nazareth. Staples’s voice has been sampled time and again. Hearing the real thing is a privilege.

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