Harleighblu @ The Cellar, Oxford, 21/02/14

More than any other type of music, funk and soul requires tight musicianship. Without it you’ve got no grooves. Without groove, you’re dead in the water before you even start.

To be fair to Harleighblu and her band, their van broke down on the motorway on the way to tonight’s gig, so they had no soundcheck. But that only excuses the first couple of numbers. The malaise behind this shambling wreck of a set goes deeper than an overheated engine.

Harleighblu herself, all bleached dreadlocks and soulful intensity, has a great voice, a fiery, strident mix of Lauryn Hill and Eryka Badu, and in other circumstances maybe she could sound like the star Tru Thoughts Records imagined they’d signed. Tonight’s mess of dated 90s beats and mushy funk jams do no-one any justice. There’s barely a tune to be grasped and what melody is discernible is either a vague steal (from Portishead’s ‘Sour Times’) or a direct cover (a version of Eurythmics’ ‘Who’s That Girl’ so abominable it takes us a good couple of minutes to even recognise it as such). At every turn it feels like the band members are meeting each other for the first time, the rhythm section stilted as well as dated, Harleighblu too often overridden by her own backing singer. Ultimately it gets so bad we start hankering for the annoyingly chipper jazz-funk party band who opened the show and whose small army of friends start to drift off into the night in the face of the headline act’s ineptitude.

Given the reviews accorded the young Nottingham singer’s debut album, Forget Me Not, and the endorsements of Craig Charles, Don Letts and Trevor Nelson, we have to conclude we just caught a disaster of a night, a one-off breakdown not just of transport but communication between band members. We hope so. The alternative is that someone somewhere is selling us a pup.