Developed by the osteopath Phil Parker, it claims to inhibit the adrenalin cycle that causes a stress response. “Without them, I wouldn’t be making music,” she says. I bring this up, but after a minute-long hesitation, false eyelashes quivering, she refuses to expand. Tears come when I listen to these new songs, but it’s a different kind of weeping.
“Every time I stepped on stage, it was this ultimate moment,” says Mvula. Then there is the devotion of Prince, whom she supported last year: “On Twitter he said he wakes up to Green Garden every morning. It was Mvula’s love of communal music that led her to work with the Metropole, known for historic collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. I’m happier to give myself room to feel that overwhelming pain, yearning and chaos.
“I loves you, Porgy/Don’t let him take me/Don’t let him handle me/And drive me mad…” Nina Simone’s doleful contralto floats from a stereo in a London studio.
The mood is strangely solemn for a photo-shoot, and so is its subject.
Together, they will perform “Sing To The Moon”, rearranged by the orchestra’s English chief-conductor Jules Buckley, at the Royal Albert Hall on 19 August, a prospect that fills her with joy and pain. But it’s tough emotionally for me to sing such personal songs again.” “Sing To The Moon” was originally written in the aftermath of her parents’ separation in 2007, and her fragility and confusion are plain. It’s been a big two-year journey.” Mvula, born Laura Douglas, grew up in Kings Heath, Birmingham, the daughter of St Kitts-born Paula, a teacher, and Elford, a council worker whose family hails from Jamaica. “My mum liked Diana Ross, so we’d clean the house to her.
She plays me the new orchestral version of her song Father, Father, about her estrangement from her father, with its distressing repetitions of “Father, Father, why you let me go? My dad was into Etta James, Miles Davis, The Carpenters. Sundays were gospel and church music.” Elford played piano and, aged eight, Laura began too, along with violin lessons.
I think the anxiety had a lot to do with all those things. But it’s a thread running throughout my life.” She emailed the demos to two producers for feedback in 2012, one of whom went on to produce the album. With That’s Alright I wanted to express that I’m tired of being made to feel I lack because of what society projects on to me.” For not being white, or light-skinned?
In the intervening years, the meanings of Mvula’s songs have shifted for her.
With a church-choir background, she was first and foremost a communal singer, and has struggled with being thrust into the spotlight in an X Factor culture increasingly focused on strutting-peacock solo artists.
Her first gig was at the 2012 i Tunes Festival in front of 3,000 people.
Laura Mvula is blinkered by an abundant, corkscrew-curl Afro – extensions fixed to the crown of her head, still partly shaved beneath.
The singer, classically trained pianist and composer, who just two years ago was working as a music supply teacher in Birmingham, is not the typical bouncy, eager new star.
Mvula was always more at ease when performing as a group.