Sugababes: Manchester Ampersand

Sugababes: Manchester Ampersand

Sugababes play the first of their NME-sponsored shows...

They don’t know how to take a bow. Excellent. This discovery – made as the Sugababes‘ second-ever live performance slithers soulfully to a close – highlights what continues to be fantastic about the Sugababes. Hands are held. There’s a little ducking. Then they stalk off.

The Sugababes are a bit rubbish at bowing because they haven’t been doing it front of ‘movement’ coaches since the age of nine. They skipped stage school, and got on with the business of being young, normal and talented. And so if their performance skills aren’t quite up to Hear’Say‘s plastic standard, well, that’s cause for rejoicing. They don’t need choreography: they’ve got soul.

That’s not to say the Sugas can’t put on a show, though. Self-possessed as only teenage girls can be, Keisha, Mutya and Siobhan strut and wiggle their shoulders with cool economy tonight, as some chaps handle live instruments behind them. They don’t work it. They just change places a bit. There are no costumes, no histrionics: just three friends who happen to look like a Benetton ad, cooing and smouldering through sad-souled, wise-eyed pop songs about love and things.

‘Look At Me’ starts while they’re offstage, pristine and controlled. Then the sussed schoolgirls glide on, all jeans and sparkly belts and off-the-shoulder tops – not so much ghetto fabulous as suburban spectacular; the kind of effortless girlchic that can’t be studied. ‘Overload’ weighs in early, sounding as original and fantastic as it did the first time on Top Of The Pops.

It’s all going spectacularly well: Mutya invites a dead ringer for Eastenders’ Asif onstage (you know, Martin’s dopey mate), and they serenade him with ‘One Touch’. The nominally raunchy one, ‘Real Thing’, gets the Sugas harmonising with gusto,

while ‘Soul Sound’ grows lovelier with every croon of its chorus. They leave happy…

…And return seconds later, calm as you like, having totally forgotten to do the single, ‘Run For Cover’. Then it’s like something’s been unlaced in the Sugababes: from acapella to slinky chorus, they cut loose and freestyle like West London’s answer to Destiny’s Child. They’re on their knees, they’re rapping, they’re “ba-ba-ba”-ing; they’re doing what they’ve done in each others’

bedrooms long before they got a producer.

Not popstarz then: pop stars. And no mistaking.

Kitty Empire