IF Bill Withers has a ghost and he can sing then his name might well be Michael Kiwanuka.
Alerted to the mainstream when he won the BBC Sound Poll of 2012, the London lad has fulfilled the promise of such an accolade to turn in a truly timeless album in Home Again.
From his distant, very human voice to the flutes that flutter across unhurried arrangements, there’s a quality to his music like a long lost 1960s folk soul gem with modern flourishes.
“I just wanted to make a record that, when someone puts it on, it takes them to a certain place,” says the 24-year-old making his Leadmill début on May 21.
“I wanted it to have the lush-sounding instrumentation and feel of older records, to be warm and peaceful and put the listener in this little world, which is rich with vibes and sounds and colours.”
Unsurprisingly Michael’s key musical touchstones include Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding, but he’s also looked to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Shuggie Otis, Roberta Flack’s First Take, Withers’ Live At Carnegie Hall and D’Angelo’s modern soul landmark Voodoo.
“There was no intention for my voice to sound old,” he says. “The songs come out like they do because I like the sound of stuff like that. I didn’t start writing songs to get a record deal. I wrote songs to express myself and they ended up sounding old.
“I’d just like for the songs to mean something in people’s life. That for me is what music ultimately is for.
“Our favourite records, you can remember where you were when you heard them. Or they might remind you of a time or someone. My hope is that these songs will move people.”
Born in Muswell Hill to Ugandan émigré parents, Michael grew up in a home largely devoid of music. His first introduction, to Nirvana and Radiohead, arrived at the same time he began to hang about with skater kids during his early teenage years.
But it was a soul compilation album given away with a music magazine that planted the creative seed.
Enthralled by the sound of Otis Redding’s studio talkback discussions with his engineer while recording an outtake version of (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, he resolved to make music that sounded raw and authentic.
“Growing up I didn’t have records at home. I didn’t even know any Beatles albums. For me, it was brand new music, even though it was recorded decades ago,” says Michael, who has turned that on its head with Home Again.
He feels the title track ultimately encapsulates the record’s sounds and themes.
“That’s the song that really for me ties everything together. It’s one of the earliest songs I wrote for the album and even though I progressed and changed stuff in the studio, it was the one I could never throw away. Like a lot of them, it’s a hopeful song. I use home as the metaphor for contentment and peace within.”