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‘Moments I’ll never forget’ - Michael Kiwanuka on his love for Spurs

Thu 19 December 2019, 14:45|Tottenham Hotspur

For Gaye, Mayfield and Wonder, read Klinsmann, Sheringham and Armstrong.

Michael Kiwanuka may have been compared to these musical legends in recent weeks following the release of his third album, Kiwanuka, but it’s Spurs legends he’s interested in right now.

Born in Muswell Hill, N10, Michael had an early choice – and the W3 bus won...

“Muswell Hill, it’s slap bang in the middle of Spurs and Arsenal territory,” he explained. “You could get the W7 bus to the old Highbury or walk down to Ally Pally and get the W3 to White Hart Lane. I picked Spurs.

“My brother, Robert, he’s actually an Arsenal fan, but he’s a good guy! My friend Johnny was a Spurs fan as well. We still watch games together now. I loved Spurs, loved Klinsmann, Sheringham, Armstrong and that was it, really. My team!

“My first game was at White Hart Lane, myself and Johnny. I was about 10. We played Everton. I’ve still got the programme at home.

“I remember that first game. I was in Paxton Road. I remember I walked up the stairs, closed my eyes and then opened them as I got into the stadium (bowl). I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe the size of the place. This was my first game! I’d only seen it before on TV.

“The players looked tiny because we were high up. I just felt that rush of excitement. The first time you go somewhere with so many people who share the same passion, the same love, there is still something about that which really excites me. I still get goosebumps!

“It happened again when I first went to the new stadium against City in the Champions League, the 1-0 win in April. The atmosphere that night was amazing.

“I had my next gig a week later, so I knew I could let my hair down a little, but a week later, I could still feel my voice a little as it was that loud! It was Hugo Lloris’ save from the penalty. That did it. That was crazy.

“I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life. It was my first proper ‘home’ game in the Champions League. I got there just in time to hear the anthem, see the Champions League flag in the centre-circle. I couldn’t believe it. It was like being five again. To see the stadium for the first time was incredible. I was so proud that day.”

I couldn’t believe it. It was like being five again. To see the stadium for the first time was incredible. I was so proud that day

Michael Kiwanuka

Much like the Club he loves, Michael has been on quite a journey in the last few years.

Initially bursting through as the BBC’s Sound of 2012, his first album, Home Again, made it into the top 10 in five countries, including top five in the UK. His follow up Love & Hate in 2016 was also well-received and hit number one in the UK. His music also reached a new audience in the US when his track Cold Little Heart was chosen as the theme for massive TV smash Big Little Lies, starring the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. It reached number six in the US charts. A live session video of the song has 6.5million views on YouTube.

That takes us to 2019. Michael’s third long-player Kiwanuka has been described by The Guardian as ‘one of the greatest albums of the decade’. Dig further into reviews and Michael is mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Terry Callier, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield.

“They are legends, it’s crazy,” he said. “They are my heroes and you just try to learn from the best and to even be mentioned in the same breath as people like that is so humbling, but you have to carve your own name as well, do your own thing. You have to make sure you don’t get lost in that and stay true to the way you make music.”

Michael feels the ‘journey’ narrative. “Yes, it’s definitely been a journey. For a third album, I felt it was the way to really prove that I want to stick around as long as possible, have that longevity.

“I always thought the third album needs to be quite a statement, something that says I’m here to make good music and I’m up for sticking around for as long as possible. I really wanted to dig deep and find out what kind of album I wanted to make, what music do I want on this album to make that statement and that’s where the self-title came from, going more abstract and deeper with the music.

“That journey stretched for around three years and it’s been good. It’s been an overwhelming response, more than I could have imagined, I’m so, so happy.”

Back to Spurs, and another nod to nights none of us will forget - Ajax, 8 May, 2019 - another poignant. ‘perfect’ night for Michael. If anyone needs reminding, we trailed 3-0 on aggregate at half-time in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final in Amsterdam, only for Lucas Moura to take us to the final with a hat-trick, the third and clinching goal in the final minute.

“I was at my mum and dad’s for Ajax,” he recalled, the sheer joy of the memory clear in his voice. “My dad, who is also Michael, got me into football and watched loads of matches with me on the TV.

“He never went to games though, so that night was perfect. The magnitude of that night. I was running around the house, so emotional. It’s difficult to fathom what I was thinking, just knowing we were in the Champions League Final, that was something to savour, emotional.”

That final few words could well be describing his album - like Lucas, let’s hope Kiwanuka takes Michael to the promised land.

Kiwanuka is out now.

Michael is on tour in the US from January, 2020 and in the UK from March, details via his official website below...