“I had an album out this year,” Jill Scott informs a chokingly full Brixton Academy. The congratulatory bellows have hardly faded before she tartly adds: “I’m surprised you got it – because I went into a store and couldn’t find it anywhere. Let’s hope it was sold out.” Its absence was more likely due to indifferent sales in the UK, where it just about made the top 75. But Scott is hardly on her uppers: in the US, The Light of the Sun became the first No 1 album of her career.
Whether they buy her records or not, the 39-year-old’s British fans still have a great deal of love for the neo-soul singer dubbed Jilly from Philly. They treat every song in her two-hour set as if it were a worldwide hit, lavishing as much adoration on the new spoken-word self-empowerment treatise Womanifesto (inspired by her divorce and the birth of her first baby) as on the jaunty funk-soul of the 11-year-old A Long Walk. Understandably so: few sentient beings could fail to be awed by her incredibly supple voice. Whether navigating the jazzy twists of Quick or scaling the operatic heights of He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat), Scott is enthralling.
But it’s not just the voice, or dancing male backing singers the Pipes, or virtuoso drummer Rashid Williams, that inspires half the audience to capture the whole thing on wobbling cameraphones. Scott’s real strong suit is her ability to make every woman in the house want to be her friend and every man want to be, as someone tweets afterward, “a better man”. You don’t have to be African-American, or even female, to feel an affinity: her life, with its stumbles and victories, has endowed her with sisterly sageness that sends the fans home aglow. Another triumph for Jilly from Philly.