Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fairytale Factor

Back in 2010 (eek, how time flies), I had the pleasure of seeing Sheryl Crow live at the Hammersmith Apollo and I recall it feeling like quite an intimate venue for a major-name star of her calibre. It was the same year that saw Rebecca Ferguson just pipped by Matt Cardle to the X Factor win.

Now, I thought Cardle was good – a gifted singer with a distinctive voice, albeit I think he should be fronting a band rather than going solo. Anyway, suffice to say he’s sadly failed to realise his potential in the wake of his competition success. That’s the poisoned chalice of the contest right there – even if you’re talented enough to break the mould, the producers will force you right back into a mould of their own making.

Thank heavens then that Rebecca Ferguson, the long-haired diva from Liverpool, came in second. Runners-up, it seems, can escape the uber-commercial generic makeover attentions of the industry and craft a career – and sound – of their own. Her album is an accomplished, quality offering that really shows off her rich vocal talents and suits her individual style like a dream.

I was so impressed I bought a ticket to go see her live in London.

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was a more intimate venue than the Apollo and perfect for the occasion. Also, it must be said, when it says ‘plus special guests’ on the ticket it usually means so special you’ve never heard of them – and as often as not, so special their music is so completely at odds with the main act you wonder what the organisers were thinking. However, some thought had gone into the choice of support here and, as big an unknown as he was to me until now, J James Picton was a strong vocalist whose musical style was a good fit. Of course, no offence to the guy, he couldn’t hold a candle to Rebecca.

As well as the depth and texture to her voice, the lady is gorgeous. There’s a warmth and a sparkle about her that is captivating. In some respects, I don’t think she’s a great performer – that shy quality holds her back to some degree and her attempts to engage the audience in things like standing and clapping along seem tentative. Back in her competition days, she used to be told she had no idea how good she was and I have a feeling that’s still the case. In a larger venue, I imagine any sense of that would be lost – which might well be a shame, because playing to the theatre crowd her coyness was all part of her charm.

The night was by no means flawless – there was a protracted delay between the support and Rebecca’s eventual appearance and if I was to give in to my cynical side I’d have to point out that while someone like Shakira can keep audiences waiting as long as she likes (which she did), fresher names in the business can’t get away with it quite so freely. When she did show she played for a tiny bit over an hour and although at this stage she has only the one album’s worth of material she might have treated us to a few more covers. Two of the songs were ill-chosen and saddled with a heavier sound that managed to drown her out – which is precisely what you don’t want when you’ve come to hear the singer at least as much as the songs. Maybe some of the numbers she did so well on her X Factor journey would have been more to the purpose.

On the other hand... Rebecca is a star in the making who’d be better served by distancing herself from that TV circus. Yes, it helped launch her career, but if you want to travel places you don’t need to be standing on the platform. Get on the train of your choice and wave goodbye to the station, that’s what I say. She really is exceptionally good and the sad truth is she’ll probably have her detractors for some time to come purely by virtue of those X Factor associations.

Listening to her music should be enough to show how far she has moved on from there and really all it is now – or all it should be anyway – is the process that put her in the spotlight. She’s understandably grateful for that but she doesn’t need it anymore.

Here’s a young lady who can shine all by herself.

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