After rocking X-Factor with her original songs which – get this – actually had some well-thought out meaning, Lucy Spraggan was soon to disappear from the show due to a somewhat less than convincing ‘illness’ and set up on her own. Repeatedly touted as ‘Kate Nash in miniature’, those bold actions alone suggest Spraggan has a very good head on her shoulders. For every X-Factor success story, there are two dozen acts demonstrating that a good voice and professional karaoke set up simply isn’t enough to get you away from the world of supermarket shelf stacking. See Union J, District 3 and Christopher Maloney, all of whom outlasted Lucy in the 2012 series, and aside from the cringe fest that is the X-Factor tour, seem to have disappeared into a world of obscure pub venues and pestering disinterested record labels. Spraggan allegedly rejected the huge income the X-Factor tour would have netted her (she certainly didn’t show, and by all accounts the offer was made), and headed out on her own with an eye on the long-term. She’s already been snapped up by no lesser a force than Columbia Records.
Seeing her step out on her own tonight is still somewhat surreal. The support comes from a dire Europop act worthy of the weekends cringiest event, Eurovision, while the crowd flock around the stage enthusiastically, leaving huge spaces at the back where a disinterested looking roadie in a Death Grips t-shirt visibly glazes over. It’s hard to even see in person Spraggan without wading into a world of teenage intimacy – we get an occasional glance at her trademark beanie – but she’s a talented guitarist with an impressive backing band, intent on doing things the glamour-free old fashioned way, in basement venues relying largely on her own quirky content. The Kate Nash comparisons still stick, but it’s a compliment to a distinctive vocal and fiercely personal style, one that given the right setting seems a shoe-in to shine.
Tonight’s audience, admittedly is X-Factor demographic young. That might well prove a barrier to more wide scale credibility, but it’s hard to argue with most of what’s coming from stage. There are just the two covers among the hour long set, and one – a fairly straight up rendition of the X-Factor version of Kanye’s ‘Golddigger’ that also features sections from Sir Mix-A-Lot and Snoop Dogg – is so far from the original it almost qualifies as her own material. Even so the originals largely outdo the spattering of covers.
Not everything glistens though. Single ‘Tea and Toast’ doesn’t stand out among the more emotional corners of the set despite a sing-a-long, and when Spraggan has to take an extended ‘second encore’ before her last song because she’s broken a string and doesn’t have a backup guitar, handling it well doesn’t change her coming across seriously unprofessional. Then there’s her response to a blues club heckler from her past, performed in a clichéd blues rhythm and based around the lyrics ‘I’m just a country bumpkin, I don’t know nothing bout the blues’. It’s funny, briefly, but ultimately more weak than witty.
Fortunately, there are some genuinely great pop songs in here, with lyrics that could teach Taylor Swift a thing or ten about dealing with life’s less pleasant corners. Up and coming release ‘Lighthouse’ is an intelligent, emotive ditty while ‘In A State’ is poetically clever in its American binge drinking recap and twisting geography references worthy of Barenaked Ladies. ‘Last Night’ and ‘Mountains’ prove the effortless charm exhibited on the TV show is still in place, while ‘You’re Too Young’ hints at future musical development with a straightforward intelligence that flutters with emotion. It’s all the kind of stuff that twists Spraggan from the X-Factor stereotype – the kind of act that this reviewer wouldn’t normally cross the road to see – into a genuine ‘watch this space’ prospect. The next step, undoubtedly is to gather a fanbase that’s moved past the ‘ear-splitting squeal’ approach to music fandom, but there’s no doubting Lucy’s bold moves and impressive musicality have lifted her prospects far beyond her flash-in-the pan peers.