Rebecca Ferguson, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Monday February 27
Two days ahead of this year’s X Factor tour, Rebecca Ferguson became the second of 2010’s finalists to come to town as a headline act. One Direction were here last month, series champion Matt Cardle will be here next week, and fourth-placed Cher Lloyd will complete the set in April.
In hit-making terms, Rebecca is currently lagging behind the pack. Matt, Cher and the One Direction boys have all had chart-topping singles, whereas Rebecca’s debut release only just grazed the Top Ten. Then again, her platinum-selling album Heaven is still performing strongly in the album charts, and she’s certainly not short of a loyal fanbase. For while One Direction continue to wow the teens and pre-teens, Rebecca’s audience are a notably more mature bunch, proving that The X Factor’s appeal isn’t just limited to the younger market.
On the show, Rebecca made her mark as a soul singer of the classic school: shy in her demeanour, but passionate in her delivery. Her subsequent success hasn’t changed her much; she’s as delightfully down-to-earth as she ever was, and her broad Liverpool accent remains unsweetened by showbiz gloss. She’s less nervous and more polished now, but she remains a somewhat hesitant figure on stage, who never fully lets go and loses herself in the moment.
That said, Rebecca is firmly in charge of her own destiny as an artist, and most particularly as a songwriter. There are no cover versions on her album, and she has co-written all ten of its tracks, drawing on her own emotional experiences. They might not all be future classics, but at their best – the soulfully surging Diamond To Stone, the vulnerably intimate Teach Me How To Be Loved, and most especially the driving, dramatic Too Good To Lose – they’re skilfully constructed and shot through with a disarming sincerity.
Fleshing out the set to the full hour, a clutch of covers ranged from rock (Kings Of Leon, Rolling Stones) to classic soul (Sam Cooke) and a courageous – but not entirely successful – excursion into contemporary R&B (Drake’s Take Care is a great track, but its vocals are perhaps better suited to the Rihannas of this world). But despite the diversity of musical styles, Rebecca’s voice still felt a little limited in expressive range, even though it’s fully developed in terms of pitch, power and control.
Although the audience didn’t rise to their feet until halfway through the penultimate song, the warmth of their reception was unmistakeable. The standing ovation which followed Nothing’s Real But Love left Rebecca wreathed in smiles, and hopefully fuelled with confidence for a lengthy and successful career.
Set list: Fighting Suspicions, Mr Bright Eyes , Glitter & Gold, Diamond To Stone, Shoulder To Shoulder, Knocked Up, Gimme Shelter, A Change Is Gonna Come, Teach Me How to Be Loved, Too Good To Lose, Take Care, Fairytale (Let Me Live My Life This Way), Run Free, Nothing’s Real But Love.