In the world of pop Diana Vickers is a slightly tricky one. For those of us who find ourselves drawn in to the soap opera-like ups and downs of The X-Factor every year, she was the quirky teenager from Blackburn who, in 2008, came fourth behind Alexandra Burke, JLS and, erm, Eoghan Quigg.
Now that coming first in The X-Factor doesn’t even guarantee you the Christmas Number 1, the career of a budding pop star ending up in fourth place sounds like it’s going about as far as the next Cheeky Girls world tour. But Vickers has spent the last 18 months demonstrating that she’s worth more. In a genuinely surprising move, she trod the boards in the West End in Little Voice, to positive reviews, and she called in some more interesting than expected collaborators in to help out with her debut album, Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree.
Tonight she’s in Kings Cross, as part of a countrywide tour of small venues usually played by indie bands, as her carefully orchestrated campaign tries to redefine her as more than just another talent show wannabe.
An unfortunate guest list error (a reviewer’s occupational hazard) means we’ve missed a few tracks and arrive halfway through her fourth song Put It Back Together Again, written by sometime Brit Award nominee Nerina Pallot. It’s a bit of a shame because it sounds like a potential hit – or at least the second half of it does. And for those who do arrive late, it turns out that Water Rats is an entirely inappropriate venue for this over-subscribed gig as Vickers simply can’t be seen from the back of a split-level room.
But she can certainly be heard. On prime time television, her voice proved divisive between those who loved the squeaky inflections, out-of-place among her competitors’ well-trained but personality-free styles, and those who campaigned against her because of them. But in person, the irritant factor is low. Apart from the occasional struggle to hit her high notes, her vocals are impressive throughout.
The venue kindly shows the gig on a monitor in the bar area, and so it’s a relief to see that she’s toned down the use of her infamous ‘claw’ hand poses, although she does seem to have taken on windmill-like flailing arm movements. She hardly stands still for a second.
As for the rest of her material, it’s a run through of much of her upcoming album, along with a cover version of Snow Patrol‘s Just Say Yes. Her sound betrays any suspicions that she’s being set up as an indie chick. It’s all fairly innocuous, straightforward, disposable pop. Some of the songs feel like forgettable filler even at a gig, but others, like the fun sass of debut single Once, and My Hip (complete with our girl trying her hand at the trumpet) have more about them.
She may well have a tough time ahead of her convincing people to take an interest, and she might want to try a bit less of the rubbish banter between songs (stay away from tales of your bowel problems please, Diana). But she’s a brave, ambitious and likeable girl who’ll play the game and work hard for her slice of the pop market.