Talent show winner’s decent voice propels a debut sure to be a big-shifter.
Chris Roberts 2010
In September 2010 the nation – or at least those with Sky One – held its breath as Fearne Cotton announced the winner of TV talent show Must Be the Music. As adjudicated by Jamie Cullum, Dizzee Rascal and competent, inoffensive Scottish singer Sharleen Spiteri, the victor was competent, inoffensive Scottish singer Emma Gillespie, a 27-year-old former busker, now a hundred grand richer. Instantly she had two top ten hits as downloads. This Day and Focus are included on her debut album, alongside six more of her songs, plus two covers – Bic Runga’s Drive and Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s Oscar-winning Falling Slowly (from the film Once).
Gillespie has a decent voice and her songs are sincere if soppy. Producer Martin Terefe, who’s steered James Morrison, K.T. Tunstall and Jason Mraz to success, has dressed her trilling and strumming lightly, with soporific, innocuous, featureless arrangements and "tasteful" strings. Stand Still is smooth-edged enough to move fast in supermarkets, but one wonders how much the world really needs another Adele or Ellie Goulding or Dido manqué. The whole thing floats by with scant emotional impact, and her popularity will be as baffling to non-believers as is that of Amy Macdonald.
Snapped up by Gary Barlow’s label (asked which writers she admires, Emma shows little imagination, citing Barlow himself, Coldplay and Goulding), Gillespie will inevitably enjoy one of the first big shifters of the year, and critics’ pleas for something with guts, darkness or ambivalence will fall by the wayside. On This Day she sings of the "cardigan on my shoulders", which is a long, long way from the spirit of Robert Johnson’s "hellhound on my trail". In the Reality TV age, perhaps we should be grateful she at least writes her own songs and won’t be shunted by the Cowell trowel into butchering Unchained Melody any time soon. Yet as, on Focus, she stretches the word "baby" into several syllables, it’s hard not to want to rush onto your tube platform without chucking ten pence into her guitar case. Like she’d need it now.