Without fake snow or cardboard reindeer, Aimee Ann Duffy easily outsparkles the fake Laplands that have closed down in recent days. Not that tonight is a festive show – rather, our current retro-soul sensation plants herself firmly in the feel-good pop arena.
Nodding back to PP Arnold, Duffy gamely plays the wronged woman, though fails to disguise her sheer pleasure at how far she has come. This time last year, we were just getting to grips with her first limited single. Now debut album Rockferry has gone gold from the US to Russia, putting her, as a Brit artist, just behind Coldplay in global success. The performer, raised in a sometimes tempestuous north Wales household, has been nominated in the Grammys for best newcomer, alongside fellow solo artist Adele.
While her erstwhile rival maintains a semblance of urban grit, Duffy has swung towards pizzazz. A 10-piece band comfortably fills the broad stage. There is a string section, backing singers and even a couple of dancers. It could all dwarf the waif-like singer, especially as her own movements are constrained and as fluid as a Gerry Anderson puppet. Duffy's voice, though, commands instant and constant attention.
It is unctuous and warming as a cream liquor, yet with the smokiness of a single malt, perfect on the Motown-aping showstoppers, notably her number one hit "Mercy" and "Rockferry", where she promises to build a house from sorrow. Occasionally, she can get as personal as Amy Winehouse at her incisive best, and she tones down the vocal power for the enigmatic "Warwick Avenue", where she balances self-control and vulnerability. Elsewhere, though, we could do with more drama.
She is all girl-next-door rather than femme fatale on "Delayed Devotion", a reminder of the heights her producer, co-writer and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, reached with the startling David McAlmont. But then she clumps her way through the supposedly sensuous "Syrup & Honey", flattening its sensitive guitar accompaniment. And she resorts to album fillers, and bonus tracks that fail to rise above clumsy pastiche, like "Hanging On Too Long", while "Stop" is "Mercy" MkII.
And, while it is pleasing to hear her update the torch song, the thoughtful "Fool For You" comes across as merely trite. Yet Duffy has the world, not to mention the mobile podium that inches stage front for "Mercy", at her feet. More awkward dance moves ensue, so extra practice is needed as arena dates, surely, beckon.