Florence Rawlings, Bush Hall, London
Monday 01 March 2010
As debut headline gigs go, there was always a chance that tonight would be anticlimactic, not least because Florence Rawlings had already graced Wembley Arena as support for Tom Jones.
Just like the Welsh wonder, this 21-year-old comes with a formidable set of pipes and used them to the max, even though we were in a compact former music hall, rather than a cavernous hanger.
Rawlings is the latest protégé of Mike Batt, the most recent in a line that stretches back from Katie Melua to The Wombles. Though rather than the former's delicate vocals, his current find is a blue-eyed soul warbler. Her website informs us that Rawlings first impressed by singing at Batt's home aged 13, during the same auditions from which Melua emerged. Now Batt has furnished Rawlings with a set that mixes originals with judiciously chosen, rarely heard covers.
At her best, Rawlings hit the deeper notes with the assurance of Alison Moyet, as on the mournful smoulder of "Can't Hold Your Hand". All too often, though, she leant towards the stridency of Bonnie Tyler and throughout applied a breezy cheeriness that planted us firmly mid-Atlantic on a cruise liner. Such constricted emotional range limited the variety of the material on offer and the night turned into a one-woman X-Factor audition.
Ike and Tina Turner's "A Fool in Love" lacked the contrast of cool call and frazzled response between backing and lead singers, while "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me", from Gladys Knight & the Pips' Motown days, had all the wild abandon of a tea dance. Elsewhere, Rawlings contended with Batt's odd lyrical mores, firstly the saccharine taste of "The Only Woman in the World" with its jarring line, "He says that he met me in a sexy dream". Then on "Love Can Be a Battlefield", the metaphor was wrung out until it lay a lifeless corpse.
Behind her, the stage was packed with backing musicians, all efficient and as tasteful as a Jools Holland band. Their arrangements were busy and over-fussy, and you wondered if the singer was battling against them, but when she performed with only the keyboardist, Rawlings proved just as unsubtle on Jamie Cullum's "I'm All Over It". She finally gelled with the band thanks to a turbo-charged take on Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me". Rawlings, though, needed to change gear more often.
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