Old habits Di’ hard
Diana Vickers, Leadmill, Sheffield, Monday 17th May
Oh Diana Vickers. One of the many Marmites of the music world. Some of you may be able to hark back to the X Factor days, a competition in which the self-named “The Vickerage” ranked 4th in the final. Wooing some with her youthful, bare-footed, messy-blonde-haired, rasping-voiced naivety and sending others running for the hills in the wake of the all of the above– Diana Vickers was no wall flower. I myself remember spending many a minute defending the “quirky”, “innocent” and “endearing” young songstress, who for her tiny frame had a powerful voice that not even the haters could deny was fairly incredible, and is probably what recently won her the role of Little Voice in the West End.
Leadmill, Sheffield, isn’t the biggest of venues, but the 4 walls were filled, mainly with admiring young school girls who loved her on X factor, adoring young school boys who had “never heard of her until recently but reckon she’s well fit” (I actually overheard this), the occasional slightly worrying middle-aged man and then the likes of me and the other young professionals wondering what they’d let themselves in for. Hot, a little cramped and full of staggering school kids, this wasn’t my preferred scene, but I was determined to stay positive for Diana Vickers Night.
The night lifted when support act Max Tuohy descended on to the stage, a guitar playing teen who seemed to be right in the middle of that crucial hurdle between absolute stage prowess and sheer nerves. Once he’s overcome that barrier, he should be great, as he brought a whole new style to the table. A cross between Paolo Nutini’s reflective crooning and Michael Buble’s upbeat swing sounds, Max was endearing, fun and although he needed some fine-tuning, definitely had acres of talent. Apart from the occasional mishap with guitar strings and the like, it was a really enjoyable performance by a charismatic 18 year old.
The interval between the support and Diana was a frustrated one. It may have been particularly so by this point as I couldn’t move for drunken school kids, we’d been standing for about an hour and a half with only a brief interlude from Max and the general mood was a little impatient, yet still expectant for Diana’s arrival. And then, finally, it came! And it was like pouring barrels of sweet and sour sauce you never ordered over an evening of boiled white rice. You know? I’ll explain.
Within less than 30 seconds of Diana hitting the stage, cheering herself on and announcing she had been “soooooooooooooo excited” about meeting us, my company for the evening had concluded “oh I don’t like her”. Big words for payer of tickets and organiser of outing. But I knew what he meant, for though she sounded and looked stunning in her mini-dress, very sexy hair and heels– oh yes, the famously poorly shod youth seems to have finally discovered the benefits of a shoe– there was something like bitter lemon in my Dianamopolitan.
Bounding on to the stage with a whole lot of enthusiasm and excess energy it was almost too much, as there was something in her good spirits that seemed a little pretentious and insincere. However despite first impressions and her general demeanour being a bit too affected, Diana’s vocals and stage confidence were unquestionably outstanding. Like most celebrities these days, in real life the star is only a tiny, but her voice is undeniably huge. It has a very distinct edge and past comments have described it as akin to the likes of The Cranberries, with all its breathy huskiness, though others have found it contrived and irritating. I think “dying cat” has been used more than once, but I do believe this is unfair. For all her irritations, the girl can most definitely sing. Probably even better if she wasn’t trying so hard to be cool and different.
I actually really enjoyed little Diana’s vocal performance, as she belted out some surprisingly brilliant pop from her debut album Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree, currently Number 1 in the UK album chart. Nearly every song on the album has potential to top the charts– no mean feat for a beginner like Diana and this is testament to her genuine talent. Her first track of the night, and for me one of her stand-out songs was The Boy Who Murdered Love, which has a whole lot of oomph and was well-placed as the opener. It showed off her vocal range and power to captivate, and introduced us to the general theme of her songs– which unsurprisingly focus on love and heartache. As with most of her songs, this one actually sounded much better live, as it was largely fuelled by Diana’s stage presence and the entertainment factor, which was a rare and pleasant surprise.
She followed with a powerful selection of tracks, all of them of the high calibre she set for herself with the opener, including Remake Me and You and of course her hit single Once. Both these tracks are very similar, loads of vivacity, power and room for some serious stage stomping, sexy hair shaking and yelping from Ms. Vickers. Remake Me and You goes at about 100mph and is catchy as a netball, but the title is misleading, for she actually sings about remaking ‘may’ and ‘hugh’. Lyrically and thematically the songs are quite beyond her years, written by pop pros like Narina Pallet. Though our Di’ somehow pulls them off, especially in terms of the heart-felt performance she gives.
After stopping for some water and telling us to “have a bit of banter” while she did so (cheers Di’, we’ll try), she then announced that she was going to shake things up a bit. Which, damn her, she did. With another striking number called My Hip. More light-hearted, fun and playful than the other songs we’d heard so far, this was a dance along song that added a bit of a twist to her act, which had so far had pretty much one punchy flavour– Apple Sourz. She firmly proved her true musical talent with My Hip, playing a trumpet in between lyrics, and the effect was an impressively jazzy one. The girl knows how to work it and she looked great strutting around, trumpet in hand, with all the confidence of someone far beyond her years and all the energy of a Yorkshire Terrier…
Overall, Diana Vickers probably did what she set out to do, which was prove her often questioned flair and please the adoring young fans with her pop-centric manoeuvres. As much as I cannot fault her musically and appreciate her ability to entertain, I just wasn’t impressed with her overall in terms of her general persona. Especially when she started nonchalantly name-dropping, mentioning her casual phone calls from Snow Patrol’s lead singer “Gazza”, who she’s now good mates with, by the way. I may sound harsh, and I admit it was probably a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the name dropping still happened and it seemed a shame she had to refer to her celebrity, as it detracts from her talent. For the most part, she seemed to be talking down to us. Fair enough she was elevated on a stage, but personally I think that’s no excuse… and though she kept her shoes oo for most of the show, she couldn’t resist kicking them off for the encore. I guess old habits Di’ hard.
***As I type this I can hear her being interviewed by Fearne Cotton at Radio 1’s Big Weekend and she’s not helping herself, “I’m so excited…its amaaaazing,…I’m soooo ready [to perform] right now…ooo look at my fans, such eager beavers…all the celebrity singers are here…oh Fearn you’re like my long lost friend!” Shhh, Diana, Shhh!
It’s really not often that I admit to having been a bad judge of character, but I owe my friends an apology for the many moments spent defying anyone to consider Diana Vickers anything less than adorable. “The Vickerage” is cool, fun, sexy, slightly off-her-head (already wearing that damaged rock n roll aroma that she really shouldn’t be), has a stunning natural voice and parlour of talent to compete with music’s greatest entertainers….but sweet? Sincere? Innocent? I didn’t get that from her. And I am sorry to conclude that the Diana we knew and loved on our TV screens back in 2008 does not exist. I will listen to her music, I wouldn’t say no to seeing her live again and I will continue to praise her distinctive voice and musical endowments, but I will no longer be defending her to the “hate” camp in the Diana Vickers marmite mill.
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