As a reference point, BBC’s annual Sound Of… lists are an accurate barometer of where the industry sees itself in terms of artists in the coming 365 days. This year’s list saw Clare Maguire pop in at number five. Maguire has the makings of an intriguing artist: classical-sounding pipes, bewitching black hair, stylised bleak landscape video and a personal recommendation from Jay-Z. Plus, for extra Irish national team points, her granny is from Roscommon.
So, the question is, after the building hype, what do we have on our hands? A Florence, who can electrify the mainstream on her own terms, or an Ellie Goulding – essentially a folk singer who is cloaked in industry pop sheen? It’s hard to tell from her live show at The Hoxton Bar in London. Maguire’s voice is stellar, a soaring sultry instrument that dominates recordings, with echoes of Annie Lennox, Cher and, bizarrely, early Robert Plant (blame my notes). It is her major selling point. She could sell Fianna Fáil to your unemployed mum.
But image is important to a major label-signed act these days and Maguire’s expected wailing lovelorn dark banshee woman look was dropped in The Hoxton for a red Wonder Woman dress, a tiara and her bum on show. Defying expectation, perhaps, but also sending a mixed identity. Her on-stage movements involved lots of arm-arcs and “lift me up” gestures. Her blacker-than-black hair gives her a faint Siobhan Fahey, Shakespears Sister look. And is it now a requirement that every new major label female artist has to have a side drum beside them to bang occasionally?
Musically, she opened her short set of songs from her forthcoming album Light After Dark with the ‘edgy’ version of her first single ‘Ain’t Nobody’ – a dubstep-influenced rendition inspired by the dark synths of the Breakage remix. It was an interesting opening salvo, a mood-setter that was quickly shattered by the relative MOR-vibe of most of the rest of her set.
There are some impressive moments: If new single ‘Save My Last Dance’ had been around 10 years ago it could have provided the similarly-named film with its uplifting soundtrack. A Kate Bush-meets-Sean Nós ode to her grandmother, ‘This Is Not The End’, extends her palette away from piano and faux string-driven pop. Much of her material suffers from frankly forgettable bits in between the big choruses but if those choruses aren’t massive and emotional, then the song falls flat, which happens too often.
In many ways, Clare Maguire is the synthesis of Florence and Ellie, but she currently lacks her own identity. Her success may ultimately also depend on just how big those choruses are.
Find out for yourself: Clare Maguire supports Hurts on Monday 7th February in The Academy, Dublin before the following tour dates.
March 25th – Manchester – Band On The Wall
March 26th – Glasgow – Kings Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
March 28th -Dublin – The Sugar Club
March 30th – Leeds – Cockpit
March 31st – London – Kings College Student Union
April 1st – Bristol – Thekla
April 3rd Birmingham – Glee Club
April 4th Nottingham – Glee Club
April 5th Oxford – O2 Academy 2