Rebecca Ferguson - Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Smartly staged and bolstered by a full and generous performance by both singer and band, Rebecca Ferguson’s return to Manchester should have fired and sparked. If only she’d exhibited a little more self-belief, this show in support of second album Freedom could have properly been something. After all, expectations are justifiably high: Ferguson is an X Factor rule-breaker, a runner-up who appears to be building a career on a bedrock of solid talent rather than flavour-of-the-month popularity. Her 2011 debut Heaven was smarter than your average pop-soul-five-writers-per-song concoction and she carried herself with welcome humility. If her recent follow-up tried a little too hard to fit in, it was still, despite a jarring element of chart-hungry filler, likeable enough to suggest that here was a young singer worth sticking with as she traversed the unforgiving terrain of a fickle industry.
There are enough moments tonight to explain away the loyalty of her growing fan base. A full house responds warmly to the highlights: breakthrough single ‘Nothing’s Real But Love’, the woman-scorned fury of ‘All That I’ve Got’. There’s some minimal set design that’s hardly necessary but it’s the inclusion of a trio of cover versions that baffles. A bash at Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’ is understandable enough, and it’s a smart take on a song that might have been judged ‘too big’ for her back in her talent show days. But it’s the inclusion of Tom Odell’s ‘Another Love’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ that feels not just cheap and cynical but also hints at a lack of faith in her audience. Is her repertoire so lacking that descending to hen night crowd-pleasers is her only option? Both critical and commercial approval would suggest not. So why play so bafflingly safe? Maybe Simon Cowell was right when he told her she didn’t realise how talented she was? After an evening that begins with her delivering tender opener ‘Fake Smile’ seated, it’s difficult to resist asking the real Rebecca Ferguson to please stand up.