by Michael BennettI find Sarah minutes after the biggest show she’s ever played. How does she feel? “Everyone always asks that!” she says, and then answers “really excited but nervous at the same time”. Sarah had just headlined the first Top of the Ox, which organizers hope will become an annual event that showcases local talent. Launched early this year, Top of the Ox was a competition in which local artists could submit tracks to be made available on the competition website. Listeners then voted by text for their favorite song. Sarah happened on the competition on the Internet one day and decided to enter. “I had just come out of the studio a couple of weeks before and I thought, I’m going to upload one of my songs just for fun, see what happens.”

Sarah performed on a grand piano with a string quartet as well as drums and guitar, and says she was strongly influenced by her classical training. Keane, Coldplay and Missy Higgins provide more modern influences which show in her winning song (and soon-to-be-first-single), ‘Secret’. Perhaps because of these classical influcences, her style possibly doesn’t lend itself best to live performance. By the time Sarah got to the stage in the 4½ hour event the audience had thinned out, leaving only well-dressed Christ Churchers looking like they’d never been to a gig before. Still, her music certainly is popular, beating runners-up Stornoway by more than a thousand votes. The site’s still up, so you can decide for yourself.

Alternatively, you could wait till February, when her single and video will be released, part of her prize for winning the competition. After recording finishes she hopes she’ll be playing more gigs, though there are no firm plans as yet. Apart from headlining at the Academy and releasing a single, Sarah also won a thousand pounds (the part that probably sounds most exciting to most of us). Sarah told me she’d already spent a lot of the money on the concert itself hiring the grand piano and string quartet, determined to “honour the opportunity.” The rest of the money will probably be spent on a keyboard, ploughing the prize money back into her embryonic career.

She’s still an Oxford finalist after all though, and I asked her how she plans to deal with that at the same time? Apparently, she’s “trying not to think about it!”