Ellie Goulding walked onto the stage of the Oxford O2 to a wildly supportive, chanting crowd. Fans continued to proudly, fervently sing along to every song. The effect of the fame machine of the major record labels is evident on her growth in popularity. The worry with such accelerated performers is that they will lose their artistic integrity.
Ellie, however, has the makings of a superb musician. Her voice is as individual as it is captivating; she sings with startling detail and expression. She told me before the gig, ‘I’ve never been taught how to sing, although I used to pretend to sing opera a lot when I was younger’. Very few artists with ‘top ten’ singles sound better singing live than on their recordings, but Ellie is one refreshingly quirky vocalist. Even her speaking voice is silky smooth, which was sometimes a hindrance, as it proved very difficult for the audience to hear what she was saying between songs, thanks to a poor microphone set-up. Charlie Atlantic, of local band Inlight, insisted however, that the sound of her voice was ‘exceedingly pleasant to listen to, regardless’.
On stage Ellie plays the acoustic guitar, the instrument she grew up with. But with the full band she’s able to have her own percussion set up. Whilst she’s mostly relatively static, locked to her microphone and guitar, her own drums on stage allow her to occasionally add significant dynamism to her performance. Playing drums, she moves for the music and not for the crowd. She is very comfortable on a stage. ‘I don’t get nervous before shows anymore; that idea is so alien to me now. I only really get nervous when I’m on the television’.
As might be expected from a tour based on a first album, the gig slightly lulled in the middle, with chunky brackets of hits at either end of the performance. Most important to the show was the encore, which featured a compacted trio of songs which illustrated her rise to fame. Ellie seemed especially emotionally involved with the final set, which started with the poignant fully acoustic ‘Wish I Stayed’, followed by her new-age cover of Midlake’s ‘Roscoe’ with stripped down band, condluding with her big new single ‘Starry Eyed’ with full band and electro-pop backing track.
Many music fans will turn their nose up at Ellie Goulding, put off by her seemingly artificially rapid rise to fame and glossy publicity, but there’s such quality there, in both compositional skill and lyrical ability. ‘So we burst into colours and carousels / Fall head first, like paper planes in playground games’ is not the type of lyric that you’d expect to hear from a ‘manufactured artist’, and the way that her words are presented live, makes it very clear that they are her own. Her first album has been a significant move towards the mainstream, and though she definitely has the talent and potential for appreciable longevity in the music industry, she will perhaps soon need to take a step back from Starsmith, successful as they may have been together, to ensure that she preserves her own individual style.