|Photo: Adam Johns|
The ability to prick the ears of those beyond your hometown is something of a holy grail. And if you’ve spent long enough going to gigs in any City you’d know that for most artists, it never really happens. Some, like The Tea Street Band, have spent years gigging and are finally reaping the rewards. Others, like fellow GIT Award nominees Evian Christ or Forest Swords, have spent equally as long shaping and refining their craft in private. Låpsley, the recipient of this year’s inaugural One To Watch award, has condensed the generic career path of an exciting new artist into the space of just a few months. And whilst her absolutely stratospheric rise from small acoustic shows in Parr Street to Radio 1 and the pages of NME speaks volumes for her raw talent as an artist, it also speaks volumes for the Liverpool, that one of our own was able to connect with all corners of the country without even leaving the city.
Holly Lapsley Fletcher is a seventeen-year-old singer/songwriter, come producer, from Formby. Having spent a couple of years crafting songs with an acoustic guitar - the products of which can still be seen on her Soundcloud with songs like Crosses – she started to experiment with electronics as a way of carving out a sound that she could call her own. What emerged from this period of discovery, and what can now emphatically be referred to as her breakthrough moment, was the delicate, touching track Station. And let’s get this out the way – believe the hype with this one. I actually met Holly on New Years Eve last December, as she spoke shyly about a new song she ‘hoped people would be into’. Nursing a crippling hangover the following morning, I visited her Soundcloud and played Station. Then I played it again, and again, and again, until that stirring refrain of ‘I’ll walk you back to the station’ had permeated my mind irreversibly. There are two vocal parts playing alongside, as she pitch shifts her vocals right down to the point where it sounds like a male and female singing together. This is a technique she is becoming synonymous with, and it works because the vocal lines are always distinct enough in tone and personality so that they move in the same direction, rather than as if they were two people singing at one and other.
National press picked up on the song almost immediately, with Pigeons and Planes naming it among their favorites of the year and Lineofbestfit calling it ‘exquisite’ and suggesting that she was among the brightest female talents in the country. Within a couple of weeks it had eclipsed 100,000 plays on Soundcloud, then 150,000, then 200,000, as her Twitter went into Retweet overdrive as blogs and sites from all over the world staked a claim and pinned their colours to this strange enigma from the North of England. Throughout her brief body of work so far, Låpsley has demonstrated an ability to touch on conventional emotions, like heartbreak and loneliness, but in a way that stays short of maudlin or melodramatic. The composure, both lyrically and musically is striking, and has rightly lead to any mention of her age in the media being preceded by a statement of disbelief.
Monday, the four track EP is available on online platforms right now, and whilst it doesn’t include Station, it does offer interesting glimpse into an artist trying to figure out what being a musician means to her and what it should mean to her listeners. These songs, like the loose Blue Monday cover, are almost wrought with fragility and sentiment, but they are never oversold, as Holly works enough space for her vocals so that they sound weirdly, but affectingly distant.
Last month, Låpsley played her debut show in her current form at Leaf Tea Shop as part of the Ace Liverpool showcase. Even if you were one of the few journalists in the North West not to have been there, you only had to keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook to see what should have been a small, inconspicuous debut gig had turned into an event. Managers, labels, Publishing and PR Agents; all shaking their Gin and Tonics and chattering hurriedly as they compared stories about how they first heard Station, who they were representing and where they saw her this time next year. “I was aware that they were all there, but it didn't really phase me”, Holly explains. “I did try to chat to as many people I could in the short space of time, but I was more excited about playing and eating falafel than meeting people to be honest. I felt like I had finally found my niche, performing an electronic set is so much more exciting, I even had to apologise to the audience for my two-step shuffle on stage”. It was a strange evening, certainly nothing like anything I’ve ever seen in Liverpool. It’s the sort of show you imagine only happens in downtown Manhattan or in Tony Parsons novels, where the entranced whisper of the crowd combines with the sound of camera flashes and notepad scribbling to make the excitement almost tangible.
On the 16th March, a whirlwind 2014 for Låpsley culminated in a Radio 1 airing on Sohn’s (who’s management she now shares) Bedtime mix for Annie Mac, as the wheels turned even faster, moving Holly from regional to national talent as the rest of the UK started listening. Further Radio 1 plays followed, as NME eventually featured her alongside comparisons to Kiwi megastar Lorde. With a three track EP due out later this year, and with label deals currently in the works, the future is shaping up pretty smartly for Låpsley. “I put pressure on myself to produce the best music I can, but other people's expectations don't bother me”, she explains confidently as she considers the next twelve months. “I think music is different to each individual and so whatever I release I’m going to be judged. Whether or not the response is positive depends on the listener. I'm just going to carry on how I am now. I feel the moment you change for the sake of other people, especially critics, is the moment you lose what you had and what made people like you in the first place”.
This time next year we might all be talking about her through a series of I was there moments. Or maybe she’ll still be playing gigs at Leaf. What’s certain though, and what makes her choice as this year’s One To Watch almost indisputable, is that Merseyside hasn’t had an artist connect so quickly, so widely and so emphatically with the rest of the country in the best part of a decade. And in case you need reminding, she’s only seventeen