With the festive season scarcely over, it was little wonder that Gabrielle Aplin declined to play her cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power Of Love during her Saturday night show at London’s Union Chapel: a Christmas song at the start of January offers about as much appeal as a cold sprout. But that 2012 hit soundtracked the John Lewis Christmas advert at the height of its cultural sway, setting the standard for the now-compulsory annual mawkish cover of a pop song. It also sent Aplin – briefly – to stardom.
In fact, she rarely performs The Power Of Love these days, the cover long since eclipsed by her own material. Now 30, Aplin has evolved into a Sigrid-style artist, possessing an unstarry, girl-next-door image and equally at home behind a piano or decked out in shiny pop production. She still trades in hearty acoustic strumming of The Lumineers or Mumford & Sons ilk: pleasantly uncomplicated music that might accompany a banking advert.
But she’s given up major label life, returning to her own label, Never Fade Records – which she set up as a teenager to release her first EPs – as a proudly independent artist. She lives in a Somerset farmhouse with a troupe of pigs and ducks, and recorded her new album, Phosphorescent, in a solar-powered studio.
Entirely fitting, then, that she appeared on the Union Chapel stage in a T-shirt that read “no music on a dead planet” in order to celebrate the album’s release. Accompanied by just her acoustic guitar and a keyboardist, the sparse arrangement suited many of these new songs, from dreamy r’n’b opener Skylight to the slow piano chords of Mariana Trench (inspired by an episode of Blue Planet), Aplin’s candyfloss whisper reaching the high rafters of the church venue.
Some of her songs verge towards irritating Jess Glynne territory when dressed in full pop pomp – like Phosphorescent closer Don’t Say, rife with earworms, autotune, and rousing club beats. As a stripped-down number, though, the track took on a more impressive form, highlighting Aplin’s undeniable talent as a performer and songwriter.
The acoustic set also drew attention to the homogenous quality of her catalogue. But amid all the piano fodder, show standout Coming Home, a country-tinged cut from Aplin’s second album, served as a glimpse of an artist who cares about every single detail – who records with the same microphone model as Karen Carpenter’s, for instance – and who contains far more depth than a TV advert. If only there had been more of her.
Touring the UK until January 12, tickets tour.gabrielleaplin.com