Nobody sings like she can

Nobody sings like she can


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2009

The Times of London, which used to call itself a newspaper of record, has turned into the puff paper of the record industry.


Last week, the Times published a piece by its media correspondent about 13 year-old Faryl Smith, who appeared a year back on a television talent show and, though she lost, was signed by Universal Classics & Jazz (UCJ) – yes, them again – for a reputed £2.3 million ($3.1 million).


The comments of Dickon Stainer, UK head of UCJ and the man who signed the cheque, are worth quoting in extenso for future deconstruction. Stainer said: “She is our major international priority. She is an absolute once-in-a-generation talent. For her age there’s probably never been anybody who can sing like she can. If she looks after her voice and is nurtured properly she will be successful all over the world. She can make classical music more accessible than any other artist since Pavarotti.”

Right. So I guess we had better take her seriously. After all, the Times reports that 80,000 copies of her disc have been shipped, a higher volume than the new U2 album.


Today, the Sunday Times turns the advance hype into ‘the fastest-selling solo classical album’ and states that Faryl is ‘expected’ to break into the Top Ten. The record business used to pay for advertisements in Times Newspapers. Now they get promoted for free.


Faryl seems like a sweet young girl from Kettering, Northants. She admits that she neither listens to nor respects classical music. ‘Classical singing is mainly aimed at older people,’ she says. So why is she being published by Universal Classics & Jazz? And why is she is expected to make classical music more popular?


To crack these nuggets of wishful marketing, you need to hark back to recent events. UCJ last month demolished Decca label because its UK boss, Strainer, could not agree a policy with the international chief, Chris Roberts. A great classical heritage was sacrificed on the altar of their corporate feud.


UCJ is now shovelling its cash into crossover trash after Warner stole its headline act Katharine Jenkins and Sony outsold it with Il Divo. This is not a company that knows – or even remembers – what classical records are about. It is a pathetic, passive offshoot of couch-potato reality television.


Young Faryl herself is a familiar phenomenon. She was once called Charlotte Church. Then Paul Potts. She will go on to different things. Or not. Who cares?


What she will never be is a classical singer. It is a sombre sign of our knee-jerk times that two newspapers which once valued intellectual rigour now suspend their critical faculties at the sight of a pretty young face.