21-year-old songwriter Lucy Spraggan has already impressed X Factor judges, Radio 1 DJs, festival organisers across the world and Columbia Records,who recently signed her to their roster. What makes her such a valued artist to this many industry heavyweights? Her quest for truthful music that deeply connects, wherever and whoever you are, that’s what.
You may recognize the name. Last year, Lucy Spraggan took to the X Factor stage in front of 4,000 jeering audience members. Her performance was a sharp slap around the face for anyone watching; after reams of sob stories and off-key balladeering, Lucy arrived, performed an original song and made the entire audience smile. It was the start of a new chapter, but that’s just one part of her story.
In her two decades of existence, Lucy’s been in rap groups, worked as a magician, trained as a plumber, travelled across America, been a tour guide in a cave, fallen from a cherry picker and had ‘Olly Murs’ tattooed onto her foot. She even studied Buddhism in Scotland. But now she’s ready to focus on music; her new album, a fusion of acoustic, folk and hip hop, is a collection of songs that’ll one minute bring you to tears, and the next make you feel like a fool for being so emo.
Growing up in Derbyshire with her mum and siblings, Lucy got her first guitar aged ten and two years later started performing anywhere she could, in front of anyone who would listen. Dolly Parton and Kirsty MacColl always played on rotation in her mum’s red Escort and, combined with an obsession with the lyrical truthfulness of Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac and Big Pun, Lucy’s initial bursts of creative inspiration were triggered. Drawing from these artists, as well as hook-laden mainstream pop like Taylor Swift, her fresh and innovative sound led her to be the first X Factor contestant in audition history to comeback on stage for an encore. Falling ill a few weeks into the competition however, Lucy decided she wouldn’t return, realising she could take her career in a different direction.It helped that her first album, Top Room At The Zoo – which was recorded in 2011 on a 30 mic in her friend’s living room – had rocketed to Number 2 in the iTunes chart since performing on the show. Lucy Spraggan had a fan base and didn’t need to win a competition to affirm her talents.
Since, Lucy’s fearlessness has gained her thousands of fans and a contract with the same label that looks after one of her all-time heroes, Bob Dylan. She’s now set up camp in the studio with Sam Preston of the Ordinary Boys and 24-year-old rising producer James Flannigan, working on songs she’s tried and tested live and a collection of acoustic tracks inspired by travelling around the world.
Drawing ideas from chance meetings and fleeting moments of emotion, each song on her debut tells a different story. Lighthouse, a paean to her good luck symbol, refers to a trip she made across America aged 18. While playing at Manchester Pride in 2009, she was spotted by a festival organiser from Florida who asked her to perform at an event he was booking. With a Visa that lasted three months, she managed to travel across 23 states and write hundreds of songs while couch-surfing, playing gigs and drinking beers on porches with characters who would later shape her songs sonically and emotionally. “Lighthouses are my good omen. When I was in the US and shit went wrong, when I’d miss the last bus or I’d run out of money, I’d always see a lighthouse on a piece of paper, beer bottle or in real life then things would start getting better.”
If Lighthouse represents Lucy’s period lost and alone in the US, In A State is country inflected dedication to falling in love while on her travels.Her world was quickly flipped upside-down after locking eyes with a 27-year-old nanny in a festival crowd. They ended up on a monumental road trip, starting in New Orleans and moving onto Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia. “It was love at first sight - a massive holiday romance. When our journey began we went to watch Sting play, so the first line is, ‘I was stung by the sting of the worst of bees in New Orleans/I was scared and unprepared but right there I was happy.’ The whole experience was a total whirlwind.”
Then there’s Tea And Toast, the track that made the X Factor audience weep with its whip-smart lyrical narrative. Based on an couple she’d witnessed while performing, Lucy imagined their story of undying love: “I was busking in London with a guy I’d met in America and we noticed this old lady and man walking down the street holding hands. She collapsed on the floor but they were still holding onto each other and he was staring at her like he’d never lost anything in his whole life,” explains Lucy. “It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen and that’s why I wrote this song.”
Initially scribbled on the back of a banknote, another album highlight is Mountains, a song motivated by a chance meeting with an inspirational stranger.“I was sitting in a station one time and this old lady was chatting to me. She noticed I had a guitar and said, ‘You’ve just got to do it and to not let anyone get in the way!’. For all she knew I was crap!” The second half of the song is about her experience on X Factor, and the pangs of doubt she felt about her music not having enough of an emotional impact: “She said, I know what you’re scared of/I used to feel it too/You’re not scared of climbing mountains/You’re scared that you can’t make them move.”
Written after a particularly severe case of ‘beer fear’, the song Last Night shines alight on Lucy at her lowest. “I’d just come back from America and applied for a Visa to live with the girl I’d fallen for, but it got declined.” Lucy says. “I’d based my future on going back to America, so I went through this phase of getting blind drunk to forget. Last Night is just about all those ridiculous drunk scenarios - saying you should get married to your other half, or telling someone you’ve just met that you love them.”
While Last Night represents a heady haze of blurred memories, Someone is the stark moment of realisation that followed. “I was miserable and I couldn’t get a proper job,but I realised I just had to get on with it. It has the lyrics, “You may never be a scientist/You may never fire a gun/You may never set foot on the moon/But you’re already someone”. It was my moment of realising that it doesn’t matter - just do what you want to do. The song may come from a bad knock-back, but everything happens for a reason.”
With a wealth of life experience already behind her, Lucy is now set to release an album that will enthrall fans of Dylan to Ed Sheeran, hip-pop acoustica to folk tale and elegiac storytelling. While her trajectory hasn’t been the most conventional one for an artist so new, every step of it has fuelled her unmistakeable song craft. Lucy Spraggan may have experienced a lot already, but her journey has just begun.