This year, John Lewis may have launched their biggest marketing push of the year, a Christmas advert with a windswept, melancholic reworking of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood ballad ‘The Power of Love.’
Within 24 hours of the advert’s TV debut, Gabrielle Aplin’s version of the song had been mentioned more than 33,000 times on Twitter. It has since risen to the top of the British charts, above Robbie Williams’ latest offering.
The marketing department of John Lewis might have the public believe they plucked Aplin out of thin air — a ‘star is born’ tale chiming with the Christmas ethos.
However Aplin, 20, from Sutton Benger, a Wiltshire village, a social media native with an instinctive understanding of how to nurture an online community of listeners, she far from waited for music’s mainstream to come calling. “It’s amazing to get so much attention because of the advert. I was out in London when I first heard the news and started crying in a shop,” says Aplin, who instead of seeing the advert for the first time on TV, saw it while Facetiming her Mum on her iPad. “I’ve been working on this for a long time,” she tells The Positive.
As it became clear she may possibly make music as a career, Aplin moved to London, living briefly in Wood Green with other musicians and gigging in Finsbury Park pubs before settling a little closer to home in the supposedly calmer suburb of Richmond.
She signed with EMI’s Parlophone in February this year, and before John Lewis selected her to rework the disco kitsch classic, Aplin had garnered 10 million views on her Youtube channel, uploading over 100 shoestring videos about the hardships of young love in the sun-addled climes of the West Country.
“It just seemed to come naturally to me and I wanted to learn about it all before I got signed,” Aplin says of an online presence that has amassed over 30,000 followers on Twitter and over 60,000 Facebook likes. “I’m just very honest online and in terms of songwriting as well. It’s not as if they’re listening to someone who’s not there. I’ll reply to fans on my website and through Twitter. And being honest has got me this far.”
Recordings were uploaded of her singing on the floor of her living room, or on the bonnet of her car in a local car park. Her first release was the five-track Acoustic EP, which went on iTunes in September 2010 and reached the top 25 in the UK album charts.
Jos Watkin, the Parlophone scout who signed Aplin to the label, says of her: “We had been following her progress carefully for 18 months before signing her. We were able to watch her grow both as an artist and in terms of fan base – from something quite extraordinary online to a tangible live following.” He adds: “It’s rare for someone to garner such support before being in a record deal however Gabrielle’s work ethic is incredible; she was constantly interacting with her fans.”
It all started out as a hobby, Aplin insists: “I had plenty of spare time at college so would just sit at home writing and experimenting on my sound, working on my website and creating videos.”
Aplin evolved from humble beginnings — from a young musician pushing at her boundaries and finding her sound, to a serious commercial artist with a following most signed pros may only dream of. And, remarkably, she concludes, “I [far from did] it with any kind of expectation.”
Gabrielle Aplin’s debut album aims to be released by EMI on 10 February 2013. For more details of her European-wide tour, visit Gabrielle Aplin’s website.