I somehow managed to schedule three gigs in successive nights this week – all great, but fatigue set in this morning!
Two were at the suggestion of friends; the other from a Facebook post and subsequent ballot. Read on.
On Monday it was the Union Chapel in Islington to see country singer Brandy Clark. My friend Steve suggested it – in the same mould as Kacey Musgraves he said. I mugged up on Spotify over the weekend and liked her sound. Familiar country themes: the unfaithful man, left with the kids, struggling to make ends meet, alcohol, drugs, revenge. Don’ you just love the music of the American heartland! Spotify now has this feature, which, if you’ve finished an album and haven’t changed onto something else it selects a playlist of related sounds. So I got to hear Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, amongst others. Now, listened to all together, it does follow a formula. And most of them are veering into a pop/rock sound too. Taylor Swift’s success is clearly an inspiration.
What I especially liked about Brandy Clark’s show tonight was that she’d pared the sound of her two albums – “A Big Day in a Small Town” and “12 Stories” – down to the essence. It was just her, another acoustic guitarist, who played the fancy runs, and a bassist – playing the double bass. It was a warm, intimate sound, and Brandy is a real class act. Great voice, a real tenderness, and a good story teller. I loved it – real good American music.
A word for the support act, Cross Atlantic, who are a duo, James Sinclair Scott from the UK and Karli Chayne, a country gal from Missouri (her words). They had some lovely songs and nice harmonies. They finished with a striking song of their own called “Mercy” and then a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”. Didn’t have the full solo of course, but they did the song justice, and there’s a bit of Stevie Nicks in Karli.
On Tuesday I went down to SE London, about ten minutes walk from London Bridge, to see a showcase by Catherine McGrath at Cambridge Audio HQ. It was a nice space, with images of classic albums through the ages on the walls. And the drinks were free!
I first came across Catherine at Latitude. I really liked her music – country with a modern pop sensibility. When I got home I downloaded her two EPs, “One” and “Starting from Now”, and found myself playing them more than anything else that I’d heard for the first time at Latitude. One of my kids asked what I was listening to – it sounded a bit like Taylor Swift to them. Which is interesting and maybe a pointer to the future.
So I was really looking forward to tonight’s show, while wondering exactly what it would be. I got invited through a ballot of Facebook followers. Inevitably I was a bit (OK, a lot) older than most of the people there, but I’m used to that. And it was a wonderful show. Great to see her in such intimate surroundings – before she gets too famous, because she will. She seemed really pleased to be playing in front of a crowd who’d come to see her. As she put it, she’d been playing support slots most of the summer, where a lot of the crowd are just waiting for the main act.
The opening song was “Hell Would Have to Freeze Over”, one of my favourites. A put- down of an ex, like a lot of her songs. Most of the others are about the start of relationships. My absolute favourite, “Cinderella”, was third up. A Nashville tune. Pure country heartbreak. She worked her way through most of her recorded input, including, of course her first “proper” single, “Talk of this Town”. A mini-autobiography, about facing down the doubters at home and coming to London, to try to make her way in the business. There was a cover too, which she performed solo, of a song called “Elsworth, Kansas”, by Rascal Flatts. Beautiful.
I love seeing bands at the early stages of their careers. They have a passion and, still, a sense of wonder about what they are doing. Great to see the seasoned operators, at the top of their game too, and I’m not averse to a bit of nostalgia either. But that start, when all the ideas you’ve had for the whole of your life so far come flooding through, has to be the best.
And that’s what tonight was all about. I have a feeling that Catherine will make it big in America first, and then Britain will latch on. We’ll see. Best of luck to her.
Finally, on Wednesday, Dream Wife. They’d been at Latitude but we missed them there. Tonight at the Scala they were awesome! Pure energy, with their singer, Rakel Mjoll, an amazing presence. She just exuded enjoyment and the spirit of rock’n’roll. The band are from Iceland (Rakel) and Brighton. They’ve combined punk, indie and pop in a totally infectious way. Rakel’s engagement with the crowd was brilliant. Included a bit of crowd-surfing, of course, and at the end a whole load of people got invited on stage to celebrate the last song. Like I said before, passion and that sense of wonder. Rakel made it clear how big this night was for the band. The London finale – for an up and coming band, it’s always the one.
Three quite different shows. All incredibly enjoyable in their different ways.
Love London life!