Adam Beattie “Live At The Old Church”

Independent, 2023

An uplifting evening of roots balladry.

Live albums often get a bad name. At worst they can be a filler to meet a release contract, substandard sound due to venue, too long, the list goes on. At best they can sound like Adam Beattie’s ‘Live At The Old Church’. This really does place the listener right there among a warm and appreciative audience in an intimate venue with perfect acoustics for a performance of absorbing stories, delicate accompaniment and some amusing chat in between.

Adam Beattie gets tagged under singer-songwriter or folk but as anyone familiar with his solo albums or what has been dubbed a “folk supergroup”, Band of Burns, will know such labels fall short. Beattie’s arrangements and lyrics, finger-picking acoustic guitar and distinctive vocals make short work of any such labelling as he throws jazz and blues into his folk mix to produce songs of great originality drawn from his own experience and keen observations of the human condition more generally.

Making this a live recording of such completeness are Beattie’s band of superbly accomplished musicians. These are violinist Mikey Kenney, Zac Gvi on accordion, clarinet and sax, duet vocalist Fiona Bevan who also plays double bass and drummer/ percussionist Chris Jones. Then there is the venue, The Old Church in Stoke Newington, that adds a communal feel bringing performers and audience together.

From his most recent release, ‘Somewhere Round the Bend’ Beattie opens with ‘A Thousand Roads’. Duetting with Bevan this gentle folk muse likening love to distance is so delicate. Violin and percussion fall into step as in the end distance prevails, “We could fill a train/ With all our dreams/ But these old wheels/ Are out of steam”.

Distance returns in a new song ‘Home Fires Burning’ as Beattie with Bevan duetting wonders how he might be received when he finally comes back to Aberdeen. There is an economy about the entire sound, not a superfluous word or note. Change and its acceptance weigh heavily.

Stylistically Beattie changes direction with ‘The Man Who Loves Too Much’. Humming to his blues picking he encourages the audience to join in. Gvi’s sax adds a sultry jazz tone as Aberdeen has long been forsaken for the sound of New Orleans. More jazz with a shimmering clarinet solo comes on ‘I’m On Your Side’.

Beattie return to his Scottish roots with another premier, the folk of the short and poignant ‘The Girl From the Seaside Town’. In Athens he wrote ‘Stripped to the Bone’ imagining himself as one of the many migrants who have landed on nearby shores. The tension of these perilous voyages and what lies ahead for those who arrive drips from his quavering vocals and musical interplay, “Barbed wire fence/ Rivers of mud/ Damp rots your feet/ Screams chill your blood/ You got to jump the fence”.

Beattie’s setlist goes back to Band of Burns for ‘My Luv Was Here And Now She’s Gone’, a lovely piece of flowing Scottish folk melancholy. But he does humour too, whether showing his gratitude to band members making the journey all the way from Tottenham or further afield. ’The Boy Done Good’ came out of a chance meeting with someone who told Beattie to pick up a cheap guitar next time he is in Nashville. Why aren’t they expensive Beattie thought to which the man replied these are the instruments left by all the no-hopers who didn’t make it, gave up, sold their guitars and returned home. Again, Beattie shows his ease in putting himself in someone else’s shoes as back in his home town he wonders what might have happened if things hadn’t turned out well for him. “The only thing I wanted since my childhood/ Was for my mum and my dad to say: “Our boy’s done good”” may have tongue firmly in cheek but among the laughs and audience participation whistling in this echoey solo, Beattie shows humility and empathy for those less lucky.

The lilting  ‘A Song of One Hundred Years’ brings the show to a close with more, very fine, audience participation. But not quite over. Instead of a separate encore Beattie said he’d roll it into the main setlist, “so we can all go to the pub”. ’Welcome Home’ is a well-chosen finale as he considers what home would be like when one day he gets home and his parents are around no longer and the place has changed. Beattie draws a kind of comfort from such dark thoughts.

‘Live At The Old Church’ is an album that leaves the listener drawing similar reassurance from the words and music of a very accomplished artist. It is most certainly a “wish I’d been there” kind of live record.

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8/10
8/10

About Lyndon Bolton 140 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between
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