Award winning singer-songwriter reminds everyone just how uplifting a great performance can be.
On the morning of this show I slipped on some wet brown leaves whilst out walking the dog. As well as causing me to utter a string of profanities, it reminded me, along with the grey drizzle, that it was autumn and that two summers had passed where the opportunity to see live music had been largely denied to us. Yes, there was the odd festival, but largely devoid of international acts and that’s a big deal if you happen to favour this broad genre that we call ‘Americana’. This was not the first toe that I had dipped into the post-pandemic gig water. A couple of excellent low-key gigs with Diana Jones and Peter Bruntnell had provided much a needed boost after an 18-month gap since GospelbeacH had proved to be my last gig before we were all thrust into lockdown.
The appearance of Courtney Marie Andrews in Manchester had a special feel of anticipation to it. Despite not being able to bring her band, which she mentioned with some regret, Courtney was one of the first, in what we all hope will be a long procession, of leading US Americana artists returning to our shores. In many ways Courtney Marie Andrews represents the future of Americana; young, immensely talented and appealing to new audiences. Tonight’s crowd were a mixed bunch, intermingled with the usual array of balding men in Nashville t-shirts, there were a significant number of much younger people, embracing, taking selfies, listening intently and totally respectful of the artist and fellow gig-goers. It was a heartening experience and one that encouraged the belief that as long as artists of the calibre of Courtney Marie Andrews continue to emerge, there will always be an audience for the genre. Americana can be a progressive, living, breathing, developing, and diverse musical form and not just a museum piece. I know that, because tonight I we saw an embodiment of it.
It is perhaps unsurprising that Courtney Marie Andrews is in the vanguard of American artists returning to the UK. After all she has had considerable success here. Last year she topped our own AUK Readers’ Poll in both the ‘Best International Artist’ category and for ‘Best International Album’ with ‘Old Flowers’. This was followed early this year by being named as ‘International Artist of the Year’ in the Americana Music Association UK Awards as well as receiving the ‘International Album of the Year’ again for ‘Old Flowers’. She is clearly amongst friends and admirers in the UK and there was a perceptible warmth and honesty in her words when she spoke about her excitement at being able to return once more.
Taking to the stage in a typically understated way, Andrews picked up her guitar and opened the show with ‘Rookie Dreaming’ from her 2016 album ‘Honest Life’. She then introduced ‘James Dean’ the first of three new songs, along with ‘To Be Wanted’ and ‘On/Off’, that gave a brief but tantalising glimpse into her next album. However, as might be expected, the bulk of the set was taken from ‘Old Flowers’ with eight of its ten songs featured. The evening’s support act, Memorial, a laid-back close harmonising duo, returned to back her on ‘Old Flowers’ and stayed for two more songs, adding a bit of texture and variety to the set. Earlier in the evening they had played their own, well received set of originals.
A move from guitar to piano saw Andrews perform a series of very personal songs culminating in a goosebump rendition of ‘Ships in the Night’. The seamless way in which she was able to do this speaks volumes for her as both a songwriter and a performer. Andrews has an air of confidence without arrogance. She comes across as modest, warm and sincere. Her time on stage just flew by and she left the stage in the same unassuming way that she had taken it. Moments later she returned to encore, firstly with ‘How Quickly Your Heart Mends’ and then closed with ‘Carnival Dreams’. It was over. The earlier anticipation had turned to fulfilment. Having entranced her audience and held them spellbound with just her songs and a single instrument, be it guitar or piano, nobody was left in any doubt that they had borne witness to something very special. The intimacy of a solo acoustic performance lent itself perfectly to the personal nature of Andrews’ songs. So, top-flight Americana gigs are back with us. Tonight Courtney Marie Andrews set the bar incredibly high with a real blue-ribbon performance. ‘Best Live Act’ anyone?
Photos courtesy of Nick Barber