Gretchen Peters with The Southern Fried String Quartet, Cadogan Hall, London, 20th April 2019

Gretchen Peters has composed hits for Etta James, George Strait, Neil Diamond and Shania Twain to name just a few, she has been nominated for Grammy Awards and was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014. Brandy Clark has said of her, “Gretchen Peters is a songwriter’s writer – the kind of inspiring artist and writer we strive to be like and one we use as a measuring stick for our own work.” She’s also an inspiring performer and all of the above was in evidence tonight with a career spanning collection of songs whose captivating quality could not be denied. Aside from appearing with her band the show also featured a string quartet, a concept originally devised for Peters’ performance at last year’s Southern Fried Festival in Scotland’s Perth, hence the quartet’s name and the banner – “The Strings Attached Tour.”

The show opened with Peters and her band  starting off with ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer’ from her album ‘Blackbirds’ which won two UK Americana Association awards in 2016. This was swiftly followed by ‘Disappearing Act’ from her latest album, ‘Dancing With The Beast’. Like many of Peters’ songs, there was a narrative and a picture woven before your eyes that transported you to that time and place. With a voice that can sound as if she has been bruised and damaged but which can then go on to soar, she’s like a blend of Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow and Rickie Lee Jones but ultimately her voice remains distinctly her own. ‘Wichita’ was a brooding song full of darkness and despair from the viewpoint of a twelve-year-old but also with a measure of hope and triumph in adversity by way of revenge. ‘Save Grace’, ‘Everything Falls Away’ and ‘The Matador’, the latter a lyrical masterpiece with a mesmerising vocal performance by Peters and a highlight of the first set, were all received warmly by the attentive audience before the beautiful ‘Five Minutes’  and then ‘Idlewild’ ended the first set of the evening.

The band returned, along with the Southern Fired String Quartet, and started the second set with ‘Arguing With Ghosts’ and ‘Hello Cruel World’. The string section added new layers to the songs, giving further depth and emotion with Peters saying, “The most fun about this tour is going back and looking at songs we’ve not been playing in recent years to see what fun could be had with four string players.” They then played lush versions of ‘Secret Of Life’ and ‘Revival’ which had the audience entranced. The haunting ‘Blackbirds’ was next, after which Peters introduced the band and string section who all received the recognition they deserved by way of much applause. The next song, ‘There Is Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea’, received the largest audience response up to that point and deservedly so. Peters then told the audience about song writing with Bryan Adams and sang the song  which they wrote together and which featured in the film ‘Hope Floats‘, ‘When You Love Someone’. Following this came the magnificent ‘On A Bus To St. Cloud’ which saw the audience appreciation levels rise again and it was followed by the final song of the set, appropriately called ‘To Say Goodbye’. A standing ovation ensued as the band left the stage and continued until they returned to perform a final song, ‘When You Are Old’. Another thunderous ovation was given to the band as they ended the evening.

A magical night for everyone there, who all looked a bit lost once the gig was over, as if coming back to reality from the places Peters had taken them. I don’t know how many of the audience have been to America but they all felt that they had travelled the highways and back roads and experienced the inhabitants’ highs and lows through the words and themes that Peters had impressed upon their souls over the evening.

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carole dibley

I felt so priviledged to be there that night. I have seen Gretchen many times before but this was such a special night