Live Review: Beth Nielsen Chapman, Nells, London, 4th August 2023

A devoted and enthusiastic audience at London’s Nell’s was treated to a fine performance from Beth Nielson Chapman, delivered with her characteristic honesty, passion, and humour, spanning her career from its earliest days to her recent album ‘CrazyTown’, and her latest single release, ‘Love’.

The evening opened with a short set from emerging artists who Chapman has written with or mentored at the highly regarded songwriting camps hosted by Chris Difford of Squeeze fame. Each of the five acts performed a single number starting with Chester Caine on acoustic guitar with his original song ‘Circling’, followed by Bailey Tzuke with mother Judy adding backing vocals with her ballad ‘The Only Way to Let in the Light’. Henry Grace offered a contemporary country blues on resonator guitar and harmonica, before Holly Rogers took centre stage with ‘Sinner’, her powerful and sultry vocal capturing the biggest acclaim and participation from the audience, before Victoria Canal closed the support set with her sensitive piano ballad ‘On Me’.

Opening her own set with three songs from ‘CrazyTown’, one of AUK’s top ten albums of 2022, Chapman was accompanied by regular touring band members Mia Morris on bass and percussion and Ruth Trimble on keys, bass, and whistle, setting her stall out from the get-go, the sparkle of the album’s tracks shining through even with stripped back arrangements. The powerful album opening song ‘All Around the World’ was followed by ‘Put a Woman in Charge’, co-written with Keb Mo, with Chapman adding as a side note but perhaps not the last one. Everyone should fall deeply in love at least once,” she told us adding, even if it ends badly, before introducing ‘4LeafClover’.

As her many fans will know, Chapman experienced the loss of her husband Ernest to cancer in 1994. Introducing ‘Sand and Water’, from her 1997 album of the same name, she described it as a song which just flowed out of her as a response to her loss. Playing it to long-standing friend Rodney Crowell she told him it was a work in progress, to which he replied no, it’s finished, “it’s meant to be out there.” Tragically, Chapman lost her second husband Bob Sherman to leukaemia in December 2022. Recounting how, discussing with him when the end was close whether to cancel her tour dates, he told her “You’ll know what to do, and she knew that playing her songs would help her through her grief.

Chapman reminded her audience that other songs take longer to finish, following with her delightful ballad ‘With Time’ from ‘CrazyTown’ performed on piano, saying it took seven years—five to write, then two more to decide the elusive title opening should be “with.” Facing the challenge of bringing up her teenage son as a single parent, Chapman found inspiration in her song co-written with her friend Annie Roboff  ‘All Comes Down to Love’. Trimble took over on piano for ‘Touch My Heart’ before a spirited rendition of Squeeze’s ‘Woman’s World’, lyricist Chris Difford being a long-term friend and collaborator of Chapman. 

Calling for requests, Chapman performed ‘Emily’, solo on piano, her much-loved song about loss, which she dedicated to Robert Elms, on whose radio show she’d appeared that morning followed by ‘Every December Sky’, Chapman recounting that it was a song about the healing power of music, herself a cancer survivor, written as her hair was falling out the same time that leaves were falling. The original recorded version of the song features a delightful harmony vocal from John Prine, Chapman raised a collective smile around the room, telling the story of how, when friends told her that Prine was not comfortable singing harmonies, she succeeded by singing him the harmony melody to follow, pretending it was the new melody for the song—he told her “it’s not as good, whereupon she said you’re right and combined the two, to moving effect.

Upping the tempo Chapman, Morris and Trimble played Chapman’s recent single release ‘Back to This Moment’, before she switched to bass for ‘The Edge’ from ‘CrazyTown’, admitting that the pressure was on —if you make a mistake it’s really obvious,” followed by her latest single, a cover of Sara Groves’ ‘Love’, with a fine whistle solo from Trimble. ‘All I Have is All I Need’ was dedicated to her manager Trudie Myerscough-Harris, present for the show, before returning to guitar for an energised performance of her hit written for Faith Hill, ‘This Kiss’, with Chapman and her band joined by Holly Rogers, Bailey Tzuke and her mother Judy on backing vocals.

Closing a memorable set, Chapman invited her audience to dispense with the encore charade—and just applaud loudly after the next song, an encore to follow naturally—up-tempo ‘Everywhere We Go’ followed by ‘Walk You to Heaven’, described asmy best death song, both from ‘CrazyTown’—and yes, the audience went wild. A generous performer to the last, Chapman passed the final spotlight for a solo song each from Trimble and Morris, who closed the night with her ballad ‘Last Dance’.

A magical night for all those privileged to be there.

About David Jarman 123 Articles
Long time fan of Americana genre, from early days of Ry Cooder, through to today's thriving scene. Regular visitor to USA ( Nashville/Austin/Memphis/LA ) live music junkie, I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, plus vocals, run monthly jam session in Broadstairs
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