It’s the first of two nights at The Stables with Beth Nielsen Chapman finally bringing her ‘Crazy Town‘ tour to the venue after a couple of years of delays because of… well, we all know why. And what an eventful two years it has been, with The Stables having changed from being in a semi-rural setting to now being virtually ringed with housing developments and having a modified approach road – fortunately this stalwart of the local music scene has been able to put off any threats from noise abatement issues….at least for now.
Beth Nielsen Chapman took the stage with her band – bassist Scott Mullvahill, drummer Mia Morris and Ruth Trimble on keyboards – who had also been the opening band, with Scott the prime mover in that role. She was clearly happy to have finally made this tour and perhaps especially these gigs as she opened with the first of many songs from ‘Crazy Town‘, the mid-pace rocker ‘All Around The World‘ with its refrain that things “can only get better” in the face of the relentless feeling that “All around the world today Is a tidal wave of tears.” This bouncy pop-tinged number is, Chapman informed us, a co-write with Graham Goulden “who will be here….tomorrow night,” the first of several hints that the second night of this two-night stand was going to be very special.
What a tease – but she can be self-deprecating as well, explaining that the co-write with Keb’ Mo, ‘Put A Woman In Charge‘ with its inversion of the philosophy of ‘It’s a man’s world‘ made a little more sense before we had gone “through a whole load of Prime Ministers.” Yes – lines like “She’ll be a hero, not a fool / She’s got power to change the rules” do ring a little ironic in a land that has encountered Liz Truss, but as Beth Nielsen Chapman comments “in some countries it works quite well.” It’s soulful and positive, but perhaps for us just a bit too soon. A more embedded feeling accompanied ‘Sand and Water’ which was explained as having been written when Chapman’s first husband died from cancer – it balances beautifully the pain of loss against the joys of having loved: “all alone I sat and cried / all alone I had to find some meaning.” It’s a song, she notes, that has become poignant for many more in recent times.
Moving to the piano – which Chapman jokes she’s been told she can take home with her – allowed for a different mood, taking things down further into quiet balladry, including the song ‘All I Have‘ which she describes as her most frequently played at weddings – and weddings which last. It’d be perfect for a slow dance, and is unabashedly romantic: “All I have is all I need / And it all comes down to you and me / How far away this world becomes / In the harbour of each others arms.”
There’s a necessary change of pace with the rockier ‘Pockets of My Past‘ which allowed the band – and drummer Mia Morris in particular – to show more of what they can do.
This song of kicking-free and grasping life again sounds suspiciously topical but was actually written before the pandemic hit – no matter, it’s still a belter of a song with some fine keyboard breaks from Ruth Trimble.
This upbeat turn continued with another song from ‘Crazy Town‘, which had been co-written with Bill Lloyd – a song which Chapman claimed aimed to be “Buddy Holly meets Tom Petty, and then they go out to lunch with The Byrds” which was perhaps a slight over claim – there’s certainly an early rock and roll feel and plenty of Petty in Chapman’s vocal on ‘Dancin’ with the Past‘ but only a touch of jangle guitar from Mullvahill. The co-written with Kimmy Rhodes ‘The Universe‘ serves to emphasize that this band are perhaps at their finest when rocking out – and on this tour through the wonders of science, creation and….everything they get to rock out their finest so far. And just when you’re starting to think that Beth Nielsen Chapman and her band have found their finest groove, the subtlety of ‘The Edge‘ draws you back with its ambiguous delineation of boundaries being pushed – is this love getting twisted, or a hint at some addiction or the folly of self destruction that the now bass playing Chapman sings of, with a repeated “they say time heals the pain.” Either way it’s both sad and lovely. It’s soaring vocals that mark out the big piano ballad ‘How We Love‘, whilst the edgy and bluesy ‘The Truth‘ juggles with the craziness at the heart of ‘Crazy Town‘ which aims to hold onto a core of reality in the face of unreality and was inspired by political conversations with Chapman’s sister who has “different political views” – which can probably be guessed at.
The main set closed out with the big hit “This Kiss” and an extended rendition of the light-hearted and rockabilly tinted ‘Everywhere We Go‘ which gave the band a little space to show off their musical prowess, with Scott Mullvahill adding some harmonica solos, further demonstrating his multi-instrumental abilities. There was a single encore – with Beth Nielsen Chapman on acoustic guitar and the band adding backing vocals – of the folky farewell, and as Chapman put it “happy death song“, ‘Walk You To Heaven‘ which it would surprise no-one to hear was inspired by John Prine. It rounded out an evening that had both showcased the new, and much admired, album and also Beth Nielsen Chapman’s many songwriting sides.
As noted at the start the support for the evening came mainly from Scott Mullvahill (with some help from the rest of the band at times), whose singer-songwriter material is noteworthy for being accompanied predominantly by upright bass alone which is certainly unusual. His anecdotes and songs shared a common thread of persevering and trying to achieve something – you just might succeed. In Mullvahill’s case the big achievement was moving from regular gigs as a sideman, for example with Ricky Scaggs, to finding his own musical voice – a journey which Scaggs helped with through the medium of tough love, telling Mullvahill that “man your voice sounds good, your songs sound good, but there’s just nothing interesting about it all.” Full marks for telling that anecdote. and getting the biggest laugh of the evening.