A glorious early September evening with the recently developed and gentrified streets between the back of the railway lines and down by the canal doing their best to entice the avid music fan away from Kings Place. But to no avail – the double attraction of Gretchen Peters and Kim Richey is tough competition. Two fine singer-songwriters – and both also fine interpreters of other writers’ songs – would be gracing the main hall in the multi-level arts venue that lies beneath the offices of The Guardian.
With the hall about two thirds full, and with the promise of reaching capacity as there were people in the upstairs gallery behind the stage – which would take Kim Richey by surprise in the first round of applause. Opening proceedings alone on stage – just a voice and a guitar – Kim Richey sang a half dozen beautiful songs, each introduced folk-club style with an appropriate anecdote. Mostly of the self-deprecating kind, such as her excitement of hearing a new song (‘A place called home‘) which had gone “straight to muzak” in a hardware store – and the indifference of the saw operator cutting wood for her. That’s fame. It’s a beautifully delicate song though.
The opening one-two showed two sides of love and relationships – the pledge of forever of ‘Every River‘ with its assertion that “when the day comes that I don’t love you / every star will fall out of the sky / every mountain will tumble down / every river run dry” is followed up by the weary I’ve told you he’s no good, why won’t you listen of ‘Pin a Rose‘. A good number of whoops accompanied the mention that it was a co-write with Chuck Prophet, and you can certainly hear his influence.
Another selection from 2018’s ‘Edgelands‘ was the upbeat ‘Chase Wild Horses‘ which saw Kim Richey rocking out on this rejection of a younger self’s wild days. And there was just time for one last anecdote of winning a heckle – when Richey first played The Grand Ol’ Opry someone shouted after a couple of songs “how about a little Lorreta Lynn?” to which she responded “how about a little Kris Kristofferson?“, and her sensitive rendition of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down‘ showed that was an argument well and truly won. A short set – but this would not be the last we’d see of Kim Richey, as she’d be back several times during Gretchen Peters’ set. She’s also kicking off a UK solo tour on the heels of these dates and will be in London again on September 17th.
Gretchen Peters has a new live double album out, you may have seen the review, and when she took the stage with her band she launched into a set that would draw on many of the same songs – it’s a career-spanning selection and as Peters’ would mention herself when you’ve produced as many albums as she has you do have a lot of “hits” to pick from, too many for any one night to encompass. The opener, perhaps predictably, was ‘The Show‘, a song about the gig to come and the traveling to it – gentle out-of-the-window observations and thoughts of heading home, and the promise of 19 songs to be delivered. It’s an easing into the evening that contrasts with the next few songs which could be lumped together under the heading of Southern Gothic – or as Gretchen Peters would comment after the swampy slide-guitar of ‘Blackbirds‘ that she’d now “got most of the killing out of the way.” Not quite, and the killing isn’t “senseless” as Peters’ characters reveal their stories – take ‘Wichita‘ which is a bleak murder ballad seen through a child’s eyes as an act of self-defence: “you took it from my mama / now you’re taking it from me / but you touch my little sister mister then you’re going to see / there’s worse things than running from the law here in Wichita.”
Photo: J. Aird
After the car and oil metaphors of the burned-out romance of ‘Love and Texaco‘ had faded away we were, in fact, back with violence, perhaps even contemplated murder, on the emphatic rocker of ‘When All You Got Is A Hammer‘ with a veteran’s inability to readjust to civilian family life. Not only is it fast and punchy but that central image of burning frustration “When All You Got Is A Hammer, everything looks like a nail” perfectly captures a pressure cooker of rage and resentment on the verge of an explosion.
With bass player Conor McCreanor and guitarist Colm McClean leaving the stage Gretchen Peters entered the covers section of the evening – with pianist, and husband, Barry Walsh acccompanying from the piano and offering the other half of the vocals for a duet on ‘When You Love Someone‘, originally performed with co-writer Bryan Adams for the movie ‘Hope Floats‘, a fact which elicited a wry “yeah – me neither.” A pretty enough love song, but nothing compared to Peters’ take on ‘Guadalupe‘. With Kim Richey adding backing vocals and Barry Walsh on accordian it eschews Tom Russel’s gruff delivery, but the lyrics still cut through to the emotional bone. Truly beautiful.
A theme arose in the last few songs that reflected on running down in one way or another – with ‘Lay Low‘ introduced as having taken on a new meaning for it’s author recently, with the weariness of the chorus “think I need to lay low for a whil stare at the Gulf of Mexico for a while / take it easy take it slow for a while” and the theme of aging and changing hitting home in a different way. Put another way – Gretchen Peters will be touring one last time in 2023. And having dropped that bombshell ‘Five Minutes‘, ‘On a bus to St. Cloud‘ and, most of all ‘To Say Goodbye‘ felt like an extended coda to that thought and the sense of a bittersweet ending. The encore, thankfully, opened with the upbeat ‘England Blues‘, which gave the band chance to show off what they could do before the poignant closers of ‘When You Are Old‘ and the spinechilling final song done, as Barry Walsh said “TFA – Totally Fucking Acoustic” with himself and Gretchen and Kim singing ‘Say Grace‘ off-mic.
And so – after 25 years of touring this country there’s one last UK tour to come next May. The final tour….well, maybe we should wait and see if that’s really the case, but assuming it is then everything winds up in London on the 26th. You won’t want to miss it – it promises to be emotional.