While we’re just about getting used to live gigs again, the road to various stages is still littered with Covid related obstacles. Hannah Aldridge did appear tonight, and a hurrah for that, but, as she explained, when she commenced her tour in Scandinavia she had to reinvent herself almost night by night as different border regulations defined who could and who could not travel with her. Add to that her proposed co-headliner, Jason Charles Miller didn’t make it across the Atlantic and that her accompanist for tonight, Gustav Sjödin, had a bug which had robbed him of his voice, and it’s a wonder that she didn’t just hunker down and binge on a Netflix box set along with a good supply of chocolate and booze.
Despite these woes, a surprisingly chipper Aldridge bounced on to the stage tonight. Sure enough, she told us of her trepidations, not so much complaining as relishing being able to relate a car crash of events to a bunch of friends over a few drinks. Those friends were all in the front row of The Glad Cafe – die hard Aldridge fans who, if you check their social media, generally end up on stage with her at some point – although Covid didn’t allow for that tonight. Anyhow, Aldridge was in a safe space and she commanded it.
She kicked off the show with a powerful rendition of ‘Razor Wire’ before demolishing an old boyfriend on ‘Born To Be Broken’ – be advised, do not date a songwriter and then cheat on her! Talking about her background -religious raised, with a dad who was a Muscle Shoals musician while also being a fan of bands like The Smashing Pumpkins – she primed us for the evening. Aldridge then ploughed into deep dark Americana gothic with ‘Lace’, a song co-written with Ashley McBride, and then dived deeper on in with a striking rendition of her latest song, ‘Some Ghosts (Don’t Make A Sound)’. The voiceless Gustav then joined Aldridge on stage, to play some scintillating guitar (and to be a butt for some good natured joshing). However, he was spot on when they delivered the swampy sounds of ‘Yankee Bank’ and particularly when Aldridge tackled Radiohead’s ‘Lucky’ with the pair of them sounding like The Cowboy Junkies. Dialling it down somewhat, ‘Goldrush’ was a deeply emotional listen, fitting for this time of year, and then there was ‘Burning Down Birmingham’, the song where Aldridge usually picks a chorus from the audience to come on stage and sing along. Not tonight, but the seated audience sang along heartily nevertheless.
While Jason Charles Miller wasn’t present, his song, ‘Sinking’, was given an airing after which Aldridge again delved into the deep South on ‘Born To Be Broken’ before she sang ‘Lonesome’, the song which kind of kickstarted her career. An encore was demanded and the primal rush of ‘Howling Bones’ was the answer. Bereft of a band, Aldridge nevertheless managed to be spine tingling on this howl of a song.
Support tonight was in the form of a rare solo appearance by Paul Tasker, one half of Doghouse Roses. While his song writing and in particular his guitar skills are well represented in the duo (the other half being the superb singer Iona MacDonald), Tasker has a solo career with one album (‘Cold Weather Music’) under his belt and another on the way, both of them all instrumental. His set tonight was mostly instrumental, showcasing his undoubted prowess on a fretboard with a new number, ‘Tierra Quemada’ quite outstanding, especially on its tastefully expressed tender ending notes. An older number, ‘Valve Oil’, was a bluesy rumination which allowed Tasker’s veneration of Bert Jansch to shine. Another hero of Tasker is the late Jackie Leven and he was celebrated with a fine rendition of Leven’s bacon and urine leavened treatise on Kevin Coyne, ‘Here Come The Urban Ravens’. Warm, engaging and witty, Tasker certainly warmed us up and he closed with a song he’s written recently for Doghouse Roses which, I think, is called ‘Sleepwalking’. A Billy Bragg like modern protest song (as democracy sleepwalks to its doom), it has the makings of becoming an audience favourite once MacDonald gets to add her vocal magic to it. That’s not to denigrate Tasker’s delivery tonight which was couthy and heartfelt.