It’s been five years since Lauren Housley last appeared at Lincolnshire’s premier Americana music venue though tonight’s show should have taken place this time last year as part of Housley’s nationwide tour to promote her latest album ‘Girl From The North’, only for the gig to be cancelled due to ill health. However, as the saying goes, “the best things come to those that wait” and you could tangibly sense the buzz of excitement amongst the crowd who had braved the weather and chosen to ignore the sporting distraction available elsewhere as Housley and her band, ‘The Northern Cowboys,’ took to the stage for this rescheduled performance.
The show opened with ‘Guaranteed Sunshine’, a track from the new album that conjured an obvious juxtaposition with the weather outside, but which quickly got everyone inside warmed up with this infectious uptempo number that has already become a crowd favourite and which nicely set the tone for the rest of the evening. Next came ‘Three Wishes’ the first of a number of new songs that Housley and her band would air during the evening which with its soulful refrain gave a subtle hint of a new musical direction. However, the bulk of the first of the two sets performed was made up mostly of songs from her latest album while there was still room for an older track such as ‘The waiting Game’, co-written by guitarist and partner Thomas Dibb. Housley’s voice is in fine form encapsulating the full range at the roots of Americana music with folk, blues and soul all entwined within the sound of this South Yorkshire songbird, and live on stage is where she’s at her best. The show continued with a run of numbers from the new album of which ‘Bless His Soul’ and ‘Why Are We Making This So Hard’ were particular highlights before the first half was brought to a close with a wonderful rendition of Little Feet’s ‘Willin’.
Housley is the current recipient of the the prestigious ‘Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award’, though she laments the fact that the honour is coming to an end, but not before she and her band have the opportunity to open for The Wandering Hearts in the coming days of which tonight’s show is a precursor and a exciting way to end the year. 2023 will also start on a high note for Housley as she will be touring throughout January as a duet with Australian singer songwriter Nigel Wearne. The two first met in Montreal back in 2019 and Housley recently added some wonderful vocals to Wearne’s recent single ‘To The Edge’.
After a short interval the band returned for the second set which was made up of a fine mix of material showcasing both the new album with songs such as ‘What’s Troubling You Child’ and ‘This Ain’t The Life’ clearly demonstrating its strength in depth, whilst a selection of newly written material including ‘Sweet Surrender’ and ‘Show Me What Love Is’ again suggested a slight musical shift, possessing a greater emphasis on soul similar to that of Yola’s recent recordings. Rumour has it that we might see these new songs released on an EP later next year along with a tour using a horn section which is certainly something to look forward too. All this highlighted the tightness of the band as they gravitated instinctively to the musical pulse with a fluidity and dexterity that offered the perfect conduit to Housley’s vocals. Dibb’s guitar playing, whether supporting the rhythm section, firing off some blistering solos from his Fender Telecaster or simply adding some subtle interplay with second guitarist Chris Larcombe, who unbelievably was playing only his second gig with the band, was particularly impressive while the whole sound was superbly underpinned by Mark Lewis on bass and Nick Williams on drums.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a seasonal tune and so it was that Housley and the band, in keeping with the soulful theme, treated the audience to a delightful rendition of Donnie Hathaway’s ‘This Christmas’, filling the Town Hall with festive cheer. Sadly, all too soon the final number of the evening was reached with the beautiful ‘My Sleeping Heart’ bringing the second set to a close, but not before a raucous response from the audience for an encore saw the band return to the stage and deliver a rousing performance of their anthemic ‘We’re Not Breaking Down’ which has already become something of a band classic.
Proceeding were kicked off on the night by local singer songwriter Rob Nicklas who resides just the other side of the Humber and is a regular at the Town Hall. Nicklas has recently been on tour promoting his debut album ‘Remember To Breathe’ of which most of the evening’s short set was culled from. The opening number ‘Going Out East’ quickly alerts the audience to Nicklas’ strengths with a strong voice, despite the remnants of a heavy cold, and a good ear for a melody while the number evokes that halcyon period of the late sixties. That period of influence is not surprising when you understand the backstory to Nicklas who is now in his sixty-fifth year and despite playing and making music for over thirty years has only recently decided too commit full time to his art. Other songs in the set such as ‘Skidby Hill’ and ‘Falling Star’ both from his new album, highlight his talent as a songwriter and provide conclusive proof if proof was need that he has made the right choice.