Patty Griffin wrapped up her 2023 European tour – all two dates – at Union Chapel. Her first London show in three years and her first at Union Chapel in ten. Despite having played the nearby Black Deer festival at the weekend, the downstairs section of the venue was packed with an enthusiastic crowd.
Before the main event we had a support set from UK singer guitarist John Smith. A well-travelled musician Smith has supported Griffin on several tours. He is currently recording an album (his seventh or eighth) with Joe Henry. Smith is an excellent guitar player and has a husky voice which hints at the likes of John Martyn and Nick Drake. He performed a well-received 6 song set interspersed with engaging anecdotes. ‘Eye To Eye’, a co-write with Sarah Jarosz which was on his latest record ‘The Fray’ was a highlight. He also broke out a new song, ‘Lily’, written with Henry, and led the audience in a singalong chorus.
Griffin and her regular guitarist, David Pulkingham, took the stage to stirring applause. After greeting the crowd, Pulkingham picked out the distinctive Latin-tinged intro to the opening song ‘What I Remember’ from her self-titled 2019 Grammy winning album. It was followed by the country-flavoured ‘Where I Come From’. Griffin’s voice came across as strong and expressive throughout the evening. Meanwhile Pulkingham’s leads set the mood very effectively. This was further evidenced on the jazzy ‘Hourglass’.
Griffin has been an advocate for the disadvantaged for many years – in 2017 she was part of the Lampedusa benefit tour along with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Dave Matthews and more to raise money to support refugees. Her next song, ‘250,000 Miles’ with its opening mother’s lament: “Oh where is my daughter that I carried, Gone to where the desert meets the sea” would soften the hardest of hearts (OK maybe not May, Patel and Braverman).
Griffin introduced ‘Stay On The Ride’ with a story of how she imagined the face of an old man she later realised was a defendant in a case where she’d been on jury duty.
There has always been a spiritual side to Griffin’s music and, perhaps inspired by the setting, this came through as she switched to piano for ‘Servant of Love’, followed by ‘Mother of God’. She reached further back into her catalogue for a moving ‘Mary’.
As the evening progressed, the instrumental interplay of Griffin and Pulkingham became more notable as they extended those passages of the songs. This was highlighted when Griffin switched to mandolin for ‘Shine A Different Way’ which saw the two musicians leaning into one another as they jammed out.
The spiritual theme returned for a beautiful ‘Up To The Mountain’ before Griffin and Pulkingham closed out with a sweet ‘Luminous Places’ leading into a rousing ‘No Bad News’.
They were, of course, called back for an encore. Griffin told us she was writing new songs and hoped to release a new record before too long. So for an encore she played us a new song which may be called ‘A Word’. With that they took their bows and were gone leaving the audience to head out into the warm Islington night. Griffin said she was hoping to be back before too long. She was on great form at Union Chapel and everyone there was hoping for a swift re-acquaintance as well.
Thanks to Nick Asquith for the photography. https://www.instagram.com/nickasquithphotography/