Live Review: The Goddamsels + Holly Henderson, The Betsey Trotwood London – 24th Jan 2024

Photo credit: Andres Amaya

This is the first UK visit from the Alberta based duo The Goddamsels. Does anyone else notice how Canadian musician visits to Europe are often timetabled to take them away from their own harsh winter rigours? The venue is in uber trendy Clerkenwell in a room that could pass as is for a 1930s bar-room and all the better for it.

This review would also have marked their AUK debut before an upbeat review of their latest single very recently. It’s a polished sound built around the finely harmonised vocals of Mallory Chipman and Freddi MacDougall and a country folk bluegrass influenced string based (both on acoustic tonight) musical palette. They have been operating as a songwriting duo for a decade and their current guise evolved when they linked up remotely (with Montreal and Edmonton their bases at the time) in mid pandemic 2020 which has given them time to create the smoothly honed melodic repertoire that they offer. When in full studio set up they have four bandmates but for obvious reasons it’s the core duo on this tour. Like numerous Canadian roots musicians, the credits on their products and media give thanks to the support they’ve received from their national government’s culture and arts department, whilst we had Nadine Dorries. So that’s one – nil to Canada.

The (Dixie) Chicks are an acknowledged influence and that’s a fair touchstone.  They sing with the light ribaldry of a Sunny Sweeney and the vocal sweep of a Carly Pearce. Bob Harris would surely be made happy by their output. The duo oozes positivity on stage and are clearly enjoying the moment. Chipman takes the higher notes and the consistently high quality of the songs should bring them a profile far beyond their home province

Opener ‘Rollanda’ is in memory of a close and larger than life friend Rolanda Lee who died in the pandemic’s early months having left her mark on those who met her. ‘Catch Myself’ also has a 2020 lineage and relates to the feeling of thoughtful reflective nostalgia. ‘Hometown Bar’ is a tribute from afar to the titular pub whilst ‘Wayward Daughter’, the debut album’s title track, is about the band itself and takes the melody in some appealing directions. There are several songs about distance and separation and reminiscing and leaving, which they half-jokingly acknowledge is the melodrama that musicians have to draw on to create the songs.

Why Can’t You Just Say Sorry’ has a loud and proud vocal directed to someone who refuses to accept responsibility for shoddy behaviour whilst ‘Two Sides Of The Same Coin’ is vaguely political, expressing how despite everyone seeking the same overarching human needs, big political wedges drive the sides apart – ” I could be a rusty penny or a silver dollar.” They play an intriguing trio of covers taking in Bill Monroe, a topped and tailed ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ by Neil young and the one that gets the biggest audience singalong, The Faces’ ‘Ooh La La’. Really though their stock of self penned material is already good enough to stand on its own merits. The final two songs are as good as anything they have created; ‘See You Next Time’ and the slower paced ‘Out The Door’, both in various guises about loss and either temporary or lifelong departure.

Support is from Holly Henderson from Maidstone, playing acoustic guitar alongside her partner Andy on electric. She is in the singer songwriter mould with folkish leanings and a chanteuse singing style with hints of Laura Nyro. Through a generous 40-minute set she proffers a tidy set of songs with her self-deprecating humble banter in between. She is no mean guitar player and her vocal meandering keeps the audience engaged. ‘Sunflower’ is a strong song dedicated to womanhood in general and her mum specifically whilst final track ‘Outside The Gates’ is also notable for its bursts of impressive psych folk guitar antics.

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