St John’s, the capital of the Canadian province Newfoundland and Labrador, is actually nearer to London than to Nashville which might make one give pause for thought on whether the Atlantic is just, well, overrated. Both of tonight’s bands hail from that Canadian province and both are in a celebratory mood as it’s the last date of their four week UK tour, “Last night at camp” as they describe it, hosted in the traditional pub setting of The Old Queen’s Head in Islington. Headliners The Good Lovelies, who met in their very first years at primary school and reunited as a full time band in 2006, draw on several highlights from their recent album Shapeshifters, an album which saw a slight move towards more pop-rock influences than in their early material.
The trio of Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore are joined on this tour by Mark Mariash on drums and MJ Dandeneau on double bass and their contributions add major scope and diversity to the sound. The trio share the between-song banter and all are confident and witty. They are candid too about their families and in one case, ‘Dateline’, sing about how online dating after some false starts led to Sue Passmore linking up with her husband of five years standing.
The opening song ‘Last Night’ was a model of Americana with tones of the Be Good Tanyas at their peak whilst ‘Pulse and Flatline’ was based around a bossa nova rhythm. Some numbers steered towards more mainstream Nashville fare such as ‘Slow Road’ and ‘Old Fashioned Love’ with shared ground with The Pistol Annies’ soundplate. They closed the main set with their Canadian Number 1 single, ‘I See Gold’ chiming, “We are the heavy lifters/We are the shapeshifters.” They joked that if the title can be misheard as Icy Cold they will happily take the readies from any beer company wishing to use it accordingly….
Other highlights included ‘The Doe’ and ‘Torn Screen Door’, for both of which the trio stepped down into the room to deliver the songs with no mics, and almost acapella – it’s rare and enchanting to be so close to such wonderfully pitched voices with no supporting amplification. ‘Torn Screen Door’ tells of a rural family suffering foreclosure and eviction on their mortgaged farm despite their best labouring efforts, until, “Nobody lives here no more.” Similarly stripped back and effective was ‘This Little Heart’, a kind of Americana lullaby. Their first encore was a wonderful cover of Crosby Stills & Nash’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’, their own perfect harmonies matching the famous purity of the original from 1974. They closed with their own standard, ‘Crabbukkit’, tracking back to their Canadian maritime roots. They return to The Green Note later this year and are well worth seeing.
Exuberant support came from The Fortunate Ones, namely Andrew James O’Brien and Catherine Allan who draw on similar musical influences as The Good Lovelies, perhaps a little more mainstream with Fleetwood Mac in the drawer somewhere. High points included ‘No Change In Me’, about a young Newfoundlander needing to emigrate to seek work, and then a fine song that O’Brien wrote for his brother’s wedding, only to be told that the conjugal couple would much rather have a dish washer mat. The song now has a wider currency for which we are all grateful!