wed 24/07/2024

Gretchen Peters, Cadogan Hall review - writer and performer of exquisite gems | reviews, news & interviews

Gretchen Peters, Cadogan Hall review - writer and performer of exquisite gems

Gretchen Peters, Cadogan Hall review - writer and performer of exquisite gems

The singer-songwriter bids a poignant farewell

Gretchen PetersAndrew Newiss

It’s 27 years since Gretchen Peters released her debut album, The Secret of Life, championed by Bob Harris and the late Terry Wogan, whose morning-tide enthusiasms also helped propel Eva Cassidy and Beth Neilsen Chapman to success - the term “Americana” hadn’t yet been invented!

Peters has been touring Britain for some 25 years, unusually for an American recording a live album here (The Show: Live from the UK), which captured her just pre-Covid performing a career-spanning selection of songs with the all-female Southern Fried String Quartet. She’s won, or been nominated for, a raft of distinguished awards, including the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award. And rightly so, for she is a distinguished writer of exquisite gems that get under your skin and stay with you.

I’d not yet encountered her when I pitched up to a dreary space under railway arches in west London mostly to see Joan Baez, who was poised for a career relaunch. Songwriters’ Circle ran for a couple of seasons on BBC TV, a wonderful idea which made for engaging viewing. Baez shared the stage with Peters and the equally talented Matraca Berg. I’d heard of neither of them before that night but immediately bought their records and was richly rewarded.

“On a Bus to St Cloud” and “Independence Day” were the songs Peters sung that July night, the latter named Song of the Year in 1995 by America’s powerful Country Music Association – she was only the second woman to win that award.

At Cadogan Hall last night, Peters played the closing date of a three-week tour which now heads to Nashville. She’s retiring from the road, though autumn finds her in Tuscany leading songwriting workshops – something one hopes she will continue. The Nashville machine may not have made her a superstar – she’s too unflashy for that role – but she’s built a large and loyal following that appreciates the poetry and musicianship of her work. Neither singer nor audience wanted the evening to end, and Peters delivered an utterly enthralling show. She was backed by a trio of fine musicians, including her pianist husband Barry Walsh, who stood up from the keyboard to add accordion flourishes to a couple of numbers, including “The Matador” and Tom Russell’s exquisite and atmospheric “Gaudalupe”. At times I was reminded of early Hot Band. Kim Richey, alone with her guitar, opened the evening and joined Peters on stage to add harmony to a number of songs.

The evening drew widely from her own distinguished catalogue, and that of such Nashville confrères as Rodney Crowell and Micky Newbury, opening with “Blackbirds”, the title track of her 2015 album. “Pretty Things”, the exquisite “Say Grace”, “Everything Falls Away”, “Wichita”, and “Five Minutes” were among the number covered. There was a new song, “Judas Kiss”, and of course, as the evening sadly drew to a close, “On a Bus to St Cloud” and “When You Are Old”, a perfect miniature that is as profound and moving as anything in popular music. I defy anyone not to be oved by its poignancy and pathos, so beautifully and economically expressed. (Matraca Berg’s “Back When We Were Beautiful” is a similar gem.)

Peters acknowledged a roster of individuals who have been key to her success and seemed genuinely moved by the audience response. It was a generous and memorable 90 minute set that she closed with “One for My Baby”, the old Harold Arlen – Johnny Mercer chestnut from Burnt Toast and Offerings. Let’s hope the albums keep on coming.

'When You Are Old' is a perfect miniature that is as profound and moving as anything in popular music


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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In fact, so moved was Gretchen P that she came back to do a solo acoustic second Encore - the moving and gentle "Love That Makes A Cup of Tea". She may have forgotten a few words in the middle but we didn't care because we love her now as we have always done.

An amazing evening that sadly many people left early not waiting for the encore and emotional final song (their loss)

A beautiful evening that will stay with me for a long time. If this really was Gretchen’s final UK concert it was such a wonderful one to leave on.

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