What do you do when your favourite singer/songwriter announces an 11 date UK tour? If you’re me and that artist is Nashville’s Brandy Clark you book time off work and get tickets to 9 of the shows, sort out transport and accommodation, apologise to your dogs for their upcoming time in kennels and get VERY excited! Obsessed, me? Guilty as charged!
As I write this I’m on my way home from her final show, Dublin, and must admit to feeling rather depressed now this tour has ended, apart from the music it was wonderful to meet so many of Brandy’s fans along the way, not only from the UK but as far afield as the States, Germany and Spain. Country music really does unite!
As well as her longstanding lead guitarist, Miles Aubrey, this tour saw the addition of upright bass player Vanessa McGowan (both providing backing vocals to) which added extra depth all round. The three have a great on stage rapport and the UK crowds really were appreciative of all their talents. As much as I love the fully produced studio versions of Brandy’s songs, hearing them stripped back to the bones really helps highlight their lyrics and her vocal prowess. Oh and she is a mean guitar player in her own right too!
The venues were wide ranging in both type (including historic churches and purpose built modern auditorium) and size (200-1000) all providing their own challenges soundwise but Brandy’s technical team did a sterling job throughout, something I never take for granted. As Brandy warned us most nights, she took us on a roller coaster of emotions, laughing, crying then laughing til we cried! Her versatility as a writer and performer is a total joy.
At all the shows, she took to the stage (always dressed top to toe in black, a modern day, female Johnny Cash!) to play her opener, “Hold My Hand” solo, the cheers as she appeared subsiding as she began to sing this stunner which she has said on several occasions is the favourite song she’s written. Miles and Vanessa would then join her, starting Love Can Go To Hell” off slowly, classically in fact, the bowed bass just stunning and so atmospheric, before it picked up to its more familiar pace.
There was a core set list for most of the concerts, see below (the second London show the exception, more of that later) with three songs played back to back at the start, the third being the brand new “Favourite Lie” a mid tempo song, with a catchy chorus in which Brandy sings of being unsure of the truth behind her partners declaration of love, even though she’s “heard enough bullshit to know what I should and shouldn’t buy”.
As always (if you’ve seen Brandy live before you’ll know!) her amusing and interesting song introductions, anecdotes and banter with the audience were a great feature throughout, and she invited us to sing along regardless of our talents as “ a lot of artists with recording contracts can’t sing” (cue laughs and applause!) and that is exactly what happened!
Particularly well received at all shows were “Girl Next Door”, “Stripes”, “Daughter” (Brandy’s favourite of her revenge songs, as it’s “not about slashing tyres or blowing shit up, it’s a sweeter, longer lasting type”) and “Three Kids, No Husband” but even the lesser known songs (which were really only the four not on either of her two studio albums) got fantastic responses. Before one of these, her latest single “You’re Drunk” she would point out that we were “slap dab in the middle of the substance abuse portion of the show …… it’s the longest portion!“ and mentioned how she loved that country music has historically glamorised all the sins. The news that she hopes to one day record an album of just drinking songs was always a popular remark, but went down particularly well at the two Irish venues!
Deafening cheers, clapping, foot stomping and at the first venue even chants of “Brandy, Brandy!” brought the Washington native back to the stage for the encore, for the first few shows this was two songs (including the newbie “Apologies”) performed by all three musicians but this then changed to Brandy starting off on her own, performing covers of songs that have inspired her to become the artist she is today, and we were treated to her wonderful versions of the classics “Blue Bayou”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”, “The Chair”, “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “You Don’t Know Me” .
How the three musicians kept the standard so high throughout their gruelling schedule is testament to their professionalism and love of their craft, often they would travel immediately from one venue to the next on their tour bus after a show, hardly the glamorous lifestyle some of the fans imagine I’m sure. Those disappointed that there were no signings/photo opportunities on this tour take note! Plus vocal chords need to be rested as much as possible, immediately before her arrival in the UK Brandy had already performed at several CMA Songwriter’s shows in Europe and opened for Miranda Lambert in Canada. The only standing venue came towards the latter stages of their visit, the particularly rousing Glasgow show, which Brandy did say helped lift the trio’s energy levels!
As promised earlier, a brief mention of the back to back London shows at the stunning “Union Chapel” which Brandy said was a “pinch myself” moment for her……the second show was added after the first sold out and she changed things up for the second night as she was aware some people were going to both shows…..Miles appearing topless as she joked he may do didn’t happen, but the setlist was split into two halves to reflect her two albums and there were some songs not played at the other venues, including the particularly poignant “Since You’ve Gone To Heaven” with the encore consisting of her new material.
A quick shout out to the support artists, who Brandy generously made a point of thanking at each show….. Cross Atlantic opened on the first four dates, a young, vibrant and seriously talented duo just starting out on their career path together and definitely a name to watch out for (read my interview with them here http://bellesandgals.com/2017/10/26/interview-with-cross-atlantic/) and long-established singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale who played the remaining shows. Jim is an endearing and engaging artist with an established fan base here, he recorded his most recent (29th!!) album London/Southern in the capital, has co-written with anyone who is anyone and has had songs cut by the likes of The Dixie Chicks, George Strait and Patty Loveless.
This third UK visit was by far Brandy’s most extensive tour to date and she promises to keep coming over as long as we keep buying her records and coming out to see her, which judging by the love and loyalty I saw from her fans throughout this trip is a given. She truly appreciates our support and respect not just for her music but for country music in general which she made a point of mentioning at every chance, adding that the reaction she gets from us here in the UK is like playing a hometown show for her. It was definitely a “Big Day” in all ten towns and cities that Brandy played this time around and for all those who caught one or more of the concerts, roll on her next visit to these shores and of course her next album. She told me she is heading to the studio very soon to record some demos which can only be good news!
Hold My Hand
Love Can Go To Hell
The Day She Got Divorced
Girl Next Door
Drinkin’ Smokin’ Cheatin’
When I Get To Drinkin’
Take A Little Pill ( Glasgow show only)
Three Kids No Husband
Big Day In A Small Town
Brandy solo (cover)
Pray to Jesus
Review written by Lesley Hastings