I’m sure most of you will agree that the wealth of emerging female singer/songwriters around at the moment is truly impressive, and on a very cold Monday night it was Caroline Spence’s turn to showcase her gentle, well crafted songs at this London listening room. She has released two albums, the most recent being 2017’s fantastic “ Spades and Roses” and her set dipped into both and also included two covers. Her young, fresh faced appearance belies the depth and intensity of her lyrics, and the capacity crowd hung on to her every word ( she told us she was’t sure if she’d ever sold out a show before, but tonight she had proof as it was written on the chalk board outside!) .
Londoner Ned Roberts provided the support slot, not a name familiar to me but one I’ll definitely be watching out for. His selection of self penned ballads, taken from his back catalogue and also as yet unrecorded songs from his forthcoming album, were a perfect way to start off the evening. His smooth, silky vocals and guitar picking ( with a bit of harmonica added into the mix ) were mesmerising and got a deservedly good reaction from the audience.
Caroline was joined on stage for her set by the insanely talented Chris Becker on lead guitar/ lap steel, his embellishments perfect in every way without being intrusive. Apparently it was Caroline’s intention when moving to Nashville from Virginia seven years ago to write for other artists, but “ someone had other plans” she told us. It seems that a huge part in this change of direction was that she writes with great honesty, and admitted to us that she “ can’t write about getting drunk in trucks and girls in tiny shorts….” which sadly seems to be the formulaic requirement for a great deal of commercial country hits these days! This frustration actually inspired her to write one of my favourite songs from her 2015 album “ Somehow”, the superb “ Whiskey Watered Down” which tells of how she is unwilling to be formulaic and compromise. It’s one she says she is ” kinda hard to play back home” and with lines such as “ You think your a big deal with that guitar in your hand…….there’s one of you on every corner of this town” you understand why! The song references Gram Parsons ( one of her favourite writers) and her competent cover of his classic “ Hickory Wind” was a natural choice to follow with…..changing “ South Carolina” in the opening line to “ South West Virginia”, in honour of her feisty Meemaw ( grandmother to you sand me!) who apparently likes to do the same!
Indeed her family and upbringing back in Virginia has obviously provided a great deal of inspiration for her writing, I mentioned just now her frustration with the commercial songwriting scene in Nashville and frustration of different type featured when she told of how the track “Softball” that is on her current album came to be written. She became obsessed with American baseball as a youngster and wanted to play but learned that it’s not a sport for women…….she found out that girls play a different version called t-ball, then progress to soft ball, and since then she has become aware of so many other barriers that women come up against.
With regards to family life, she told us of how her parent’s split when she was thirteen seeped into her view of the world and “ Southern Accident” ( probably my favourite track from her current album) was introduced as a song all about her. Reticence to commit to a long term relationship comes through in lines such as “ honey I’m doubtful…I’m hopeful….I’m a handful but I’m a hand you can hold”. Sung as with real feeling, Caroline has the sweetest, tenderest voice I must say, which seemed to get stronger the evening progressed.
There were many other tales of how her wonderful songs came to be throughout the evening ( she was really interesting to listen to in-between numbers ) with her travels as a musician also playing a large part. “ Hotel Amarillo” really was written while staying in this Texas town while on tour and after a bottle of wine kicked in, for example, and she introduced “ Trains Cry” as another travelling song and dedicated it to anyone who’s partner leaves all the time for work
Rounding off the evening by thanking us all for coming out on a Monday night (” I only know three people in London and one of them if up here on stage!”) she also extending her gratitude to the venue’s staff, including the bar staff who she urged us to tip, she told us she has funded her music partly though waitressing tips and said that you never know what these people have going on in the background! She closed with the almost prayer-like “ Can’t Complain”, a song she said she likes to end with as she is so grateful to be making music.
Judging by the reaction of the audience everyone shared that gratitude, and Caroline returned for one more song which was the second cover of the evening, an exquisite stripped back cover of Springsteen’s “ Dancing in the Dark”, one of her “ favourite ever songs in the entire world “ before retiring to her merch table where she was happy to chat (she has agreed to an interview for Belles and Gals too, so look out for that in the near future)
“I love writing songs, I hope if you take anything away from tonight it’s that i can write” Caroline said at one point during the evening. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was impressed not only with her writing but in Caroline Spence as an all round artist. She is already looking forwards to returning to the UK later this year to play the End Of The Road Festival ( and hopefully some more headline shows) and I really recommend you catching her and also checking out her music in the interim. All details can be found at carolinespencemusic.com
Review written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)