Ask fans of Country music what they love the most about the genre and the vast majority will mention its storytelling. So it is very apt that Brandy Clark’s recent tour is titled “The Art Of The Storyteller”, the format giving the 10-times Grammy nominee the chance to elaborate on her musical influences and share the inspirations behind some of her best known songs whether recorded by herself or other artists. Brandy is widely regarded by both industry peers and fans as one of the best singer/songwriters of her generation and having caught her shows this time around in both London and Dublin I must say it really did make for a very entertaining and enlightening evening.
The two venues couldn’t have been more different, the large seated Indigo O2 in London housing an appreciative, respectful and generally very restrained audience, but in Dublin fans who packed the legendary Whelan’s Bar while also appreciative were definitely there to party from the start making for an absolutely fantastic atmosphere. Opener Alex Hall while largely unknown to most (some of you may have caught him at c2c in London this year?) got everyone more than warmed up with his well crafted songs which including an as-yet unrecorded Brandy co-write “Women and Horses” and a cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” which had us all singing along and preparing our vocal chords ready for the headliner! Be sure to check out his latest EP “Six Strings” which includes collaborations with many names you are bound to recognise.
After a short break which definitely kept the bar staff busy Brandy and her acoustic guitar took to the stage to tumultuous applause and enthusiastic cheering, and it really was evident throughout the evening how much she loved feeding off the audience’s energy and having us sing along… “If you can’t sing well, sing loud” were her words of encouragement! Before her two superb musicians (New Zealanders Vanessa McGowan on upright bass and Cy Winstanley on lead guitar) joined her on stage she performed a medley of covers, songs which she’d listen to in her grandma’s car on 8-track cassette as she was driven around her hometown of Morton, WA as a kid and which had fired up her love of songs and songwriting. Explaining that her Grandma was her favourite storyteller who “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” we heard her versions of “The Gambler”, “King Of The Road” and “Top Of The World” (the latter she told us she initially heard on an instrumental collection and which she wasn’t aware had lyrics for many years!) .
With the trio on stage, Brandy took us back to her early days in Nashville, having arrived there thinking she was already a great songwriter but quickly realising how much she still had to learn about the craft . Another wake up call was how elusive success in the music industry was, the analogy she came up with was the promises her parents made to take her and her brother to Disneyland if they behaved but then being told when they’d committed some misdemeanour that they’d blown their chances and she wondered at the time if the place actually even existed… she now realises they would never have got there anyway as it was too far away and expensive!
I love that she unusually included her own rendition of one of her earliest cuts, “That’s Why I Hate Pontiacs” in this portion of the show, explaining that while it was never a big hit it always has a special place in her heart.
Although she never got to Disneyland as a kid she did finally getting a cut by Reba (“The Day She Got Divorced”) after the superstar had tantalisingly recorded a couple of her songs which hadn’t ended up on albums , obviously a very special point in Brandy’s career. She was told the news when she was driving, and burst into tears as she pulled up at a stoplight! Of course, that song also ended up on Brandy’s own debut album “12 Stories” which got a massive cheer when mentioned, the first of several albums she has released to date and all of which were well represented in the rest of the set. We heard her explain how her inspirations come from a variety of sources…“PawnShop” for example was triggered by a line in a Stephen King novel, “Who You Thought I Was” by a seemingly throwaway comment by John Prine at an awards ceremony and “Long Walk” by a phrase her mother would often use. It seems her songwriter’s radar is permanently switched on!
It was also very exciting to hear a couple of as yet unrecorded songs which may well make their way onto her next album, slated for release next Spring. This was one of the few times the crowd fell silent, hanging on to every line of “Up Above The Clouds”, an optimistic ballad which came from a social media post by her friend/frequent collaborator Jessie Jo Dillon and “Tell Her You Don’t Love Her” inspired by a conversation with co-writer Emily Weisband about her sister being jerked around by her boyfriend.
Brandy had as short breather while Vanessa and Cy, who are a duo in their own right called Tattletale Saints, performed a couple of songs (and exquisite dreamy version of “Dancing Queen” and a hilarious original inspired by the acronym ” DINK ” about the benefits of having Double Income No Kids… again, look them up! ) and sadly when she returned to the stage had to rush through the final numbers with minimal chat due to the venue’s early curfew. Hilariously Brandy even (almost!) forgot to sing the final verse to one of the songs, continuing are an exchange of glances with Cy and quipping afterwards “I took that early curfew just a little too seriously just then!” . But what a way to end what was possibly one of my favourite ever Brandy Clark shows ( and I’ve been to a fair few over the years as many of you will know!)… we all partied and sang loudly as instructed earlier to “Get High”, “Take A Little Pill”, “Pray To Jesus”, “Stripes” and of course the stunner ” Hold My Hand” which was the closing number, the three musicians leaving us screaming for more which sadly on this occasion could not happen.
But at Brandy’s final UK show of this tour, a few days later, she did say that she’d be back to see us on this side of the pond sooner than we think, so with this news and the upcoming new album there’s a lot for her fans to look forward to in 2023.