From beginning to end, of this cold damp evening in Bridport, I was delighted and amazed by the extraordinary attention to detail and true stagecraft of the whole show. This, for me, was one of those rare standout shows that make an ever-lasting impression.
I must confess, I knew relatively little about Northern Irish Singer/Songwriter Ben Glover’s music before the show, but his half hour opening set ensured that I am now an avid fan, as I am sure can be said for the majority of the audience.
The upbeat ‘Whatever happens will', (the opening track of Ben’s latest Nashville recorded album ‘Do we burn the boats?’) was a definite crowd pleaser. The percussive guitar intro coupled with the steady timbre of Ben’s confident vocal, for me, instantly likened him to Americana greats Griffin House and Jason Isbell. The melodic, breathy ‘No means Yes’ reminded the audience of Ben’s Irish singer/songwriter roots, with definite Damien Rice-esque tinges to it. Ben welcomed Barry Walsh, Gretchen Peters’ husband and long-term musical partner to the stage for his third song. Barry’s appreciation for Ben’s music was evident throughout the brand new song ‘Another Train’ which Ben co-wrote with Mary Gauthier. Here rang true the real influence of Nashville, where Ben now calls home, on his music, not only given away by the Cumberland River reference, but in the attention to detail and overall passion in the performance. As if the soulful piano addition from Barry wasn’t enough to wow the audience, star of the show Gretchen Peters quietly appeared stage right behind her husband, and subtly layered on some beautifully sung harmonies, for a truly spellbinding experience.
Whether or not this had been planned before hand, Ben seemed genuinely surprised, uttering humbly over the ovation, “that’s the first time they’ve done that!”
Ben’s performance was notably elevated from this experience, his Gibson Hummingbird suddenly more audible, and the general level of appreciation all round, left him rounding off his set on a high with uplifting well crafted ‘I am, you are’ from his acclaimed 2010 album ‘Through the Noise, Through the Night.’ Ben’s evident love of performing, excellent presentation and laid-back charm certainly justified the comment I overheard from audience members behind me:
“I’d have paid just to come and see him…and that was the support act!”
Gretchen Peters, who had a good base of existing fans at the show, had certainly gathered a few new ones by the end of her first song ‘Woman on the Wheel’ which introduced the wonderful multi-instrumental talents of Canadian Christine Bougie, skillfully playing (and not playing) lap steel in all the right places.
Next up was ‘Sunday Morning (up and down my street)’ from her 2007 album ‘Burnt Toast & Offerings’ with beautifully subtle electric guitar this time, from Christine, flawless harmonies and the incredibly skilled addition of glockenspiel (whilst still playing the piano with his other hand I might add!) from Barry.
The show was well balanced, with plenty of songs from her latest album, notably, ‘Matador’, ‘Dark Angel’, ‘Five Minutes’ and title track ‘Hello Cruel World,’ as well as old favorites including ‘Circus Girl’, ‘England Blues’, ‘Guadalupe’, co-written with Tom Russell, and ‘On A Bus To St Cloud’.
Gretchen has a wonderfully engaging presentation and performance style, sharing the stories behind her self-penned masterpieces in a very down to earth manner. There was not an ego in sight. Giving each musician a chance to shine, Christine on lap steel, guitar and percussion, Barry, with his moment in the spotlight, performing his own instrumental cinematic composition and Ben joining Gretchen on stage for an effortlessly slick duet of Gram Parsons’ classic ‘Grievous Angel.’
The whole set was a brilliant display of refreshingly honest songwriting - heart on the sleeve stuff, tackling some very serious issues. ‘The Matador’ being no exception. Said by Gretchen’s Idol, the great Rodney Crowell to be: “Beautiful, brave and poetic…literally inspires me to tears. Hand over my heart” - I couldn’t agree more! Despite the seriousness of the subjects, I never found the songs sombre or melancholy, more assuring, literary genius, elegantly presented, with outstanding levels of sensitivity.
One of the most memorable moments for me (of which there were many that evening) was the stunning re-work of Grammy Nominated ‘Independence Day’ from her 2009 album ‘Circus Girl.’ Gretchen jovially sat at the piano, to perform this one solo, made an off the cuff comment about the piano being older than her, and told us that she had “had to take a step back from this song, and put it in a new frame,” and that she certainly did! The first time I saw Gretchen “live” was on a ‘Stageit’ show streamed live from her lounge. Despite the fact that I was amongst an audience of approximately 200 people this time, I felt like I was looking into her lounge again, like she was pouring her heart out, blissfully unaware of her surroundings - a wonderfully intimate moment.
The evening was rounded off with an extended version of ‘I'm Not ready To Say Goodbye’ and, judging by the applause, neither was the audience, who were then gratefully indulged with ‘Breakfast at our house’ – “something off my divorce album – that always gets a laugh!” said Gretchen wryly. The final encore, for which Ben re-appeared on the stage, was a fantastic version of the Rolling Stones Hit ‘Wild Horses.’
Both Gretchen and Ben told us they loved Bridport, and Bridport certainly loved them, so here’s hoping they will come back soon. I cannot recommend enough that you check them out if they do!