It was probably through an excellent session on KEXP that I first became aware of Courtney Marie Andrews a year or so ago and I was lucky enough to see her earlier this year, performing a solo set in support of The Handsome Family at Norwich Arts Centre. That was a beautiful night of music but I desperately wanted to hear more of Courtney and although there was no Norwich date on this tour I could not resist catching the bus to London and heading to Shepherd’s Bush to see her playing with her full band – plus BJ Cole for four or five songs too – at the lovely Bush Hall. Tempting as it was to take advantage of the 15% off for ticket holders to eat at the Bush Hall Dining Room beforehand, I couldn’t quite bring myself to ask for a ‘table for one’.
Support came from Loose Music label-mate Joana Serrat, from Spain I do believe. She played a flawless, powerful set to an appreciative and attentive audience. Some great guitar work and occasional soaring voice complemented the story telling songs.
I was not really intending to do a write-up for this gig as I wasn’t taking photos other than a handful of quick phone snaps, I just simply wanted to be there but it was such a profound musical experience for me I wanted to document it for my own sake as much as anything else. “Honest Life” is probably the best new record I have heard all year and certainly one of my most listened to, since first hearing her I have also invested in as much of her back catalogue as I have been able to find. Pleasingly, the most recent of those was the vinyl re-issue from Loose of “On My Page”, so I was familiar with a lot of the songs but we were also treated to a good few new ones (which will be recorded in the coming weeks when the band return home), most of Honest Life and a few older tracks.
From the moment the band opened with Rookie Dreaming the set was a total delight but the appearance of BJ Cole on pedal steel mid-set raised it to another level of greatness which they all maintained throughout. There were several moments I literally had goosebumps and was inwardly saying “Wow!” It was absolute class and towards the end when someone from the audience put a sheet of paper on her monitor with the words “Bloody Marvelous!” I think we all shared the sentiment. When she stopped laughing Courtney explained that this chap had been to eight of the shows on this tour and always shouted this. I can understand why.
Quite a mixed audience – I think I was bang on the average age – and one could tell they are serious music fans all sharing the same excitement of hearing something quite special again. She has that classic quality of brilliant songwriting and a remarkable voice and although there are moments one may be put in mind of some other great singers Courtney has very much her own sound and style and is unique. There’s also an “old soul” wisdom about her songwriting that resonates. She is also playing with a fantastic band who are very tight and seemed to be playing with an obvious joy. I thought it telling that I spotted BJ Cole a few times with a look of admiration and appreciation at the music he was sharing a stage with, such mutual respect from excellent musicians. BJ was enjoying himself and got a terrific ovation from the audience. It was good to see a Norwich connection too!
I don’t often travel to London for gigs unless it is for someone particularly special to me, this is obviously one such example. A few years ago Courtney was playing to a handful of people in London, this year she sells out two consecutive nights at the Bush Hall, it may be one of the last chances to hear her play in such an intimate setting, which is perfect for the storytelling nature of her songs.
Sometimes you can almost feel the presence in venues of some of the greats who have played there, I could easily imagine what it would have been like when Amy Winehouse played here, which I sadly missed but I am so glad I didn’t miss this one. A gig close to perfection, 105 minutes of world class music taking us to within two minutes of the curfew … the only way this could have been bettered for me were if the songs Let the Good One Go and On My Page itself were included but that would be greedy after hearing a 21-song set that included such unforgettable moments as Paintings from Michael, Table for One, How Quickly Your Heart Mends, Irene et al.
I can’t wait for the next album, the new songs previewed here are sounding great and Courtney has a lot to say about the state of America, politics, gentrification etc. In the meantime I have great memories of this wonderful show in a beautiful venue with terrific sound and playing.
Big thanks to Courtney and all her band, all lovely, lovely people. Thanks also to Comfotel Blu, a really friendly and comfortable place where I booked a room for the night.
all rights reserved (c) shashamane 2017