While standing in the snake like queue that seemed to be glued to the walls prior to doors opening it became apparent that no-one really knew how tonight was supposed to unfold. We knew that Hannah Aldridge, hot off a recent storming set at The Green Note would be returning with a host of UK Americana acts ( all #TEAMw21 favourites) to record a live album but quite how so many people were to be incorporated into one show remained a mystery. In the event it turned out like an old fashioned music hall evening with Hannah as MC, singing a few songs, then introducing a guest with whom she'd perform a song before leaving the stage to let the guest perform 2 numbers after which she'd return and the process would restart again.
The stage was simply set with the microphone stands draped with flower shaped lights and after a quick reminder to people that this was effectively an album recording the evening commenced with the a Capella introduction into "Howling Bones" and then immediately hitting us with the title track of her debut EP "Razorwire". This was a high octane start and was typical of an evening where there was to be no time wasted.
Only two songs in and the first of the shows special guests appeared in the shape of Danni Nicholls looking positively elfin when stood beside Hannah. With Hannah building up the tension with her delivery on "Lace" her "Demon Possession" song, Danni's prime role was to provide the "oohs" that created the whole atmosphere of the song. As the intensity built up Hannah gradually ramped up the power of the vocals until the pair of them brought things to a quite spooky climax! Left to her own devices Danni then gave us a couple of hints about what will be on her forthcoming third album. It was interesting to contrast the different style in vocals and guitar playing styles, "Losing It" came with some snappy guitar work and trademark rich warm vocals and was an immediate winner followed by "Ancient Embers" previewed at the last "Round Up" her love song to ones self. It all bodes well for a great album in prospect and her performance was of one who knows they've got a great album in the can, full of boundless confidence and great panache.
It was back to Hannah for a couple of songs, "Black & White" came with a touching intro as to how her son Jackson had helped her create the third verse by just saying what things were important to him in his little life. The song includes a look back at her own life and at the end of each verse she gave a wry smile and it was open to speculation whether she was smiling at the memories evoked by the song or just at how well things were being received. It was followed with "Old Ghost" her "Cheating" song which was delivered with a suitably snarly accusatory vocal.
The second guest of the evening was Robbie Cavanagh who Hannah jokingly said she'd only just met an hour earlier. For "Gold Rush" Robbie's job was to provide almost angelic backing vocals for the song co written by Hannah with Ashley McBryde and Jeremy Drinkwine
Robbie can effortlessly switch to a rocking vocal and both were combined in his first song "Get Out Alive" the opener from his most recent album "To Leave/To Be Left". The second song, the as yet unrecorded "Drove" again showed that capacity to create texture in a song by varying the vocal delivery, it also confirmed that he is in a rich vein of form at present.
It was time for Hannah to retake to the stage again and when she was gently heckled by some shouting "Why cider?" as she took a refreshing between song sip she gave a perfect explanation before saying "Do you have a problem with that?" once again showing she was in control before going into the uptempo rocker of "Aftermath" followed by the almost Tom Petty intro that introduces "I Know Too Much (About You)".
The next guests were husband and wife team The Black Feathers once again changing the dynamic in that we had two guitars and three voices for the horror film ballad "Save Yourself". The Black Feathers blew us away at Midwinterfest with their version of "Holy Water" and they did so again tonight with their sweet harmonies and quiet delivery able to emphasize the elements of this song of recovery and celebration. They are also able to build up great intensity and then release it via their humour in their introduction patter. Their second song "3 Stars" an uptempo "Ode to Tennessee" also showed off their versatility. They are one of the hardest touring bands around and we are about to lose them to a four month US tour for which we wish them well.
Hannah once again took the stage for "You Ain't Worth The Fight" with the final choruses rasped out with a ferocious delivery. The highlight of the whole evening was probably the next song "Parchman", where Hannah assumes the identity of a an abused woman sentenced to death for murder of her husband. Inspired by watching a documentary it is easy to see how this song has made a great impact on people and tonights performance was simply perfect.
With the arrival of the Goat Roper Rodeo Band to join Hannah, the evening briefly turned into a full band experience and a version of "Rails To Ride" which saw the North Wales band literally bouncing around the stage. Of their two songs the first "Keep On" was delivered by Tom the stand up bass player, who plays as if his limbs are being controlled by an invisible puppeteer as he caresses and thumps the bass. With a vocal style quite unlike anyone else he was the perfect person to deliver this laconic blues song.
He then provided the thunderous bass intro to "High Heel Blues" an absolutely storming rock and roll finish - with all three members a veritable blur for most of the song. It's been a while since we last saw the Goat Roper Rodeo Band and we have forgotten just how entertaining these guys are.
This gave Hannah a chance to close out the main set with a final two songs "Lonesome" a genuinely heartfelt closer displaying a gentle style of delivery in a song about possessions being split which led into the closing song "Born To Be Broken" leaving us with a rocking finale.
The first encore "Lie Like You Love Me" was another of the nights highlights with Hannah's delivery perfectly embodying the character in the song, truly another special moment.
The constant rotation could have made for a disjointed show lacking in atmosphere however in this case the changeovers were pretty quick and each guest brought a little something different.
Everyone came together for the finale of "Burning Down Birmingham" bringing a hugely enjoyable evening to an end.