UTAT Song After Song: Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mary Gauthier, John Paul White, Ethan Johns, Nell Bryden
As we entered Cadogan Hall the stage was set with 7 chairs for the latest Under The Apple Tree venture, "Song After Song", with a keyboard set up to the far right hand side that would remain curiously untroubled throughout the whole evening.
As ever a UTAT event was introduced by Bob Harris who opened with a quip "You made it then?" referring to the snow and the rain that had affected a number of attendees. There was still a healthily packed hall to welcome a positive cornucopia of talent. both onstage and in the audience.
Cadogan Hall has served the UTAT organisation well, serving up good sound, a large reception area and plenty of space for merchandise opportunities.
The evening was divided into 2 parts, and was a sort of variation on a normal Songwriters round with everyone on stage at once although the order that people sung in did not follow the normal sequential order, so a bit like the evening we'll cover it "Song By Song".
One unsung hero of the evening sat on a stool to the far left of the stage as we viewed it, Michele Gazich's contributions on violin went a long way to making the show such a success, he may have worked with Mary Gauthier before but the majority of his contributions were improvised, deftly played, always matching the mood of the songs perfectly. He announced himself from the very first song Beth Nielsen Chapman's "You're Still My Valentine" making his contribution often delicately balanced on one leg as Beth delivered the song from her latest album with some wonderfully sustained notes on what she called her "Stalker Valentine Song".
John Paul White looking dapper in a suit and open necked shirt made his first contribution with a song co-written Whisperin' Bill Anderson. As Ethan Johns was to point out, it was "like following Roy Orbison" with John Paul able to go from being very quiet and tender to full out "Big O" mode in seconds. In contrast Ethan had almost a folk like feel to his song "Leaving It All Behind" from his forthcoming "Anamnesis" album with the Black Eyed Dogs, which saw backing vocals on the chorus from Beth and Nell Bryden.
Mary Gauthier dressed in black, our co host for the night, nearly stole the show from the off, with her first song "Last Of The Hobo Kings". First of all it came with a wonderfully funny introduction which likened how the King of the Hobo's is selected to the process that ended with the current White House incumbent. The song itself built around a seemingly simple repeated guitar part was full of wonderful observations such as heow the King could tell how well the "nation was doing by the length of a sidewalk cigarette butt". A simple nod gave the cue to Michele to add a violin solo while Ethan finished off with some perfect mandolin - simply outstanding and greeted with a tremendous seemingly unending round of applause from an appreciative crowd who knew they had witnessed something special.
Jaimee Harris from Waco, with her blonde hair, leather jacket and bold red glasses, was to then add a different voice to the night. Noticeable deeper voiced than Mary, her song "Red Rescue" was more of a traditional rocking ballad. with Jaimee borrowing Mary's guitar, this song saw Michele plucking his violin during the verses before using the bow for the chorus for which Beth and Mary provided backing vocals over the lines "I'm a gonna save you".
It was back to Beth for "Sand and Water", which again came with a heartfelt introduction of how it came to be written. The performance was quite simply spectacular with John Paul white adding some high pitched, almost angelic backing vocals on a song that was profound, beautiful and sad at the same time., the final chorus being delivered a capella only added to the performance and everyone present knew that they were witnessing songwriting of an exceptional quality.
The run was to continue with John Paul White in his deep yet soft speaking voice telling us how "No-One Will Ever Love You" was chosen by T Bone Burnett to appear in the TV series "Nashville" before putting in a truly moving performance, delicate and fragile built up into a beautifully sustained note. The first half of the show closed maintaining the consistently high standard with Ethan's John's, "Jackie Lee", a more narrative driven song again from Ethan's forthcoming album while Mary Gauthier gave another moving introduction of how "Movin' On" came to be written with Ben Glover, before attempting the most audacious of things, the first official singalong of the night. With a sublime violin solo and Beth and Jaimee, as well as a fair part of the audience providing backing vocals the song gradually built up with Mary like Beth before her doing a part a capella.
The break saw the artists become vendors and provided a chance to purchase the wares of many of the performers, including a selection of tea towels, as well as the chance for the audience to reflect on what they had seen. The second half was to start with Nell Bryden, striking with her long dress, and bald head. A little technical difficulty resulted in her having to use Mary's guitar and also to sit mid stage but once there she gave us the 9/11 background to her song "Sirens". She was probably the purest singer of the night, and although she had to wait a while to make her first solo contribution when she did it was with some aplomb.
Beth then had another highly entertaining introduction into "Epitaph For Love" and a performance which was highly moving. John Paul White contributed "Mt Dreams Have All Come True" the most overtly country ballad of the evening which saw his vocals swoop high and low. Ethan's next song again followed more of a folky theme while Mary again excelled with "Mercy Now" a song of such scope, that once again had an exceptional violin solo, that Michele commenced upon seeing the slightest of nods from Mary. It was back to Beth who's next choice was made by Mary - "Play the money song" she cried being the cue for "This Kiss" with Nell and Jaimee on full backing vocals. It was really quite strange to hear this Country stalwart of a song stripped to the very marrow.
I'm not sure anyone could have predicted the encore as a stellar cast of Americana performers took to the stage including Harry Shearer, Judith Owens, Graham Weber, Robert Vincent, James House, Siobhan Kennedy, to join those already there kicking off what sounded like the rhythm to Queen's "We Will Rock You". It was only when Beth started singing "Buddy you're a young ...." that we realised that was exactly what is was going to be. With John Paul White and Robert Vincent taking the leads for the second and third verses respectively we had ourselves a Queen Fest which continued into "Somebody To Love" with Beth becoming Freddy Mercury for the final signature refrain. At this point everyone vacated the stage before most of the main protagonists returned for one more song, Mary seemed to to take a wrong turn and ended up absent for the finale as John Paul White played what he said was his only positive song.
The Under The Apple Tree team go to great lengths to shoe horn in as much as they possibly can in to any show, like true music enthusiasts they love to spread the word about things that they love. So these evenings are very much like tasting menus in a restaurant and and i'm sure many who came solely to see Beth or Mary now have three or four artists they may now wish to keep an eye out for.
There is an Under The Apple Tree tour coming soon headlined by Wildwood Kin and featuring the cream of local Americana artists as it traverses the UK - it will be well worth paying a visit of it passes near you.