With the crowds snaking far off into the distance an hour before doors opening, things finally seem to be returning to normal for what was to be a quite wonderful evening of entertainment. Things would start with Sarah Darling presenting herself in her third different format in as many weeks, so having seen her solo and with a cracking band, tonight was the London debut of the Sarah Darling Duo! - with Julie Lavery providing acoustic guitar and backing vocals as required.
Sarah took the stage looking positively Amazonian, her sparkling high heel boots making her look about dox foot tall as she immediately launched into "Pretender", Her open hand playing of the electric guitar providing the atmospherics while Julie picked out the more familiar refrains. The chorus invitingly wraps itself around you imposdible to resist, with Sarah clearly loving each visit to it. As we remarked at The Long Road Festival, Sarah has used the Lockdown time wiselt and has amassed a cracking catalogue of new songs, some surfacing on her recent "Darling" EP, while the others we will have to wait until the back end of the year for.
It was the "Darling" EP that would provide "Hungover", a slice of pure pop that saw Sarah kicking her leg back as she sung, and with Julie providing the backing vocals it let Sarah go for some wonderfully sustained notes. The confidence in the vocal folowed through into "I Want It WIth You", where she proved to be mistress of the melody while also seeling the song magnificently wwith her hand gestures.
There was tine for only one cover in the set, Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", which was shared out three ways, Sarah taking the first verse, Julie the second while the audience in full voice provided one of the choruses. The new songs the closed the set "Hippies & Cowboys" has a certain sixties sway reinforced by referenced to California Dreaming" while "Primrose HIll" already has established itself after on a few outings as a firm fan favourite, with Sarah's hope that "Heaven has a Primrose Hill" finding a huge round of applause on completion. Another song equally destined to find itself a firm favouriite is "Red Mustang", billed as "dreamy nostalgia" the lyrics are very evocative, vividly bringing the song to life with Sarah singing lines like "Me In your denim jacket". It all bodes well for Sarah's next releases.
Our perennial bug bear with big name visiting US acts is their need to have huge drum kits and multiple guitarists turning the mix into something of a mire. No such fears tonight with Carly Pearce, whose band perfectly adapted to the size of the venue and managed to bring the feel and showmanship of a big stage show with the sound quality of something much more intimate. Carly herself would also be something a little different, often breaking the fourth wall to chat with the audience and able to take us on a journey of emotions throughout the set which was both well balanced and paced taking in tracks from all of her albums as well as a few covers along the way.
With the stage bathed in white light, a big drum intro and flashing lights and a fiddle set the scene for the arrival of the lady herself also in bog boots although hers would later prove to be somthing of an achilles heel, who kicked things off with "Diamondback". With her band in matching blue shirts given the chance to showcase their efforts with a guitar and fiddle solo in the opening song, there was a visible bond between them and Carly who powered out the chorus in impressive style.
As she strapped on an acoustic guitar for "Easy Going" she couldn't help but say "So happy to before shouting "Are you all ready for some country music?", the band once again providing an effortless groove for Carly to sing over. There was a nice acknowledgement of Royal things occurring and an admission that she and some of the band and been up to town to see what was going on before heading into "Dear Miss Loretta", with Carly every so often tilting her head slightly back before rreally hiiting a key note.
All evening there was a definite bond between artist and audience, "Should've Known Better" was a massive singalong, the chous with its hook irresistible. For "Never Wanted To Be That Girl", her Ashley McBryde co-write there was a welcome return for Sarah Darling. The two would take opposite sides of the stage, Sarah taking the first verse, while Carly took the second before eventually coming together centre stage in an excellent performance. Itwas after this song that Carly admitted to a little heel misfunction, and after a quick on stage change of footwear things restarted with Carly saing "let's resume!" and resume she did with an impressive "If My Name Was Whiskey" followed by an equally attention grabbing "Halfway Home".
As we mentioned earlier the set was well paced so the easy groove of Carly's "sexy song" "Lightming In a Bottle" was followed by flashing lifght and the big drums of "Next Girl" with the audience providing the "Girl" at some volume. There was a switch to a 2 guitar for possibly the least successful song of the night compared to its high quality peers but onits completion the stage was bather in red lights and it was soon forgotten by a version of "More Than a Woman" that saw Islington nearly erupt.
There then followed a nice acoustic section of the show which worked extremely well, the simplicity of the stripped down format letting the songs really shine. First up was "29" with just acoustic guitar and fiddle and an ecstatic audience in one of the evenings true highlights. There was then a move to a four stool setting and a heartfelt plea of thanks to Bob Harris for playing her songs form Day one, only spoiled by Carly repeatedly calling him Bill! It was a little bit excrutiating but fair play to Carly she dug herself out of a mighty big hole with an ecellent "Every Little Thing" with a wonderfully prominent mandolin. The section closed with "Show Me Around" which came with a beautiful heartfelt introduction
A trip into 90's country saw the fiddle introl to "Cowboy Take Me Away send the crowd into something of a frenzy, while "What he Didn't Do" saw Carly using every inch of the stage as she made contact with her audience. The main set was to close with "Hide The Wine". An end to a highly entertaining evening came with the light shining on the Assembly Hall glitter ball lighting the whole room for a finale of "Hope You're Happy Now".
It was interesting to hear Carly comment that she was so much bigger in the UK than she was in the US and shows like this will only cement he in the affection of the UK's hearts.