Sarah Darling & Friends Christmas Show - Union Chapel
Sarah Darling and friends had been something #TEAMw21 had been looking forward to a while, even when hit by a flying advert for the event, separated in the gusts of Country Music Week from its lamp post moorings. Supported by a full band this show was to prove to be a bit of an extravaganza, songs old, new and as yet unrecorded mixed with Christmas classics and a smattering of appearances from Sarah's all star friends!! The appearance of the friends may have caught some people out for there was no support act per se, Sarah performed in both halves just occasionally giving way for a familiar face or two to allow them a slot to perform on their own.
Dressed for the first half looking stunning in white polka dotted outfit with a white pair of boots, the initial batch of songs served as an introduction to the evening, opening with the uptempo rhythms of "Call Me". Picking up a guitar of her own Sarah and her guitarist were the stars of "Where Cowboys Ride" with him providing sympathetic backing vocals as required, it also saw the drummer nicely muted behind his plastic screens. It was the "Wonderland" album that would form the majority of this opening section, so we got to see Sarah prowl the stage with a hand held mic during "Shine", while for "Fire" she was particularly expressive, holding her hands to her heart as she sung the delicate melodies. Similarly for ""Blue Sky" she was to be found delicately walking around the stage surrendering to the odd shimmy in time with music. The opening section was to close with "Talk About The Weather".
The first of the nights guests was revealed to be Jamie Lawson, who was introduced with a hilarious story about a fire on their tour bus and Sarah having to abandon the coach in Switzerland sans makeup! Jamie opened with his big hit, "I Wasn't Expecting That", his laid back vocal and guitar style allowing him to change the emphasis on different lines as he progressed through the song. His cheeky humour was somewhat endearing, including a sheepish apology for swearing in front of a young fan. His second contribution was slightly bizarre, not for the fact that it was a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", but more for the fact that he had a habit of not pronouncing the "jah", on multiple occasions leaving it hanging at Hallelu .....". It was an absorbing if not spectacular cover of a song it would be hard to ruin.
Second guests of the night were the Wandering Hearts, who started "Burning Bridges" to the background accompaniment of police sirens. Now fully established as a trio, their harmonies were ideally suited for the Chapel surroundings, at times almost choir like. With the aid of an additional guitarist they produced such sweet harmonies including AJ's final high notes that were a treat to witness. Sarah would then return to the stage for the first Christmas song of the night which coincidentally happened to be "The Christmas Song" with Sarah taking the "Chestnuts roasting" line before each Heart then took a line. It was when they all sung together that the real magic was to begin.
The real treat of the evening, perhaps even more than the special guests were a little batch of new songs from Sarah, the first "Over You", was the first real bit of volume on the night complete with an electric guitar solo and sounded a lovely piece of country pop that would sit somewhere between "Wonderland" and "Dream Country". The second song about "the one that got away", "Waves", was a slower affair, more intense with an almost dreamy vocal from Sarah, it also came with a nice guitar line running through it. The final one "Drive Away With You" was a more uptempo straight forward love song but with Sarah ending on the line "I could fly away with you". The last song of the section was her recently released single from her Campfire Session series, "Leave The Pieces", a cover of a hit by the Wreckers, again injected some volume into proceedings as well as being the most overtly country song of the night so far.
The second half would see a change of outfit for Sarah and the introduction of the least surprising of "Surprise Guests" given that Ward Thomas are currently on Sarah's latest single, as well as having a history of playing together. Perhaps more of a surprise was the appearance of Jessica Sharman who helped co write the tune and turned the proceedings into a quartet of vocalists. Sarah with the aid of a pair of reflecting high heels seemed to tower over Catherine in this version that demonstrated the fantastic harmony between them. There is one song that links the pair, one that they've both covered, that has become something of a Christmas standard in recent years and that is Joni Mitchell's "River". Once again Sarah took the first verse with Ward Thomas taking the second, after that it looked a little improvised with some glances between each of them making sure who was taking the next line, but nevertheless it was marvelous to see them together on stage. and it received an outstanding round of applause. A mutual love of the Dixie Chicks meant that a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslides" made for an obvious choice. Once again the chapel was filled with the swirling vocals in what was a special part of the evening.
Our next surprise was the arrival of a mini string section, to assist for the rest of the evening starting with the Christmas classic "Santa Baby" with Sarah being delightfully cheeky on her line delivery. The Christmas vibe carried on with "Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas" with Sarah singing blissfully with the string section in a version that was about as good as it gets, Another festive song saw the return of Jess Sharman for a version of "Winter Wonderland". A special London Christmas present then came in the shape of "London Fog" with the strings giving the song an extra lift on the night.
The last song of the main set saw a stunning version of "Silent Night" which during the instrumental period saw Sarah stand transfixed listening intently to the playing, simply angelic. She then completely surprised everyone by stepping forward away from the microphone to sing the last verse a cappella, it was a goose bump spiritual moment hearing her voice fill the Chapel without the aid of amplification.
There had to be an encore and a return to her masterpiece "Dream Country" for "Montmartre" and "Halley's Comet", the former fully realised by the addition of the string section while the latter with its inescapably sublime chorus closed the evening to great effect.
It would not be a Sarah Darling show without her wanting to meet her fans and it seemed that nearly every one wanted to say hello and thank you for a splendid evening.