Pre Christmas the #TEAMw21 diary was full of gigs promising a feast of festive musical fare however they fell like dominoes as the threat of Covid brought in another enforced absence for live music. As we mentioned last time round, never has the Joni Mitchell line "You don't know what you've got till it's gone" sounded more resonant.
Those feelings of missing live music and the interaction between like minded individuals featured in Bob Harris's intro to the latest Under The Apple Tree event in the regular series at Cadogan Hall "Song After Song", whereby a number of artists come to perform and what happens next is both spontaneous and organic. The "Song After Song" shows are so well curated, they often include artists that are outside of the Americana sphere which sits at the core of the show, yet because of their songwriting ability, they are able to seemlessy fit in. It also has to be said that "Song After Song" audiences are always very receptive to artists that may be new to them.
Tonights bill was to open with Rumer, whose album "Nashville Tears" although critically acclaimed we never felt it quite got the publicity that it deserved, something that hopefully her rearranged pandemic cancelled shows will fix later in May . Accompanied by friend and #TEAMw21 favourite the "Southern Companion" himself, Darren Hodson, Rumer was to enchant us with her voice that seemed to have walked straight out of a 60's Bacherach production, full of depth and with a certain soulful purity to it. For her first song "Take Me As I Am" she was incredilby expressive with her left hand while her right was clenched tightly to both the microphone and stand. With Darren providing a gentle guitar backing as well as a certain huskiness to some backing vocals, the night started high and was to maintain that standard throughout.
Eschewing the girl, boy girl boy format, next up was Donna Taggart playing live for the first time in two and half years and seemingly about to make a bid to increase her presence in the UK Americana community with a strong batch of new songs written with the likes of Beth Nielsen Chapman. With Darren on double time also providing her guitar backing, Donna proceeded to lay down a more traditional country grounded sound, tinged with a touch of gospel as "Secret Surrender" rang around the Cadogan Hall. Newton Faulkner with his hair tied back like a Premiership footballer, revealed that he was unaccustomed to revealing what his songs were about and also that the title of his opener "Smoked Ice Cream" had been unfortunately chosen by an audience member when it was untitled. Newton was a natural showman, playing guitar one handed at one point, before getting the first piece of audience participation of the evening. This was truly party time and we were but three songs in. The final participant in the first half of the show was Liam Bailey who also had his own guitarist Adam Conley, who provided a Spanish guitar sounding intro for the opener "Walk With Me". Liam seemed possibly the most ill at ease performer on stage since Bryan Ferry, twisting uncomfortably on his stool, occasionally contorting himself, making him sing off mic. A compelling figure, part singer, part poet who seemed to almost give birth every word he uttered in a pained delivery. It was attention grabbing stuff, brought to a close by a simple gesture of his arm.
Round 2 brough more of the same however with each artist now eased in, the quality bar seemed to rise just that little bit higher. Rumer became ever more the chanteuse with "Slow", dreamy and breezy, oozing a certain sophisticated class. Donna Taggart was to show her unfamiliarity with playing live with a guitar, by failing to actually have it plugged in!! Her second contribution "Falling Forward" was a more uptempo country affair and immediately you could start to see the framework of her next release which looks highly promising. Newton grabbed the attention with the stark intro to "Fingertips", a bluesy soulful number that saw his voice soar into some marvellously high registers. Liam closed the first half of the evening with "Don't Blame New York", he proved to be an irresistable unpredictable watch, at one point suddenly standing up to sing taking the mic and the mic stand with him.
For the second half of the show, numbers were increased by one with the surprise and welcome arrival of Beth Nielson Chapman who placed herself between Rumer and Donna Taggart. Rumer was to play one of two visits to "Nashville Tears" with "Ghost In This House" and immediately showed why it has been held in such high esteem, supported on backing vocals by Beth and Donna as well as Darren this was an effortlessly beautiful performance.
Beth Nielsen Chapman immediately made her presence felt with a new song "Hey Girl" with its strident guitar opening. Hitting some high notes that flew around Cadogan Hall, this was an excellent introduction for Beth. She also had a part to play in Donna's next song "Bring Your Love" being co writer, for which Donna was to stand explaining "It's a belter!" which she duly belted out, while Beth provided some gently calming backing vocals - another quality song for her next release.
Newton made full use of having a spare guitarist for "Hit The Ground Running" getting Darren to provide a repetitive guitar line throughout. Newton could hardly hide a cheeky grin as he was singing and was clearly enjoying things. Liam returned for the second half with his own acoustic guitar and provided the initial gently picked guitar for "Fight" before things picked up into more of a reggae beat.
Rumer's second song from "Nashville Tears" was the excellent "Learning How To Love", a performance that was so stunning you merely has to look at the faces of Beth and Donna who looked on truly transfixed.
In a truly outstanding final round, Beth Nielson Chapman played "Sand & Water" written in the aftermath of the death of her husband and referred to as a "feedback hit" that has gone on to touch the hearts of so many other people.
Donna again stood starting her final song "Weather Stone" starting a capella before it turned into something of a classic Irish ballad, although this one was penned by Beth Nielsen Chapman among others and originates from the USA.
To big cheers Newton closed his fourth round with "Dream Catch Me" his most popular song while
Liam closed the final round with "King" still blurring the lines between singing and poetry to great effect and he will have won many converts and had people heading home intent on looking up his back catalogue.
Although the main show was over there was time for a song encore on which everyone played their part
Firstly Newton kicked off the encores with "Teardrop" with the combination of all the vocalists together giving the song an extra spritual feel, Donna played "Jealous Of The Angels" with a veritable choir of backing vocals for the "hallelujah" section. The evening was brought to a close with a Beth Nielsen Chapman tune that nearly everyone must have heard at some point - "This Kiss" made famous by Faith Hill, it made for a rawkus singalong that despatched everyone into the streets with a smile on their face.
Song After Song will return to Cadogan Hall later in the year
Beth Nielsen Chapman will return to Cadogan Hall on 28th April and will be touring across the UK
Special thanks to Richard Brown for pictures from the evening