Song Suffragettes - Catherine McGrath, Brooke Eden, Simeon Hammond Dallas, Harper Grace Bush Hall
The second songwriters round at Bush Hall in Country Music Week and whereas the the first one offered up 5 artists playing 4 songs each, tonight offered 4 artists playing three songs. make of that what you will - the artists of course only play what they've been asked to play - so no slight is intended on them in anyway. So with that grumble out of the way let's focus on the positives of the evening which were undoubtedly the songs and the accompanying stories behind them
First up on the evening and our nominal host was Catherine McGrath, who in a strange quirk of fate had played the very same venue nearly a year previous at Country Music Week supporting Ben Earle in his solo show. Anyone who was at both shows would have felt a sense of deja vu as the two unreleased songs she would play were the same ones she played that night - even Catherine would remark that one of the songs seemed old to her now - it is just indicative of how long it is taking to get the right version recorded and readied for release.
Dressed in her CMW cowboy boots, Catherine's first song was "Hey Stranger", about being contacted by an ex using that title as an opening gambit.
"You're lonely, don't call me, don't text to say that you saw me" was part of the sharp snappy chorus.
If her opening song was at least a year old - by her own admission "What Do You Wear To A Break Up" dates back to 2019. It was previewed a year ago at Ben's show and at C2C that year.
It has a list of things to be considered before such an event, makeup, clothes etc. -
"How do you choose the right shoes for running away?" or
"red lipstick for one last kiss"
The song sees Catherine for the first time as initiator of the break up. It has a very understated guitar line, all of the drama is generated from Catherine's vocal. Catherine's third and final tune of the night would be from her debut album "Thought It Was Gonna Be Me", drawing a laugh from the audience on the line
"I wanted to hate her but she's so damned nice"
It was a suitably sad way for her to sign off for the night.
Brooke Eden was last in the UK in 2016, she was one of #TEAMw21's first interviews at C2C that year and could not have been more professional. As she would reveal throughout the evening, this was a time of personal upheaval for her, yet she was laser focused and treated us with the attention that she would have done had Rolling Stone been talking to her, and for that we have always kept an eye on her career.
Brooke was quick to acknowledge the biggest change since coming over in 2016 was her coming out as being gay. Obviously more of a deal on the US Country scene, hopefully Brooke found in the UK, a more receptive audience that focuses on the songs that you are singing. Naturally something so life changing would filter through into her material and her strong opening song "Whispering" from her "Outlaw Love" EP, would be an example. Although sat in front of a piano, this opening contribution would be on guitar. Brooke revealing the pressure brought to bear to stay in the closet even though it was an open secret, was quite telling about 21st century country music in Nashville.
Dressed in a bright pink suit, "Whispering" was delivered with the confidence of someone who had emerged from no longer being under such pressure.
"Keeping it secret was fun till it wasn't - so I went and kissed you in public"
The song gives voice to the snide secret asides
"Our names on their lips while my hands on your hips" - It all made for another strong first round.
Brooke would move to piano for her second offering, and in true songwriter style would use the tragic events of someone else's life to form the basis of her next song. Opening to big powerful piano chords this all but screamed that something dramatic was about to unfold and Brooke's delivery on "I'd Rather Be Lonely" only heightened the drama further. Whether it's a quirk of the recorded version versus the live one it did at first feel that Brooke had to squeeze one too many words into the lines
"What kind of man messes with her head like that?
What kind of man messes with her heart like that?
however in later choruses it seemed to be ironed out and we imagine the recorded version being delivered as a soulful Aretha like question.
It saw Brooke deliver a fearsome vocal, at times finding some gloriously extended notes.
Brooke's final song "All My Life" was another big piano chord affair - and was the result of having emerged after spending 5 years in the closet. Crammed full of real feelings and personal details delivered with a powerful passion. There was even time to sneak in a snatch of Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" - this was an impressive sign off and let's hope she keeps her promise to return soon.
It was a first live sighting of Simeon Hammond Dallas for #TEAMw21, and highly impressive she would prove to be, with a charming understated sassiness about her that we found most endearing. Dipping into songs from her "Make It Romantic" EP these would be stripped back versions compared to the recorded versions. Simeon's opening number "A Hundred Lovers" in it's recorded format comes with a lively organ sound and punchy percussion, tonight's version would come with a strident acoustic guitar opening, Simeon with a bright smile as she sang, had an almost folky delivery - the line
"I have a hundred lovers and none of them" has a huge gap before the heartbreaking pay off word "Stay"
The final chorus would see Simeon take the volume levels to another level as she closed out her song on an ever impressive Round One - As introductions go this was a corker.
Simeon's second contribution from her EP was "Betting On You", it came with an introduction that really hit home because of the understated way in which it was delivered. In contrast to her earlier song, the guitar style this time was gently picked, but the words of the song were quite visceral and hard hitting - this was powerful stuff and the audience appreciated it, erupting on the final line "These boys only get you so far"
Simeon's final contribution was the title track of her "Make It Romantic" EP, in three songs of totally different styles she managed to make a lasting impression. Delivered as a slow smouldering blues number, with impeccable delivery throughout this was an excellent showcase of her talents - I'm sure we'll cross paths again soon for more of the same.
The quartet was completed by Harper Grace, who certainly was dressed for the occasion and although hailing from Texas would initially introduce herself in a faux Essex accent. She also immediately endeared herself to us by opening with a song only written five days earlier which she had not played in public. It was a statement of intent and displayed a confidence in her song, mixed with a little exuberance of youth. The song "Getaway" had a somewhat strumming intense verse with lyrics fired out in a rapid fire style. The chorus when it came was big and expressive allowing Harper the chance to let rip with her vocals. Another unusual feature of Harpers playing was her style of guitar playing which would see it swing from side to side, occasionally being held aloft yet never causing her to miss a note - It closed a highly impressive opening round.
This would be a night of hard hitting stories and none perhaps more so than Harper Grace's tale of singing the National Anthem as a 11 year old. It involves the keyboard warriors from the darker cesspools of the internet, It was as horrible to hear as the song that was eventually inspired from it was uplifting to hear. "O Say Can You See" is a retelling of Harper's life and ends as something hopefully that will help others.
Harper Grace's final contribution of the evening would be "Sparkles" - her first Nashville single, There would be more guitar swinging and a confident strong vocal.
"Like rhinestones on blue jeans, like neon on a sign Like headlights down a dirt road, that's the way I shine I ain't no diamond on a gold band Sittin' real pretty on a left hand Got a little rust on my heart Well that's just my kind of sparkle"
A final group encore would see Simeon on guitar duties as all four would run through Miranda's "Mama's Broken Heart".