Sunday, 21 May 2023

Gig Review: Gretchen Peters - Town Hall, Birmingham. Saturday 20th May 2023


It may have been a listing in the Robin 2 booklet or something in Maverick Magazine? It could have been seeking who wrote the Martina McBride smash hit 'Independence Day'? It definitely wasn't Terry Wogan, the ears were elsewhere. Whatever the trigger, the music of Gretchen Peters landed in my vicinity in 2006. Maybe a decade late, but it's where you finish not where you start. The association began live with a visit to the Robin 2 on Tuesday 18th July 2006. Seventeen years later a chapter closes as the curtain comes down on the Gretchen Peters touring years. Comebacks are notorious in this game and a little chink in the curtain has been left open on the overseas live front, but let's respect an artist's wish to end one phase of their professional life.

Bar one sentimental send off song with a duo version of the standard 'One for My Baby', it was business as usual stage-wise for Gretchen Peters. Barry Walsh was mesmerically glued to the Town Hall's grand piano (except for the essential accordion parts on 'Guadalupe and The Matador''). Conor McCreanor (bass) and Colm McClean (lead guitar) have become permanent fixtures in the last few years. There was even a familiar face opening in the guise of longterm friend Kim Richey. The grandeur of Birmingham's Town Hall has also become her go-to West Midlands haunt in recent times. An obvious upgrade on the sticky floor of the Robin, but roots in music should never be underplayed. 

The song selection for this final run of dates was as expected. An obvious leaning towards some of the newer material represents the prime evolution of Gretchen Peters' songwriting. A skill that fermented like the finest old world wine. Of course there was space for some absolute live standards. Has she ever left a stage without singing 'On a Bus to St. Cloud? The obligatory intro applause is another permanent fixture. 

One of the many legacies of Gretchen Peters touring was the introduction to the music of Ben Glover. In a defiant show that the creative music making is far from over, we were introduced to a new song co-written with her long time writing collaborator. If 'Judas Kiss' has the lasting effect of show opener 'Blackbirds' (another Peters/Glover co-write), then this race is far from run. 

This show has been postponed several times since the original planned staging in 2020. Gretchen Peters has used the intervening period to record a covers album of Mickey Newbury songs. One of those ('Why You Been Gone So Long') upped the tempo in the first encore slot before the stage ensemble kept the mood going with a regular cover of Rodney Crowell's 'I Ain't Living Long Like This'. Gretchen Peters may be inspired by the songs of others she sings, but they will never define her.

Many will vow that 'On a Bus to St. Cloud' does this. There is also an argument that 'Independence Day' opened many doors. Sadly this didn't make the final show cut, but what better way to celebrate the morning after than a twin playing of versions by Martina McBride and American Aquarium. For me the defining achievement of Gretchen Peters is writing a song in 2012 that gets better with each play and conveys the emotivity of sprinkling every second of a confined space with lyrical artistry. 'Five Minutes', the literal framework that nails an art and melts a heart.

Thanks for memories, and so long for this trusted format of continuously visiting the English Midlands. Not forgetting the Wine, Women and Song events as well. Shows at the Robin, the Atrix in Bromsgrove, the Assembly in Leamington Spa and now Birmingham Town Hall have been always attended and throughly enjoyed. I'll leave pre-2006 to others. You know who you are. 

Whatever happens next, the last seventeen years have been a blast.