Tonight at The Queen’s Hall was the last date here in the UK on Gretchen Peters’  20th Anniversary tour, and also as the UK was really the place that appreciated the songs first, 20 years since her first UK tour.  Also out now is a retrospective double CD album “The Essential Gretchen Peters” which has back catalogue music on one CD and songs that somehow until now just never made it onto any album on the other, so a busy year for this lady.

I have to admit here at the start of this review that, despite 20 years of songwriting not only for herself but for, and in collaboration with others, winning major music awards and being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2014, apart from a few tracks on the internet, seeing Gretchen perform here is really my first introduction to her music, and the only thing that I can really say is “How have I managed to overlook a singer/songwriter of this quality for so long?”.

Gretchen Peters is simply a hugely gifted songwriter and plays with words like a master storyteller.  Also though there are those gifts of being able to tell a story that touches people’s lives, there is also the gift of being able to make lines in a song that seem sometimes disconnected from one another fit together perfectly to tell a story and also to describe something very basic in a way that you go “I wish I had thought of that”.

Opening the show tonight was “The Secret of Life”, a song that just shows from the beginning Gretchen’s ability to paint a picture with words in your mind. 

During this tour, Gretchen has been asking via social media what songs audiences want to hear, and from earlier days, “Love and Texaco” was once of the audiences’ choices, and I can see why, a beautiful little song.

The two sets of this show gave us some wonderfully written songs such as “Blackbird”, “Sunday Morning (Up and Down My Street)”, “If Heaven”, and “Hello Cruel World”.  We also got great versions of probably three of Gretchen’s best known songs – “Independence Day” and a slightly different style version of “When You Love Someone” – co written with Bryan Adams, and “On a Bus to St Cloud”.

Despite these songs, my favourites from this show were the following –

“Five Minutes” ...Just a wonderful example of how a gifted songwriter can take something so simple as stepping outside from your work-place for five minutes to have a cigarette, and in that time weave a story about someone’s life and past relationships while at the same time telling a current family story too.

“When All You Got Is A Hammer” ...A modern day song about the personal effects of war on not only the returning medal winning hero, but how the changes that experience has brought to this man effects those around him.

“When You Are Old”...simply a charming and heart-warming song about growing old. This song was dedicated to the recently departed Terry Wogan as a thank you for playing it so often on his Radio 2 show.

I know I have concentrated this review on the songwriting abilities of Gretchen Peters as that is to me her greatest strength, but Gretchen also has a great voice of her own that suits her writing style well.  I think what I am really trying to say here is that there are a lot of very good singers out there and quite a few singing in Gretchen’s style, but there are very few people out there who can write songs of this quality and also sing.

Joining Gretchen on stage tonight were Barry Walsh (keyboards), Conor McCreanor (bass) and Colm McLean (pedal steel & electric guitar).  Barry and Gretchen are married to one another and will be returning home after this tour, and Colm and Conor will be moving onto other projects. 

Barry Walsh on keyboards – well actually that wonderful concert quality piano that The Queen’s Hall has (which must be a real bonus for any musician to come and play on), added a richness to the music tonight that really brought out different layers to some of these songs.  Also interesting though was seeing again just how close country music and early rock’n’roll can be, as Barry played with a few Jerry Lee Lewis style phrases on the piano.

Conor and Colm just seemed to fit right into Gretchen’s musical style and it was nice to hear some pedal steel guitar too – a very distinctive sound always

Gretchen Peters has a new fan here –particularly as a songwriter.  The only problem there of course is that I have to hear more and get some of those 10 studio albums for myself and probably the best place to start is the new retrospective “Essentials”.

Review by Tom King


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