Gretchen Peters was at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight playing the final date of her “Strings Attached” UK tour, and as usual being in the audience for one of her shows was a pleasure. Tonight was a little different from usual though as four – Gretchen, Barry Walsh (piano), Colm McLean (guitar) and Conor McCreanor (bass) became eight with the addition in the second half of the show of the “Southern Fried String Quartet” led by Seonaid Aitken on first violin. Our full “Southern Fried String Quartet” with a very Scottish seasoning this show were as follows
Violin 1 - Seonaid Aitken
Violin 2 - Amira Bedrush-McDonald
Viola - Sarah Leonard
Cello - Alice Allen
As usual, over two sets, Gretchen Peters gave us some old songs and some newer material from the “Blackbirds” (2015) and “Dancing With The Beast” (2018) albums. Whatever the song though, there is always one thing holding everything together in any work of Gretchen Peters, and that is the clear mark of a master storyteller at work.
There are few songwriters of Gretchen Peter’s quality out there at the moment (or any moment) and although her songs cover many diverse subjects it is as a writer of “women’s songs” that Gretchen excels, and over the 3 to 5 minutes of a song’s time frame, works like “Arguing With Ghosts”, “Blackbirds”, “The Boy From Rye” and “Wichita” give us real stories of real people that are full of emotion and often pain. There is always something about Gretchen’s vocals on these songs that makes you believe that these are real friends, perhaps more than that even, they have become “ghosts on stage” with her over the years. This ability of Gretchen’s to capture a story of someone’s life in a song marks her, for me, as one of the few American songwriters to match some of the powerfully emotive songs of the “Chansons Françaises” that great French writers and performers made history with in the 1930s to early 1960s.
Gretchen Peters always has a tight band with her on-stage and tonight was no exception, but the addition of the “Southern Fried String Quartet” allowed many of her songs to be opened up musically and new layers added to them. Some songs getting this “expanded” musical treatment here included “Say Grace “, “The Matador “, “Love That Makes A Cup of Tea” and “When You Love Someone”. The latter many people will recognise from the 1998 film “Hope Floats” performed by Bryan Adams.
There are so many songs by Gretchen Peters that I could list as favourites of mine, but always two stand out for me in the end – the wonderful “Five Minutes” and “When You Are Old”, so having both in the set list for this show was perfect for me.
If you are an aspiring songwriter, then one of the best ways to begin to understand how to write music and lyrics for a song is simply to go along and watch and listen to Gretchen Peters perform. You will come away after a few hours having learned more than months of study (maybe even years). Gretchen is simply a master-craftswoman at her work.
Review by Tom King