If you could have chosen, deep in the mire of spring, summer or winter of 2020, what would you have chosen as your first gig back “after all this”? Maybe a sweaty basement somewhere, with an upcoming band, un-distanced, up close, personal? Maybe a huge arena; everyone knows the songs and they scream their hearts out during their anthemic choruses, together again at last? Or, maybe, how about one woman and a guitar and an intimate show in a century-old church designed by a famous Glaswegian architect?
It was not until Courtney Marie Andrews took the stage that we realised we should always have chosen the latter. Because that last example is what live music is all about, isn’t it? Get rid of everything – the light shows, the merch stands, the pomp and ceremony, the backing band even – and go and experience the music properly.
The delicate, intimate tone was set by beautiful openers Memorial. Two men and two guitars but so, so much more besides – they presented haunting, delicate, captivating vocals and sombre songs but with an element of mirth and subtle showmanship that immediately let us know what we’d been missing over the last eighteen months or so. Friendly banter between songs (‘Scotland is legitimately my second home… I know what Still Game is!’), a shared cheeky grin when one hits a bum note in a solo. You don’t get that on a live stream.
And then Courtney Marie Andrews and so much more you don’t get via zoom or Facebook live or whatever else – beautiful ethereal vocals, filling a church hall, losing yourself in the music. A singer hitting a note that makes you burst into a smile. Real life, in other words.
This show was, ostensibly, to celebrate an album released in July 2020. An album that we have heard a lot already. But it isn’t until you hear them like this (without a band, stripped back) that you learn how the songs are written and how they work. This set felt like you were listening for the first time in Courtney’s front room – here’s a new song, what do you think? Well, we are repeatedly blown away.
And there was plenty of genuinely new stuff, Andrews hasn’t spent the last year sitting on her hands. In-between tales of her neighbour Debbie and her seven dogs (who, apparently, each have the privilege of being walked individually), there are several new songs – each with the detail and crafted beauty you come to expect of Andrews. Not too many, this was still a celebration of Old Flowers, but enough to whet the appetite for the next release.
Eventually, though, all good things must come to an end. As Andrews returned to the stage to rapturous applause and a foot-stomped rumble (the volume of which she humbly dedicated to the church’s acoustics, rather than the audience’s enthusiasm for her performance) she did one last thing to remind us this was real life; she took requests for her encore.
After what could only be described as an indistinguishable rabble, a pause…
“Ok, I think I heard Near You and Old Flowers? …I’ll do those two.”
And you don’t get that on a live stream.