It was almost a year ago that I was sitting inside The Brooklyn Bowl at the O2 in London, eagerly awaiting the line-up announcements for the 2016 C2C Festival. When all the big names such as Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves (to name a few) were reeled off, I, along with many others went quiet when Andrew Combs was announced – who was this guy? Little did we know that he was soon to be a fan favourite at the festival and one who many came to speak of for months after. Opening on the last day before Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church, Andrew captivated the audience with his soulful, soothing, melodious voice and ability to engage a whole arena with just his voice, proving he belonged up there with the greats.
After such a stellar and memorable performance at the O2 Arena – country music fans were more than happy learning of Andrew’s return in September for a few headline shows, as well as supporting Margo Price – a new sudden favourite with the UK fans – for one night in London at The Scala.
Andrew’s headline shows are surprisingly at relatively small venues across the UK – playing in Corby, Nottingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, supported by the wonderful Barna Howard who, like Andrew, is on Loose Music.
I opted to see Andrew and Barna in Corby – Northamptonshire as is not too far from where my in-laws live, meaning I had a place to stop halfway.
This particular gig was held at The Viking Club in Corby, in a small function venue attached to a pub. The evening was hosted by promoter Grievous Angel, which is run by a local man named Paul Mason. He is passionate about music of all genres and aims to bring artists to Corby who are currently touring, as well as promoting local talent and says he will never put on an act that he would not pay to see. He really does secure fantastic artists and I highly recommend keeping your eyes open for what events he puts on in the future. If on twitter, please follow @corbyamericana
Prior to the show, I had been religiously listening to Andrew’s current album All These Dreams. To avoid a full length album review, all I will say is that the album is spectacular and awe-inspiring. Andrew’s ability to write lyrics and music is outstanding – it is no wonder Lee Ann Womack is cutting one of his songs (Shine On Rainy Days ) for her new record.
The Viking Club started to fill rather quickly come 19.30. The setting was very intimate with chairs and tables scattered across the room, each with candles on, which was a pleasant surprise. I have got to that stage where standing all night becomes a pain, literally. Every seat had someone in it and others stood against the walls.
First up was UK singer/songwriter from Nottingham Luke Whittemore. Luke, who I had the pleasure of chatting with before the show, is a folk-country singer and currently has a deal with a label in Nashville called Gold Ship Records. As this was set to be an acoustic evening, Luke took to the stage with his guitar, thanking the audience for coming out early to catch his set. Luke is no stranger to going on the road with great country musicians, as he’d previously supported the wonderful Sam Outlaw. Luke has a wonderful folk-country voice that stays true to his British roots. His music is very sweet-sounding and simply lovely to listen to and could easily be mistaken for an American artist. Stand out tracks for me were So Far Apart and Nothing Beyond This Northern Town. Luke is a wonderful lyricist and I predict great things for his future. He currently has an EP out on iTunes called Northern Town.
Listen to Northern Town – EP by Luke Whittemore on @AppleMusic.
Next to take to the stage was the wonderful Barna Howard. Having been on tour with Andrew previously, it was obvious the two get on well together as Andrew stood at the back to watch Barna’s entire performance. I had only managed to listen to Barna’s music briefly before the show – not due to lack of interest but simply lack of time, being a full time mum. In a way, it was nice to go in somewhat blind. Speaking to Barna before the show, he was instantly likeable. A down to earth man, I felt right at ease and he was friendly, kind and very humble.
Barna came on stage wearing what he describes as a quilt, explaining that, whilst looking at photos from his previous tours, he was always wearing a denim jacket and it was time to change it up a little! His attire also included a cap, which Barna also explains is one of many from a box full of caps that his grandad left to him. Raising it to the audience after every song to thank the audience, this was a little trait that my sister-in-law found adorable.
Barna’s music is authentic, refreshing and genuine. He allowed me – and quite possibly the rest of the audience – to get completely lost in his music. I sat there mesmerised as I listened to each and every lyric attentively. Barna has a lovely mellow tone to his voice which brings his lyrics to life and makes you believe every word. One song in particular that stood out was Hands Like Gloves – a folk-country ballad with a well written story of domestic violence and the reality of being in a situation that is so hard to escape from. Its beautiful melodic accompaniment on acoustic guitar gave the song a slightly melancholy feel. Barna has the ability to capture a truth and turn it into something beautifully honest. I also really liked songs Notches On A Frame and Quite A Feelin’ ( title track to his current album).
Sharing the story of a dream he had, where he had three kids and woke up missing them, warmed my heart. The new song Inspired by that dream was a delightful one with interesting and fun lyrics that painted a portrait of what his life could be with a family, if he had one. I thoroughly enjoyed every song and the performance over all. I love Barna’s personality too and he definitely made a new fan out of me that evening.
Listen to Quite a Feelin’ by Barna Howard on @AppleMusic.
On to the headliner Andrew Combs. If you have ever listened to Andrew’s music then you know he has a God-given talent – so unique, that it is hard to put into words. Andrew’s voice can fill a room without any musical accompaniment, as his vocal is so melodious and sweet-sounding with a smooth, soulful, flawless tone that makes music in itself. Andrew describes the show as ‘three depressing men and their guitars’ but if you appreciate music and are not all about fast paced, mad packed performances then all these artists are perfection and honestly some of the best at what they do. Not every artist needs to jump around on stage. It takes a far greater talent to engage an audience by just your voice and this is exactly what Andrew does.
Andrew arrived on stage and appeared rather shy as he greeted the audience but that all changed as soon as he started to sing. Andrew started the set with Month Of Bad Habits. This sounded amazing acoustically – Andrew’s voice is even better live than on a recording. Not a note was out of place and he sings with real passion and emotion and seems so comfortable on stage. The audience were silent throughout, with the exception of the one heckler behind me who I was close to screaming at. The one thing artists such as Andrew often say is just how appreciative UK audiences are and how we really listen to the music, so this guy almost ruined the evening, well for me anyway. Andrew’s interaction with the crowd was pleasant and at points rather humorous, especially when he described his fiancé’s favourite song of his as one where he sings about ‘staring though a woman’s window’ – to which an audience member shouts ‘Is that how you met?’. He replied that they are just both into creepy s**t.
Rainy Day Song was the second off the set list and is a fan favourite, which really shows off Andrew’s vocal range as well as his writing ability. Such a beautiful song, which he himself says is a favourite of his. This song, as I mentioned above, is also being cut by Lee Ann Womack and being titled Shine On Rainy Days. I am rather intrigued to hear her version.
Other songs performed that evening were Please, Please, Please and Too Stoned To Cry – another fantastic track and a song that Andrew explains his mother hates.
A lot of my favourites were played throughout the evening such as Foolin’ and Pearl, and I was enthralled throughout the entire performance. It was a pleasure to see Andrew in such an intimate setting, as I doubt I will get that opportunity again.
Being in the presence of a great artist such as Andrew makes time fly by. Andrew himself says, ‘I have no idea if I have been playing 2 hours or for just 20 minutes’. We all felt the same way. I could have listened to him all night. Every song he sings is genius and very well written both lyrically and sonically. The room was filled with hardcore fans who sang along to every song and some fans requested songs from way back when.
I had such a great evening – it was well organised, the sound was spot on and the artists were on top form. All I have listened to since coming home are all these three artists and if you haven’t already, I recommend you start listening, too.
Listen to All These Dreams by Andrew Combs on @AppleMusic.