Beccy Owen was already onstage when I tried to make my way quietly into the rear of the Live Theatre, but she still managed to illicit several ‘tuts’ from fans who had arrived on time. Although I’d not seen her before, I was aware of Beccy playing around the local music scene for several years. I was astounded to find she is actually a Southerner from down Yorkshire way, were she now lives. She still had plenty of fans in attendance, who all hung onto her every word, cheering loudly at the end of each song.
Perhaps it was just me (it wasn’t) but, while I found Beccy and her pithy, sardonic songs pleasant enough, I couldn’t help but think her songs and presentation owed more to Victoria Wood than Randy Newman. She is more suited to the cabaret circuit than the concert hall.
Then there was Chastity Brown; last seen around these parts when she won a legion of hearts and minds while performing a short set at the 2011 Jumping Hot Club Vintage Bus Party. Now, with her debut album winning rave reviews from all quarters, tonight’s gig had sold out several weeks previously. Social media had been lit up with people looking for a ticket, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that there was a buzz of anticipation as Chastity and piano player DeVon Gray organised themselves on the Live Theatre stage.
With no introduction, and looking remarkably nervous, the native of Tennessee had the audience in the palm of her hand within 30 seconds and I can understand why. Chastity’s songs are all honest and from the heart; effortlessly straddling Soul, Blues, Country and even Jazz (at times) in the way all of the great singers can and many pretenders can’t.
Tonight the singer was dressed quite casually and had her fantastic Afro bundled inside a headscarf. But, that only managed to give her a look steeped in warm Southern charm that complimented the songs better than stage lighting ever could.
With only her guitar, harmonica and DeVon Gray on piano for accompaniment theWhen We Got There from Backroad Highways took on a spartan rawness tonight that occasionally had the hair on the back of my neck standing on end.
As the singer strapped on her harmonica she spoke for the first time and asked, “Y’all ready for some Blues?” The answer was in the affirmative and I Left Home, which had DeVon clicking his fingers and stomping his feet to create a wild rhythm was as cool a Blues tune as I’ve heard in many years; particularly Chastity’s rather fine guitar playing.
During the introduction to the song Backroad Highways; which isn’t actually on the album of the same name; she explained that it was ‘about the landscape of a working man’s life’ then smiled before performing another stark and intimate song that sent a shiver down my back.
Another new song; the soulful Cross the Sunny had actually only been finished on the flight to the UK; but you’d never have guessed as it as it sounded like I’d known it forever.
While I absolutely love the whole album; two songs stood head and shoulders above the rest, Slow Time and Leroy and both were performed immaculately tonight.
Written in her new home of Minneapolis about her memories of sitting on the front porch; surrounded by her family Slow Time had the audience grinning with delight from state to finish and my own personal favourite; Leroy is obviously a heart-breaker, but an absolute joy to hear in such an intimate setting.
DeVon Gray was the perfect accompanist tonight; highlighting and never overshadowing the singer and his piano playing had two old ‘heads’ comparing him to Garth Hudson from the Band; and knowing these two guys, that wasn’t said lightly.
This was a really, really memorable concert and it’s been difficult not to go overboard with hyperbole because Chastity Brown is the ‘real deal’ and appears to be a raw, young talent on the verge of breaking out of her cocoon and with only the slightest bit of luck, becoming a true star of the Americana scene.