From the “Nah Nah Nahs” that introduce “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry” to the final rousing chorus of “My Church”, Maren Morris’ fans gave their all and were in fantastic voice (as of course was the lady herself!) at Monday night’s intimate acoustic gig at London’s O’Meara.
The party (‘cos that’s what the entire evening really was!) had got off to a great start even before the headliner took to the stage, with rising UK country artist Catherine McGrath performing a slick set that demonstrated why she is getting so much attention both as writer and performer. Despite having flown back from Nashville a couple of days beforehand and being jet lagged and sleep deprived, adrenaline must have kicked in as she was on top form, showcasing a selection of songs from her recently released album “Talk Of The Town” . Looking stunning in a fluffy cropped jumper and skintight silver sparkly trousers she was accompanied by a lead guitarist she had met just that day ( sorry, I didn’t catch his name!) and it seems to me that she grows in confidence every time I see her live while managing to maintain a fresh, innocent air. Catherine naturally writes from a young girl’s perspective and I found it interesting that several of the “ more mature” men in the audience were singing along word perfect, obviously her music’s appeal isn’t as niche as I’d assumed!
Anyway, back to Maren’s set, for which she was joined by band members Annie Clements on upright bass and Bennet Lewis on lead guitar, and the 300 or so who were lucky enough to have snapped up tickets within minutes of them going on sale were truly privileged to see this multi award winner at such close quarters. Chatting away in relaxed fashion between numbers, which included thanking UK fans for supporting her since her first visit here in 2106 for C2C and promising us she’d be back next year ( possibly incurring her management’s wrath by divulging that she’ll be playing the Royal Albert Hall!) she celebrated the end of what she referred to as the “ Hero Era” by of course playing songs from the album which has catapulted her to stardom over the past two years, including all the crowd pleasers that we’d anticipated. Naturally this included her first number one single, “ I Could Use A Love Song” which I’m sure I remember reading somewhere was a late addition to the album and that she’d said exactly that when looking at the tracks she had already recorded with the comment then turning into the song’s title.
During the show Maren told us she actually relocated to Nashville from Texas with the intention of writing for other artists, and she has had great success in that regard too as I’m sure most of you will know, with Kelly Clarkson recording “Second Wind” in 2015 before Maren decided to put her spin of it on Hero, and Brothers Osborne including “ Greener Pastures” on their album “ Pawn Shop”, one of the more trad country of the songs in Monday’s set. We also heard her own version of “ Last Turn Home”, which she co-wrote with her now-husband Ryan Hurd and which was cut by Tim McGraw in 2014….what a thrill it was for us all to have Ryan join his wife onstage to duet with her on this number, giving her a tender kiss on her head afterwards.
But definitely the most personal and poignant story of the evening related to the tragic shootings at Las Vegas’ Route 91 Harvest Festival in 2017 the evening after Maren had performed there. Feeling lost for words hearing the news but wanting to do something she posted “ Dear Hate” on Youtube, a song she had written three years previously with Vince Gill but had yet to release, with all profits going to the Music City Cares Fund when it was subsequently made available on the various download/streaming platforms. On Monday evening, in stark contrast to the rousing singing throughout the rest of the set, you could have heard a pin drop in O’Meara as Maren performed this incredibly moving song which sadly is all too appropriate in regards to many situations worldwide these days.
Just one cover made the setlist, but what a great choice as John Prine’s classic “ Angel From Montgomery” really highlighted what a superbly soulful, bluesy tone there is to Maren’s voice, something that had struck me while watching her perform alongside the legendary Mavis Staples a the recent CMA awards.
Looking to the future, I’m sure Maren’s next album will be one of the most eagerly awaited for country music fans, and we got a taste of what to expect with a new song, “ Hell And Back” which she has also been performing at her recent stateside shows. Written with Jessie Jo Dillon and Laura Veltz ( the same all female dream team that gave us “ Rich”) it was inspired by her husband. She told us how when she met him she didn’t want to be saved, but just loved for who she is, and she felt that’s exactly what she got from him. With the catchy tag line at the end of the chorus “ My wings are frayed and what’s left of my halo’s black, but lucky for me your kind of heaven’s been to hell and back” and beautiful three part harmonies this ballad was a real stunner!
As mentioned earlier, and as most of us I’m sure expected, “ My Church” brought the evening to an end, and for me this was definitely one of my 2018 gig highlights and will live in my memory for a very long time. I needed another poster like a hole in the head but was too weak to resist the Hatch Show Print momento as I was leaving, if anyone reading this attended the Paris show on Wednesday please report back!
And will I be at the Albert Hall concert next year? I’m already flexing my fingers in readiness for another feeding frenzy when tickets become available! And this comes from someone who admits to not being a massive Maren Morris fan before my O’Meara “conversion”!
Review written by, and images supplied by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)