I was sure from the moment this show was announced that this beautiful venue would be the perfect setting for Sarah’s only UK Christmas concert and obviously many of her growing fan-base here thought the same as it sold out super fast! It was an appropriately frosty evening but nothing deterred those fortunate enough to have snapped up a ticket, I’m sure many like me looking forwards to hearing at least a few songs from her recent release “Winter Wonderland” and in addition I was excited to hear Sarah with full band backing for the first time.
A great bonus for me was discovering that one of my favourite British country artists, London’s own Kaity Rae, was providing support, I am a big fan of her both as a writer and performer. Apparently stepping in at short notice due to illness, her half hour set was deservedly well received by the attentive audience. There were no Christmas songs which she apologised for after her opening song but I was more than happy to hear her original material, a good mix of country infused ballads and more uptempo (often very wordy!) numbers. Her vocals and guitar playing were as impressive as always and the promise of new music from her next year excites me, particularly on the strength of a song she debuted which was actually completed just the previous week, a co-write with Jess Sharman (who most famously collaborates frequently with Ward Thomas) called “ Entitled” . It’s a real female empowerment track about guys making assumptions, lines like “I didn’t dress up for you to dress me down” and “you’re not invited to the after show, you’re not on the guest list” were delivered with appropriate attitude. Great to see so many of the audience signing up for her mailing list and that the EP’s she brought along sold out!
As mentioned earlier, Sarah Darling had a band with her for the evening and after the interval they started tuning up before Sarah joined them on stage, looking stunningly glamorous and appropriately festive in a green sequinned dress. The jazzy “ Santa Baby” got her set underway perfectly, the musicians ( including violin and upright bass) as impressive as the lady herself which they were throughout, adapting perfectly to a more country sound when required and adding backing vocals too. UK based, they play together regularly apparently but only a couple of them had accompanied Sarah before. They really were “ Sarah’s Darlings”!!
Thanking us here in the UK for our support and saying how lovely it was to see so many familiar faces, we were told that there’d be a mix of songs from her Christmas album, other familiar numbers and some brand new songs too….. her next album is due out at some point in 2018 and she has been in the studio in Nashville working on demos with producer Mark Bright ( who has worked with Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire among many others)
Continuing by telling us that growing up in Iowa always meant a “ White Christmas” she carried on the seasonal songs with that classic ( which included a gorgeous violin solo ) followed by what she told us was a personal favourite of hers from her latest release as it has a “ tropical meets Christmas vibe”, her reworked version of “ Winter Wonderland”. Vocally as secure and crystal clear as ever, I love how Sarah engages with her audience while performing, making you feel she is singing just for you.
A brief mention here of the wide age range in the audience…….Sarah’s music really does have all-encompassing appeal in that respect, and there were two very enthusiastic fans dancing their socks off so to speak in front of the stage for most of the set who can’t have been more than four years old!
The next couple of songs were brand new, “ Shimmer Like Gold” which builds dramatically and has a really infectious chorus, and “ Diamonds” which she co-wrote with the afore mentioned Jess Sharman which she introduced by saying how beauty can often come out of a difficult situation, captured perfectly in the lines “ pressure made us who we are, it was worth every scar”. A really powerful and thought provoking write.
Picking up her acoustic guitar we then treated to “ Hayley’s Comet” which we were told has just hit a million streams on spotify and was written on one of the hardest days of her life, followed by “ hands down” the favourite song she has ever written, her love song to Wyoming “ Where Cowboys Ride”, both of course from her “ Dream Country” album.
Later in the set the album was further represented by the beautiful and deeply personal ballad “ Montmartre” which had Sarah welling up as she sang about the city where her now husband took her on an early date.
Then it was back to the festive tunes and album with “ The Christmas Song” and “ River” , the latter being one of my favourites from the album which apparently Sarah had wanted to record ever since she heard Joni’s original version on the radio as a child.
Sarah returns to London next March to play a show at the Union Chapel (get your tickets now as it’s bound to sell out, further info at www.sarahdarling.com ) and plans to release a single around the same time, and she told me after the show that she has literally just decided which of her new songs it will be……and wow, it is just incredible!!! Before performing it she told us how it came to be written, which is one of her favourite memories of this year. Getting a late night call from a family member who’s marriage was crumbling inspired her to pour her heart out the next day in a songwriting session with Josh Osborne and Mark Gleason which resulted in one of the most moving songs I’ve heard in a long time, “Wasted” . Being in a relationship with someone who values alcohol more than anything else isn’t a new concept for a song for sure, but this ballad deals with the resulting heartache with such insight that I’m sure it will touch everyone who hears it. “ A couple of pills and your hurt is gone but my pain goes on“ and “You can’t hold your whiskey and hold me too” are just a few of the lyrics that hit me and I can’t wait to hear he studio version! It definitely got an great response from the audience. This song is as strong as any alcohol.
Wrapping up what was a truly very special evening with the classic “Silent Night “ as her encore, Sarah then braved the cold in the foyer to take time to meet her fans, and heading out into the freezing air at least my heart was warm from what I had just witnessed, thanks again for a wonderful evening, Ms Darling!