The drizzle and the dark autumn night was made sparkly and bright, much like Beth Nielsen Chapman’s shoes, by the festoon lighting strewn across Sloane Square.
The stage is set at the elegant and versatile Cadogan and there’s an anticipatory buzz in the bar before the show… these people know and love Beth’s music.
A Steinway concert grand, a drum kit, keyboard, guitars and a double bass are highlighted by a gentle, mellow glow as Scott Mulvahill unassumingly but confidently picks up his double bass and starts to play.
A simple 12 bar ostinato, played pizzicato, develops into the beginning of a beautifully crafted set of songs. The music simply pours out of Scott- he plays the bass every way possible, extracting magic with every bow, pluck, tap and strum.
His second song, Himalayas, is lively in tempo and begins with double-stopping, giving a baroque feel to the start. Scott taps and slaps rhythms on his string bass’ and his body before quickly changing to beautiful arco with a perfect vibrato and feisty pizzicato- and back again, all wrapped up with contrasting dynamics, rubato tempo and his gorgeous rich- toned voice. Also playing the guitar, Scott is king of versatility- he makes it all look so easy…and it is just joyful to watch him.
Later, during the interval, Scott told us…
Scott IS the music. It’s all in there- echoes of the famous bass opening of the 2nd movt of Beethoven’s Eroica, bluegrass, jazz, blues… and his love of it hits you with a big, warm, fuzzy punch.
Scott begins to tell us about himself, how he didn’t start playing (unbelievably) until he was 14, starting with the bass guitar. And then, he says, he “just had to sing”– and moved to Nashville. The rest is history… happening now, in the heart of Chelsea. Moving away from the mic, letting the lovely acoustic of Cadogan show off, he finishes his set with a touchingly a cappella ‘The Lord is Coming’.
Mia Morris follows, a tiny blonde fireball of creative potential, playing the drums before moving to the Steinway, sweetly expressing excitement at being the first to play it. She plays and sings without any trace of nerves, as if she’s just been waiting for us to hear how lovely she is and what magic she can stir up with those keys and that voice… Mia’s is pure, honeyed and soaring with a big range and plenty of dynamic control and her and Scott harmonise beautifully together. They end their set by singing to us, “If anything is sacred, it’s the here and now”. We feel so lucky to be here, now.
And then, suddenly Cadogan Hall has filled up and here she is- the wonderful Beth Nielsen Chapman, sparkly as the Sloane Square night, (on the inside as well as her jacket and shoes)- a bit of BethWorld right here for us Londoners.
Joined by stellar musicians Scott Mulvahill, Mia Morrow, and long-standing band member Ruth Trimble, Beth starts her set with three songs from her new album Crazy Town. ‘All Around the World’, ‘Put a Woman in Charge’ and ‘4 Leaf Clover’, tunes so melodic and natural that to hear them once is to hear them a hundred times in your head in the following days…chromatics, counterpoint and harmonies crafted around the chords soar and blend in a dance that makes sense- it just all works so perfectly.
Mia’s drumming ranges from gentle feathers and kisses to moody, insistent and relentless heavy beats which drive and shape the whole performance. All are multi-instrumentalists, moving seamlessly and effortlessly from keys to strings to percussion, combined with their gorgeously sonorous and comfortably soothing blend of voices.
The famous “Sand and Water” works its usual magic, with Scott coaxing cello-like tones from his bass, Mia’s soft brushes and Ruth’s tumbling notes combining to become imagery of water as the full lushness of Beth’s rich tonality sweeps over us. Beth’s sharing of her own vulnerability makes for powerful connection- her singing reaches into you, into your own soft, vulnerable place. Her strength becomes yours in those shared moments of contradiction and juxtaposition. Through her words and music, Beth tells us stories of her darkest and happiest times and of the “powerful way that music and art can help us through”.
The four musicians sing their way through a richly rewarding set of old and new songs- as a quartet, solos, duets; Beth even takes requests from the audience, playing and singing songs to celebrate wedding anniversaries and for long-time fans. She, of course, is the powerhouse that holds it all together, never more emphasized than during her arguably most famous song, “This Kiss”. Beth is the ultimate teacher up there, showing her disciples the way.
Tonight’s collection of gorgeous songs are richly layered stories of simplicity and complexity: powerful combinations of love, loss, facing one’s fear and ultimate hopefulness. Beth Nielsen Chapman humbles with the confidence of a storyteller for whom every decision, every note, every word is deliberate, the frequent imperfect cadences at the end of her songs made ferocious by her uncompromising empathy for emotion.
Saying goodbye, almost saying thank you to us, the four stand together to sing a her latest single, “Walk you to Heaven”, an a cappella bow on top of a much-wanted, longed-for and instantly loved gift of an evening.
Beth Nielsen Chapman played Cadogan Hall, London on 23rd October 2022
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