I feel like, in hindsight, tonight will have been a big deal. At the risk of jinxing it, I predict my great-grandchildren* will be queuing overnight to get tickets for the Yola Carter farewell tour and I’ll casually drop that I saw her back in 2016 playing in the back of a pub in a theatre room that held less than a hundred people.
But then, if my great-grandchildren should ask how it was, I’ll have to confess: I rocked up to the gig solo, drank too much wine without any dinner, and may have accidentally come across as a creepy stalker super-fan when I met her in the bar.
Still, at least I got in – which at 7:10pm looked unlikely. I’d cocked up and been so busy fervently tweeting about the show, I’d neglected to get my own act in gear. As I marched across Bristol without an actual ticket to the sold out show and only the hope of someone selling a spare to power me on, I wondered how much I’d achieve if I gave half as much focus to the other areas of my life as I do to getting to country concerts.
There was something about this gig that compelled me though. The organisers had billed it as ‘magically intimate’ and while I didn’t know how small Bristol’s Wardrobe Theatre would be, I believed the ‘magical’ part would at least be true. I’d first heard Yola Carter back in August at the Nashville Meets London festival, the unknown singer on the bill whose voice – if not her name yet – reached out and commanded all of our attention.
The chancing paid off and I got in in time to get a large glass of wine (mistake) and nab front row seats (very unlike me as I’m usually near the back, by the bar). After a charming opener called Lady Nade – whose distinct voice helped me decide she’d be cast as the crooner at the tiki bar in a 1950s Elvis film – Yola thundered through from her own seat at the back of the audience.
The voice was everything I’d remembered. There were moments I feared the shoebox room would not contain it and I checked the lighting rig nervously from time to time. Songs with the traditional country twang (like Orphan Country) slid their way out of blues and gospel riffs and the lyrics were as strong as the lungs.
But, if you’ve heard – or rather felt – Yola Carter sing, you do not need me to give an uneducated gushing opinion**. Besides, I did enough awkward gushing after the show. So I will talk about the magic of a bijou venue.
There is something special about being able to see that the two guitarists who flanked her were wearing matching shoes! That and the way the band would improvise as Yola set the tempo by tapping the beat on her chest or doing a two-step, as if we were privy to a bedroom jam session. There was something special about the Bristol girl playing in her home town so hearing her describe the band’s recent trip to Nashville as ‘lush’ as only a Bristolian would.
And there would be something special about being able to say hello to the artist after the show, unless like me you inexplicably*** start showing them pictures of themselves on your phone from months ago…
So, it’s probably best I stop tweeting / writing / effusing about Yola Carter for a while. Partly so the next chance I get to see her perform won’t sell out quite as quickly. And partly because it’s getting a bit weird now. I don’t want to end up in a song like the Mitch Thompson she named and shamed. I will leave you with a strong recommendation to see her while you can on the UK’s smaller stages (dates here) before the world stage calls and you are at the back of the throng standing on tiptoes straining to spot the top of her afro somewhere in the distance.
By CJ for @UKCountryBlog
*Note to self – sort love life to have any hope of fulfilling this prophesy.
** For the sake of the post title I must mention that her pitch was on point.
*** It may have been the third glass of wine.