APPEARING at The Forum on a beautiful spring evening was a sort of homecoming for Mary Chapin Carpenter, the American singer-songwriter celebrating 30 years of recording.
Her most recent record (she likes to call them “records”) is SometimesJust the Sky, and was made at Real World studio in Box, just up the road from the Art Deco Forum. It’s mainly a re-working of favourite songs from her back catalogue, and she sang them for a packed and enraptured audience, with her “small” band – longtime collaborator and keyboard genius Jon Carroll from DC, guitar and mandolin man Johnny “Duke” Lippincott from Knoxville, Tennessee, and percussionist Nate Barnes from Boulder, Colorado.
The night started with a set from Australian country-soul singer, songwriter and composer Emily Barker, here with her duo partner Lucas Drinkwater on guitars and bass. Emily has recently returned from Memphis, where she recorded Sweet Kind of Blue, several tracks from which she performed at Bath. It’s a long way from Red Clay Halo, and shines the spotlight on her range and her inspirations.
Mary Chapin’s fan base is varied, loyal supporters who have followed her through the years of poignant heartbreak, passionate entanglements and subtle observations of the minutiae of ordinary life. In a time of seismic societal change, Mary Chapin has a song that encapsulates the scene.
It was a joy to revisit old songs, and, as she told the audience, no matter that we now have access to art, music and literature on a device in our back pockets, it will not, and never will be, a substitute for the experience of live and interactive performance.
For this Bath Festival audience there were some new anecdotes, like the man who asked her “Is this a real song, or just one you have written?” At this penultimate appearance before returning to the “circus” of 2018 America, she changed a closing line to “and then he posts another tweet,” to cheers from yet another UK audience appalled by the present POTUS.
Let’s hope she’s back this side of the Atlantic soon.