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After almost 45 years of attending concerts at Sheffield's premiere venue, there's still something quite thrilling about approaching the imposing building, with its grand classical architecture and stately steps. The entrance to the Ballroom is to the right of those steps, just around the corner to the side of the building. "It's taken me ages to circumnavigate the building to find this door" said one disgruntled punter, who obviously went the wrong way around. The Ballroom itself reflects some of the City Hall's fine exterior architecture, with the seating area flanked by a dozen white Doric columns as the 400 plus audience took their seats for the first of two sets by the New York-born singer-songwriter.
By her own admission, Gretchen Peters was pretty much ignored in the States during the early years of her career, not so in the UK though, where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter's music was embraced quite early on by such broadcasters as Bob Harris and the late Terry Wogan who the singer paid tribute to tonight.
Arriving in the country at the end of last month and with just three more shows to go on this 20th Anniversary tour, the Nashville-based singer showed little sign of fatigue although at one point she jokingly quipped "at the end of the tour we always play better.. but smell worse". Perhaps the flowers were on stage for more than decorative purposes then? After the show, Gretchen also spoke of missing her dog, which might possibly have been heightened by the appearance of an inanimate canine, who sat at her feet throughout the show.
Celebrating twenty years since the release of her debut album, THE SECRET OF LIFE, the tour focused on some of Gretchen's most familiar songs from that period, such as On a Bus to St Cloud and When You Are Old, all the way through to her most recent album BLACKBIRDS, with When All You Got is a Hammer and the title song, co-written by Ben Glover. To accompany the tour, the singer has also just released a two-disc CD retrospective THE ESSENTIAL GRETCHEN PETERS, most of which was covered tonight in Sheffield, including such memorable songs as The Matador, Hello Cruel World and Guadalupe, co-written with Tom Russell. Gretchen told me after the show that it was difficult to know which songs to include and more importantly which ones to leave out. "On reflection.." Gretchen admitted, "..Idlewild should've gone on the new compilation." The song may have missed out on the selection for the record but it was very much there in all its thought-provoking glory in the set tonight.
Standing centre stage throughout the two sets, just taking to the piano for the one song Independence Day, which opened the second set, Gretchen surrounded herself with her ever-present musical collaborator/husband Barry Walsh on piano and accordion, together with a couple of musicians from Northern Ireland, Colly McClean on electric guitar and pedal steel, and Connor McCraynor on both electric and double bass. Connor also provided some percussive stomp box in lieu of a drummer.
Finishing with an encore featuring Rodney Crowell's Country rocker I Ain't Living Long Like This, Gretchen and her band left the stage, leaving behind a seemingly fulfilled audience, who rewarded the singer with much applause and the knowledge that she would be welcome back in these parts at anytime.