Country to Country Presents: Ashley Campbell, Mo Pitney, The Adelaides at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2018
Rewind back to Country to Country 2016 and I walked into The O2 as one Ashley Campbell started her set. It soon became apparent that this was Glenn Campbell’s daughter, whose music I knew and had liked for many years. What also became apparent was just how talented she was, and is, both as a singer and musician. On banjo particularly she was spectacular, and stood out, because although this was a three day Country festival banjos were a rare sighting. It was when she played Remembering that hairs pricked up on the back of my neck and I realised I was watching something special.
I kept an eye on Ashley’s music for the next two years, eager for an album, which came the same day as the Friday of Country to Country 2018. I saw Ashley perform on the Saturday of Country to Country and you can read my thoughts on that here. That wasn’t enough though, so this past Tuesday I contacted a friend and we booked tickets to see her headline gig at The Borderline in London this past Saturday. Of course, the weather had to change yet again, and snow threatened my attendance, but I figured as long as I got there, what came after would be a bridge I’d cross when I got there. So off to London I went.
I’ve always liked The Borderline as a avenue, but even more so since they refurbished it and made it more roomy by the stage area. A 20 minute wait in the freezing snow and we were inside, where thankfully the heating was on. First on stage were a relatively new trio called The Adelaides, who I’d heard of and caught maybe 2 minutes of at Country to Country where they were doing a cover of Maren Morris’ My Church, but not enough to make any kind of real judgment. Firmly in the pop country camp they kicked off the night with a ton of energy and actually sounded pretty damn good. Two of the ladies play guitar and sing, with a dedicated singer front and centre. On stage it’s evident they are fairly new to this, and could do with focusing more on who they are and what they want as a music act, rather than worrying about how they look, but that will come with experience. Having three people sing can sometimes be unnecessary if they all sound the same, but all three ladies have very different tones, from deep (relatively) gravel to high pop, and harmonise well. They finished off their set with a really fun song called jellybaby, which I’ll let you Google and discover for yourself. I probably wouldn’t go specifically to see The Adelaides play, not yet anyway, but I’d be more than happy to see them on the bill of a gig I had tickets for.
Mo Pitney took to the stage next, and another artist that I knew the name of from the previous weekend’s Country to Country festivities, but whose music I wasn’t familiar with. On stage he didn’t have the effervescent smiles of The Adelaides, but that suited his demeanour and his music. That’s not to say he never smiled, as a wry grin made an appearance now and then, but Mo’s steely, almost distant gazes out to the crowd as he sung, is something I’ve not seen a lot of, but worked well. As a singer Mo has a big voice, that seems to emanate effortlessly. Now that’s a cliche when hearing music reviews, but really, if vocal power was like a car accelerating, then Mo’s voice is at around 3.2 seconds, approximately.
Mo Pitney is an old soul in a young body, and is reminiscent of the country music many fans clamour for in a genre that expands and evolves daily. With his skilful guitar playing and story filled songs his gigs are a joy to watch. I always appreciate getting to know an artist, and Mo afforded us that privilege, most notably when regaling us with the time he met Merle Haggard, which was of course followed by the uncomplicated but pleasing song, I Met Merle Haggard Today. His brother and sister joined him on stage for a few numbers, adding bass and harmonising vocals, and depth to his set. I’d not heard any Mo Pitney before this Saturday just gone, now I’ll be buying his album and looking out for future gigs.
A few minutes later and it was time for Ashley Campbell, as she came on stage in the same glittery rose emblazoned jacket she wore at Country to Country. I only yesterday saw the Glenn Campbell documentary I’ll Be Me, so I’ll take a stab in the dark that she is honouring her father with that jacket, given he had a jacket with red roses on it too. Thanks to a few people moving around I had the perfect view of Ashley, her brother Shannon on guitar and Eli on fiddle. Earlier in the day I’d tweeted Ashley asking for Better Boyfriend to be on the playlist, and I’d like to think that was a pivotal part of the decision process which led to her opening with that exact song. Ashley has such a sweet and classicly gorgeous country voice that just makes me smile. When she’s on stage it seems like there is absolutely no other place she’d rather be and nothing she’d want to do more. That passion and commitment is evident in her performance, which makes it ultimately more pleasurable for us in the crowd.
Ashley’s debut album The Lonely One is fantastic, but seeing those songs performed live, in such an intimate venue with great acoustics, well, it was pretty bloody fantastic. I’m always in awe at her banjo playing, and thankfully she didn’t disappoint, and with Shannon’s guitar playing and Eli’s fiddle skills, we had three great musicians on stage. Not to mention that Ashley swaps between guitar and banjo, depending on the song. We also got an example of Eli’s world record holding clapping – yes, you read that right. Of course since I’ll Be Me, and as Ashley’s first single, Remembering has become a career trademark song already, and one I was looking forward to seeing live for the third time. Once again I got goosebumps, even more so seeing up close the chemistry between Ashley and Shannon, as they sang about their father. Whilst I loved seeing her perform Gentle On My Mind, Remembering has more of an impact on me, because it’s her song.
Ashley is a very much at ease on stage, no doubt coming from years in the spotlight and taking to some of the biggest stages in the world at a young age. She also acts very naturally up there – no airs and graces, just Ashley Campbell. I say just, that’s a charming and endearing, and sometimes vulnerable young lady, who somehow even makes banjo tuning an enjoyable spectator sport, and educational too. I never knew banjos go out of tune quicker in the cold weather, but I do now. She finished her set with Looks Like Time, which she encouraged us to join in on and we great time singing along to some well written, and fun lyrics, and relishing to the opportunity to sing ‘a$$’ – hey, some things never fail to titillate. There’s some pop, some Mariachi, but ultimately Ashley Campbell is country, quite literally, through and through.
For an encore, we got a collaboration with Mo and Ashley, as he her joined back on stage for three songs, including an impromptu bluegrass number which saw Mo on guitar, Ashley on banjo and Eli on fiddle playing a storm and making this guy grin from ear to ear. Live music really doesn’t get much better. Mo and Ashley had great chemistry on stage and I’d certainly love to see them play again sometime – even forgetting who sang which bit was done in such a way to keep us all smiling and entertained. At one point in Ashley’s main set she and Shannon showed off the Ashley Campbell koozies and extolled their virtues of keeping your beer can cool but not your hand. They didn’t say they were available to buy but I was hoping they would be, and so was delighted to be able to buy one pink and one black from the merch stand afterwards.
I’ve been to The Borderline a few times so knew where to loiter in hope of meeting Ashley, and after three or four people in front of me I got to tell her how much I loved her music, and how much I’d enjoyed seeing her perform live again. I also requested that she come back again soon, whilst she signed my koozie. She was utterly charming and seemed genuinely appreciative of my comments. I was already a big fan of Ashley Campbell before Saturday night, but after that gig on Saturday night I’m an even bigger fan. Today I received the I’ll Be Me soundtrack on CD so now, at last, own a physical copy of Remembering. Ashley, as I said two nights ago, please do come back soon. And dear reader, don’t hesitate for one second if you get the opportunity to see Ashley live – she’s up there with the very best, and with such a huge career ahead of her.