Gig Review: Danni Nicholls at Bears and Tales: Unplugged – Bedford, 26th July 2018
This isn’t going to be a huge review as it’s far too hot to be sat at my laptop after a day at work, but I couldn’t let last night go without saying a few words. Those who know me will be by now get that I’m a huge Danni Nicholls fan, and ever since discovering her supporting Angaleena Presley just over a year ago in London, her music has infiltrated my playlist more than any other artist in that time. It’s not just me though, my wife Denise is a big fan and even Lucas chose her music over The Beano at her Record Store Day performance earlier this year, and that’s a pretty big endorsement right there. Last night Danni appeared at Bears and Tales, an intriguingly names cocktail bar in Bedford, and an equally intriguing venue for a gig.
The format of the evening was drink, music (no drinks being served), drink, music (no drinks being served), and so on. The idea being that you get your drink in between music sets and then drink it whilst listening to the music, so as not to have drink service noises during said music. The support slot was taken by friend of the bar Johnny Mudd, who gave us a set very much in the modern singer-songwriter mould that has been popularised by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, George Ezra and the like. This is absolutely nothing against Johnny, who has a great voice, plays the guitar well and has that self-depreciating British persona down to a tee, but this style of music is not really to my taste. He’s also lovely guy, but I have to be honest, or there really is no point writing anything at all. The internet is awash with vomit-inducing sycophancy, you don’t need me adding to it. Johnny Mudd – great at what he does, just not for me.
So after ordering our second drink, which in my case was an absolutely delicious gin-based cocktail going by the name of Ford’s Flower, it was time for Danni Nicholls, and the reason we were there. It will come as a surprise to no one that Danni sounded great, and that’s such an all-encompassing and vague word, so let’s elaborate with others such as powerful, smooth, soulful and passionate for starters. I’m not sure if it was because a fair few of her family and friends were in attendance, or if her cocktail was a strong as mine, but in between songs Danni told stories, and those stories took on a life their own, flowing off at many tangents. As much as I love hearing music at a gig, that’s the main reason we attend them after all, I love getting to know the person behind the songs and we got that in spades last night.
I got asked what style Danni’s music is today, as I often have, and it’s really hard to pigeonhole her into one style. Americana is probably the most obvious one, and given her recognition by The Americana Music Association UK that would seem appropriate. But what is Americana? As Mary Gauthier said at Maverick festival back in 2014, you know Americana when you hear it, and that’s so right. It’s that storytelling that comes from the heart, sung with an honesty and rawness you rarely find elsewhere, more often than not accompanied by incredible guitar playing. That IS Danni Nicholls and she’s one of the very best, and last night she was on fine form.
— Steve Riley (@TheSteveRiley) July 25, 2018
One of the highlights for me was hearing more songs from her upcoming third album that she recorded in Nashville a few months ago. I heard two, Losing It and Ancient Embers, at the Bedford River Festival 2 weeks previous, but hearing them in this intimate setting made them sound even better. The one that really hit me, giving me chills down my spine and seeing me watching and listening in awe from start to finish, was Wild is the Water. This was co-written with the fantastic Ben Glover, who is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter with intensity to emotion oozing from every pore when he performs. Thow in Danni’s own songwriting expertise and prowess as a performer, and this was only ever going to be a masterpiece, and it is. Those words I threw earlier like powerful, passionate and soulful – just a few of the ways I can describe this song. Even better is that the new album has more songs co-written with Ben, and that excites me greatly.
Danni started, as she traditionally does, with Long Road Home (my son Lucas’ favourite Dani Nicholls song) and finished with A Little Redemption. In between was a mixture of new and old songs, a cover of Tennessee Waltz which she sweetly dedicated to her Grandmother in attendance, natural and endearing repartee and music of the absolute highest standard. We got the chance to chat to Danni a few times throughout the night, and as always, she came across as humble as ever, and is just one of those naturally friendly souls. I managed to snag the setlist, which I like to do at gigs, signed by Danni, at which point Johnny Mudd signed his and gave it to me as well. I told you he was a lovely guy. The venue, Bears and Tales anded up being rather perfect, the lack of light on Danni aside, with great drinks and staff to match. Speaking of those drinks, a big thank you to Denise who drove back home allowing me to partake in the aforementioned gin decadence. I know I say it a lot, and I’ll keep on saying it, but Danni Nicholls is an incredibly talented musician and you owe it yourself to seek her out, listen to her music and watch her live. Then you can thank me and we can all enjoy her music together.