Gig review: Mary Gauthier at the Union Chapel, London
It was a pleasure to see Mary Gauthier performing up close and personal, on the second night of her current UK tour, in the ornate surroundings of the Union Chapel. Sound quality was excellent, the audience by turns attentive and enthusiastic and most important of all, Gauthier delivered an exceptional performance of some of her best songs.
Playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, her only accompaniment came from Tania Elizabeth on five-string violin and backing vocals. Gauthier made a point of telling the audience about Elizabeth, who has played violin since the age of three and seems quite a talent in her own right. Musically they dovetail together so perfectly that it’s difficult to believe that they have been performing together for little more than a year. Such is their success at fleshing out the songs that you never missed the presence of a full band.
“Songwriting is a mysterious business” Gauthier told the audience in the introduction to “Christmas In Paradise”. “The further I get into it, the less I understand about it really. I don’t know where they come from, I just hope they keep coming.”
Wherever they come from, Gauthier – who didn’t start writing songs until the age of 35 – has built up an impressive collection of finely-honed insights into the human condition. While typical subject matter for her songs is pain, loss and moving on, there’s always a strong sense of humanity, of which “Christmas in Paradise” is as good an example as any.
Although her performance drew heavily on her last album “The Foundling”, Gauthier didn’t perform the whole album sequentially. And while all the songs are strong enough to stand up in their own right, there is a narrative arc to the album which was missed. So at the end of “Blood Is Blood”, which featured some beautiful anguished fiddle from Elizabeth, Gauthier quipped “There’s a lot more to the story but you’ll have to buy the record”. Gauthier is clearly used to baring her soul to her audience, but “The Foundling” is so personal maybe it’s difficult to perform the whole piece nightly…..or maybe she just wanted to leave space in her set for some of the other classic songs in her catalogue.
It’s no surprise that Gauthier has become something of an activist for the rights of adopted children and parents. But her strength is that – even though some of her songs are about specific issues - she’s never polemical for the sake of it. Her songs are grounded in universal issues such as love, outstandingly on “The Orphan King”, with a closing chorus of “War is over if you want it” tagged on the end. Gauthier allowed Tania Elizabeth a song of her own for one of the encores, before ending a satisfying evening with well-received versions of “Drag Queens In Limousines” and “Mercy Now”.
Mary Gauthier on Backroads