Kate Wassell reviews the gig for Lippy
On an unsurprisingly rainy October evening, fans of American singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews brought themselves and their dripping coats into the cosiness of Brudenell Social Club. The venue, a favourite for the country-folk star, was the perfect spot for slow acoustics and perfect harmonies of support act Memorial.
‘Well, you came here for sad songs’, said Jack Watts mock apologetically — one half of the alt-folk duo who have supported Andrews in the past. Apt to their name, Memorial’s sombre but comforting lyrics made for the perfect warm-up. I knew it was an inviting crowd because, in the rather long break between Memorial and Andrews gracing the stage, I felt very comfortable standing alone. I saw a few girls of a similar age (amongst the mostly middle-aged crowd) doing the same. It was nice to know that we could go to an event alone and feel at ease.
The elegant, endearing Courtney Marie Andrews began her set with ‘Irene’: an appraisal of independence that made the presence of young women in the audience more poignant: “Gain some confidence, Irene, if you speak let your voice ring out”. Andrews’ voice was serenely similar to her studio sound — close your eyes and you could be listening to her album through headphones — yet her graceful stage presence made her live vocals all the dreamier. Playing single ‘Rookie Dreaming’ under a pink hazy light, Brudenell disco ball glittering above her, Andrews was nothing less than a folk treasure.
‘I’m so glad I made it back to England!’, Andrews exclaimed a few songs into the set. Between singing happy birthday to a drunken crowd member named Richie and telling us about her neighbour in Arizona (who, in the depths of lockdown, would walk each of her seven dogs one-by-one to pass the time), the singer’s conversation with the crowd made it feel like she was our old friend.
One story particularly stood out — the story of how she wrote one her first studio songs when she was sixteen, huddled in a tent under a bridge in some unknown city (shortly after, bizarrely, meeting actor Chris Pratt before he was famous). Andrews was barely out of her teens before she toured America, sleeping wherever she had to and beginning a career in an often-dangerous world.
The candour of her writing has followed her through her early years to her 2020 album, ‘Old Flowers’, a confession of love and heartbreak. The album’s cover, she explained, was taken up on a hill when she and her friend were stoned, visiting a memorial — ‘not to be confused with the support act’, she smilingly adds on. It’s moments like these that make up her songs: sad moments threaded with happy observations. Putting her guitar down and settling down at the piano, Andrews sang with her most vulnerability yet, drifting through tracks from ‘Old Flowers’: ‘It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault’, and ‘Old Ships’.
After leaving her keyboard behind, the empty stage was greeted with cheers for an encore. This time, Andrews picked up her guitar and asked the crowd what they’d like to hear. The answers were barely audible, but she picked one out, happily exclaiming, ‘no one’s requested that one on this tour yet!’. Finishing on ‘Honest Life’, the first song I ever heard of Andrews’ and the title track of her 2017 album, she ended the night a simple note: “How to be honest, how to be wise, and how to be a good friend”. At least from our perspective, she’s nailed all three.
Words and photos by Kate Wassell