At The Barrier favourite Annie Keating kicks off her UK tour in style at Bath’s delightful Chapel Arts Centre.
It seems that Annie Keating, At The Barrier’s favourite Brooklynite, is everywhere, these days. The airwaves have been a-flutter with her two recent singles, the glorious, optimistic Twenty 22 and, just a couple of weeks ago, the pleasant, tender Feels Like Home – a song launched to Annie’s UK audience by no less a personage than Bob Harris – just one of Annie’s many long-term admirers. And now, she’s here – on UK soil – for a long-awaited tour that takes in shows from Glasgow to Brighton, Colchester to Manchester and innumerable stops in between (check out Annie’s website for full details). At The Barrier was at the delightful Chapel Arts Centre in Bath on the evening of Saturday 2nd April to join in with the tour’s opening night festivities.
Regular visitors to these pages will already know that we’re huge Annie Keating fans here at At The Barrier. Her most recent album, Bristol County Tides was one of our top albums of 2021 (and I’ll let you in on a secret – it was my Number One choice…) and we’ve been dying to see her live. Well – now we have done and, happily and unsurprisingly, she didn’t disappoint. Oh no…!
I was so pleased to see that a Bath show had been included in Annie’s itinerary. I relish the opportunity to visit one of the UK’s greatest and most historic cities and the fact that Annie’s opening night show took place in the intimate and comfortable surroundings of the Chapel Arts Centre was a nice slop of pink icing, applied to an already very appetising cake! A former Methodist chapel that has also seen life as a club and a studio, Chapel Arts is a wonderful venue with a What’s On list that reads like a list of many of my favourite performers – a list of forthcoming attractions includes names like Track Dogs, Christina Alden & Alex Patterson, Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams & Aaron Catlow, all of whom have featured recently in the pages of At The Barrier. There’s even a Martin Carthy show in the offing… It’s a small venue with a great sense of audience and performer sharing the same space and its management policy for the seating to be arranged cabaret-style, around small tables. The setting was, indeed, perfect,
I guess that economics dictated that Annie would have to leave her regular studio band of Teddy Kumpel, Steve Williams, Richard Hammond and Todd Caldwell back in Brooklyn for this UK tour but, fear not, she’s recruited wisely and effectively and her touring band – Joe Coombes on guitars, Jamie Dawson on drums and Scott Warman on double bass and bass guitar – was a more than adequate stand-in. After (apparently…) just a couple of days’ rehearsal, they’ve got Annie’s repertoire off to a ‘T’ and Joe’s fills and solos are so spot-on that you really wouldn’t know that Teddy is 3,000 miles away and not there in the room with us.
The Bath gig was Annie’s first appearance in front of people since God-knows-when and her joy at being back on stage was obvious and unbridled. The jaunty, Stones-ish Belmont got proceedings underway and it was clear, right from the opening, jangly, guitar chords, that a good time was about to be had – by all. For The Taking, a nice, peaceful, easy country number with subtle vocal harmonies from Scott and some sublime guitar from Joe created a mellow mood that was promptly shattered as the band burst into the gritty boogie of On The Road By Ten. It was plain, as Annie jumped and stomped around the stage, that she was going to be flying tonight! As she said, as the song reached its crashing finale, “I’m over 50 and I can still get off.” Can’t she just!
The first dips into the Bristol County Tides material came with Kindred Spirit, the album’s first single – and it was a blazing version, lit up by a soaring, masterful guitar solo from Joe – and Marigold, a favourite track from the same album. Annie recounted the story of the song, in which lockdown boredom enticed her to “Cut her hair and paint it gold” – “My hairdresser was pretty pissed...” she remarked. Once again, Annie’s delivery was forceful and Joe stepped back up to the mark with yet more awesome guitar.
We stayed with Bristol County Tides for Nobody Knows. Annie overcame the threat posed by a dodgy guitar lead and went into hyper-overdrive, before throttling back a little for Coney Island, a (comparatively) relaxed number from her 2015 Make Believing album that muses over the delights of Brooklyn’s favourite playground paradise. Valentine, a song from way back in 2008, was dedicated to “The lovers” in the room – a dedication that Annie followed by sharing the story of recent divorce. Joe excelled once more, this time with a bottleneck guitar solo to die for.
Time had flown, and the intensity was growing, as Annie signed off for the first half of her show with the raucous On The Loose, a title that perfectly reflected her condition as she attempted to stamp her way through the stage boards. What a show – and we were only half-way through!
Annie continued her deep dig into her extensive back catalogue for Water Tower View, the second half’s opening number. Joe managed to coax a wonderful pedal steel sound from his guitar in a delightful song that celebrates the distinctive water towers that adorn many of New York’s older buildings, before the theme moved on to escaping from that same city, as “the body bags piled up” at the start of the pandemic. Half Mast, another of my great favourites from the Bristol County Tides album was written in April 2020, just as lockdown started to bite and Annie really conveyed the feeling and the strangeness of isolation as she delivered the song – with the solid help of Joe’s weepy slide guitar.
And now – a piece of news that may encourage those who have been sitting on the fence, wondering whether to pop along when Annie Keating visits their town: Annie has compiled a special edition EP (actually, with 32 minutes’ running time, I’d call it a mini-album). Simply titled Twenty 22 Tour EP, it was recorded in Brooklyn with her usual pals, and will be available only at her live shows. I’ll talk more about the EP shortly but, suffice to say, Annie has included a couple of songs from this latest offering into her set, and they’re excellent. The John Prine-inspired Looking For Trouble was the first such song – a slow and tender number with an irresistable chorus, and Annie’s sigh after the line “Meet me on the corner/ Make it nice and slow,” would melt an arctic snowman. You have been warned…
Annie stopped the band as they kicked into Storm Warning, a down ‘n’ dirty rocker from her 2013 For Keeps album. The reason? They weren’t playing it fast enough. Never mind – after the false start, they certainly did, and, once again, Annie almost managed to stamp her way through the stage. And that passion was unabated for High Tide, another lump of gold from Bristol County Tides in which Annie almost managed to transform herself into Patti Smith during the “So let’s drive for a while with the music loud” chorus. I’ve already mentioned that Annie’s latest single, Feels Like Home, was premiered by Bob Harris. That’s something that Annie is clearly proud of, and which has evidently helped her to overcome her unjustified embarrassment at the song’s intimacy. I’m pleased it has, because Feels Like Home is a lovely song that deserves to be heard and the band did it full justice in Bath, with the laid-back drums and bass providing the perfect backdrop to Annie’s soft, broken vocals and Joe’s Hank Marvin guitar.
We rocked towards the finishing line with Lovesick Blues, another track from that exclusive tour-only EP. Joe donned his white Telecaster for a stompy, swampy Creedence-style rocker that those who buy the EP will play over and over again, before Annie brought the show to its footloose, boozy and fancy-free climax with a raucous rendition of Hank’s Saloon. Of course, we couldn’t let Annie and the band go just like that, and they didn’t take too much persuading to return for a beautiful, soft show-closing encore of the cutting It Already Hurts When You Leave. I can’t urge our readers strongly enough. Annie Keating is special – check out that tour itinerary and get yourselves along to one of her shows. You’ll love it!
But what about that mini album? Available only from the merch stall at Annie’s live shows and definitely not in the shops or online, it’s a treasure and, like all of Annie’s output, a labour of very evident love. Eight tracks, three of which are performed during the current tour’s live set, it includes a remix of Annie’s delicious Twenty 22 single and also the most recent single, Feels Like Home. Twenty 22 wasn’t in the set for the Bath show – I suspect that maybe events in Ukraine render the song’s optimistic lyric a little inappropriate at the moment – but I have no doubt that it will be back before too long. It’s a great song and the remix on the new EP is crisp, light and jangly.
Looking For Trouble was a highlight of the live show and, here, it’s further embellished by some wonderful swirling organ from Todd Caldwell. Sunshine Parade is funky and sleazy and dripping with typically awesome Teddy Kumpel guitar, whilst Just A Girl is a laid-back number with lyrics that provide all the evidence anyone would need to prove what a great songwriter Annie Keating really is. Lovesick Blues rocks nearly as strongly on the EP as it does on the live stage and Todd’s organ licks and late-night bar-room piano provide delights that guarantee the song’s destiny as a long-term live favourite.
Annie sounds more vulnerable than I’ve ever heard her in Belly of the Beast, a song that provides the biggest possible contrast to the swampy rock of Lovesick Blues, before, in Wrong Guy’s Girl, Annie sets off on a tour of Europe that takes in Rome, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Inverness (“You had me right from the start…”) and the Greek Islands, where she is “Chased outta Corfu for kissing the wrong guy’s girl(!))” The lovely Feels Like Home wraps up the EP – a product that provides a welcome shot of Annie for those of us who can’t get enough. If you need any further encouragement to get along to a show, this is surely it.
Get a taste of Annie Keating LIVE. Watch her play Marigold, a top track from the Bristol County Tides album, here: