20 years ago I embarked on my first tour of the UK, a few months after my first album, The Secret of Life, came out. Although it had received some glowing reviews, they didn’t translate into sales or radio play (or gigs) here in the US, and prospects for the album were looking grim. A friend who’d toured the UK with a popular folk artist urged me to make the trip. He assured me I’d find an audience there, where one had eluded me here.
How right he was. On that first tour it was a very small audience – 40 or 50 folks at a go, in small venues which in some cases were no more than pubs with a tiny corner stage. But I felt a connection almost immediately. This month, that connection was tangible as I met dozens of people who were at those first shows. Twenty years later, they were still coming to see us play – in venues ten or twenty times the size. I don’t know what the norm is for most artists, but I have a suspicion that I’ve somehow accrued as loyal an audience over twenty years as anyone could. It sure seems that way from my point of view.
Last month’s 20th Anniversary Tour was a celebration, an emotional reconnection to those longtime fans, and hopefully a warm welcome to new ones. We pulled out some old songs, played some new ones, reinvented a couple. We had us a time. One of the many highlights was our show in London at Union Chapel on February 16th. It’s hard to put into words what I felt that night. When I first came to the UK in 1996 I didn’t envision myself performing to a full house in such an awe-inducing space. I don’t think I spent much time thinking about it – I’ve always been more comfortable concentrating on the work (the writing, the recording, the performing) than on the dreams. Focusing on the outcome opens the door to disappointment, unpreparedness, nerves and a host of other devils. Put your head down and do the work, and, you’ll get where you’re going – that’s always been my way of working.
But I did take a moment onstage in London during the heart-opening standing ovation at the end of the show to stop, be in the moment and take in what was happening. I wanted to be present for what was given to us so generously by the audience that night – their appreciation, enthusiasm and love. It’s harder than you’d think – your mind is going 50 different places and it’s hard to just – be. It seems almost self-indulgent to bask in it.
As someone very wise once told me, the only gracious way to receive a compliment is to simply say “thank you”. So I want to say thank you – to all of you who came to any of our UK shows, from 1996 to 2016 – and sat in the dark with us while we tried to conjure some magic. Some of you have come to many, many shows over the years; some of you have just been to your first on this tour. I’m grateful for you both. Huge thanks are also in order to our tour manager, Rebecca Kemp, who moves mountains whilst smiling all the while; and to my UK booking agent, Nigel Morton, whose enthusiastic support has kept me both working and believing. And finally, it was my deepest pleasure to play these songs with Barry Walsh, Conor McCreanor and Colm McClean – three brilliant and intuitive musicians who help me keep the lyrics front and center, yet take the songs so far beyond what they are in themselves. I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Thank you for all the love.
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The Hellens Manor gig was fabulous – thanks for coming over to England, Gretchen.
If you would like a gig in the beautiful Gloucestershire Cotswolds next time, please do not hesitate to contact me. I use a lovely venue – the Tithe Barn in Bishops Cleeve – very similar to Hellens. Manor but with a bigger stage!.
(PS: I am not a promoter but I do put on occasional gigs just for the love of the music)
Was thrilled to be able to take in your show in Edinburgh, as I am living in Germany for a few months and could not pass the change by to make a quick trip over to enjoy the city and your music. Took a new friend along who was unfamiliar with your work. You now have a solid “old” fan and an appreciative new fan as well. The concert was everything I hoped it would be, and more. Thank you, Gretchen!
Jane and I were privileged to see you at Hellens Manor, such an intimate and unusual venue. I guess we are novices, This was the fifth time we’d been to one of your shows. We were delighted to spend just a few minutes chatting with you and Barry, As on previous occasions you were generous with your time after such a great performance.
Your music and your lyrics have great resonance for us, you have been a truly wonderful discovery. We look forward to your being back here in the UK later this year.
Thank you so much, for the joyful night at Union Chapel, and for all the many other wonderful nights we’ve enjoyed over the years. You’ve been kind enough never to make us wait too long xx
The show in Buxton was spell binding, beautiful songs performed effortlessly, Everything Falls Away & When You Are Old so poignant & meaningful. Really looking forward to hearing you play at the Under the Apple Tree Festival in May, hope we get some sunshine!
Mark & Beth Horsman
Gretchen you lit up my heart in a cold rainy night in Rhyl – we saw you at Cambridge Folk Festival a few years back and I was stunned at my emotional reaction to your set – I spent most of it in tears and my then 9 year old son was equally spellbound. Thank you for recreating the magic once again. – your songs are inspirational and achingly sad in equal measures – a heady combination.
Thank you! I love the gift of your music. While I was at home in Santa Ynez, California I was with you at a few of your UK gigs in spirit. I was in my living room or out with our herd listening to The Essential at the same time you were gifting my fellow fans with your music live.
Mr Bilston, Andrew, Helen, Grace, Peter, …….. I was with you, Barry, Colm and Conor …… Thank you!!!
I look forward to being there in body as well as spirit for a hug or gigs on this side of the pond SOON!
Brilliant show at the Artrix, Bromsgrove (second time I’ve seen you there). If you’d played all night long, I’d have stayed all night long just to listen. Hope it’s not too long before you’re back here again.
[…] aside, the road has treated us well. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to play with this incredible band. I’m a little emotional about this tour coming to an end; even more so than usual, for […]
When you performed at the Wheatland Festival 2016 either you or Eliza or Mary sang a song Thank You for My Sorrows. It was life changing for me because I had just been rescued from a boat wreck and was near death. A long time to do the emotional healing. This song was extremely helpful for me. I have searched for it everywhere and must have the title somewhat wrong. I have looked in each of the CDs that the three of you have under your names as well as googling everything under the sun. . If you could help me with this I would be forever thankful. My very best wishes to you from Michigan.
Hi LoLita –
That song is “Prayer 2000”, and it’ll be on Eliza’s next record. Eliza wanted to be sure I thanked you for her!
I was not at a concert in your first tour but having heard you on the Terry Wogan show on the radio I became an instant fan! You have NEVER disappointed!! Since then I have been to at least 12 shows over the years and thoroughly enjoyed them all. I will be in the audience at the Stables, Milton Keynes on Sunday with a couple of friends whom I introduced your music to. I would be honoured for a mention.
Just back from your opening night at Stamford. Our little theatre was packed for a wonderful show with so many great songs. Thanks too to Kim Richey who did a splendid job opening the event. Especially pleased to hear Guadalupe (my favourite). Good luck with the rest of the tour.
Went to St Davids Hall in Cardiff South Wales recently to see your concert. It was a joy to hear such top class music being made by such accomplished mucisians.
Have been a fan for sometime (since Terry Wogan days) and the concert was outstanding.