I’ve been to a lot of gigs in my short lifetime. I’ve seen a lot of different artists in a lot of different venues playing a lot of different styles of music. Never, at any of those shows, have I ever witnessed the kind of unconditional love and appreciation for music the fans at Bush Hall displayed for Ashley Monroe on Tuesday night.
With just 394 people crammed into Ashley’s first ever headlining UK show, the songstress stepped onto the small makeshift stage to wild cheers and applause. And I mean wild – the loudest and most enthusiastic I have ever heard. Accompanied for the first time ever by just a fiddle player and a double bassist, the trio kicked off with ‘I Buried Your Love Alive’, after which the crowd went nuts for a good thirty seconds or more. Ashley, taken aback by the support, joked that she needed to move to England, because the audiences were just so respectful and yet so appreciative.
The atmosphere was electric; the crowd sang along to every song, even the deep album cuts, and every time every single song finished they cheered and applauded and stomped their feet for ages afterwards, shouting out suggestions (one guy even offered ‘Hank’s Cadillac’) and hollering their appreciation. In between songs, Ashley paused to explain how her singles “don’t really fly” in the US, but that in the UK, even album cuts fare better. This has been a common theme for the less commercial of country acts making the trip across the pond, often finding that UK audiences are more album-focused and are really dedicated music fans, rather than just being there to get drunk and party. The reaction to Ashley’s set was consistent with my experiences of other US acts debuting here, but somehow it all felt heightened. There was just more enthusiasm, more respect, more attention being paid. It was clear that everyone in attendance had worn out her records and what’s more, loved her influences just as much as she did.
Beyond the reaction, the music on offer skewed towards ‘The Blade’, with only two tracks hailing from ‘Like A Rose’ (the title track and ‘Weed Instead of Roses’). Of her most recent record, Ashley gave us ‘Has Anybody Ever Told You’, ‘Dixie’, ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’, ‘On To Something Good’, ‘Winning Streak’ and ‘Bombshell’. She also debuted a brand new song, one so freshly written that she had only taught it to her band members the day before, explaining that she had had a melody running around her head for about six months before she finally put words to it. The resulting track was ‘Orphan’, a beautiful old Appalachian-style ballad filled with nature imagery, about wondering how to become independent and make it on her own. You can check out my fellow FTCR writer Andy Macbride’s video of it below.
But that wasn’t the only surprise Ashley had in store for us. The entire audience was so gripped by her performance that they didn’t notice Miranda Lambert had been standing at the back of the venue the whole time, completely undisturbed. For her encore, Ashley returned to the stage and welcomed her friend to a rowdy reception. Miranda contributed backing vocals to the studio version of the ‘The Blade’, so it only made sense the pair perform that to the stunned crowd. They rounded it off with a fun version of ‘Heart Like Mine’ (Ashley’s first #1 as a writer) before leaving the stage, although the audience wasn’t done with them yet. They called Ashley up for a second encore, which prompted her to pick a song at random – Gram Parson’s ‘Hickory Wind’. She played the track alone and acoustically, letting her awe-inspiring vocals do the talking.
Last night was a perfect gig. Ashley and her band were on top form, and the audience’s appreciation just made it explosive. Having spent so long in the US being rejected on radio and struggling to get her voice heard, Ashley Monroe finally experienced what it’s like to be in the company of true fans who love real music, and she seemed overjoyed and overwhelmed. I would not be surprised at all if we heard about a UK tour from her (and probably Miranda as well) in the very near future. I can’t wait.