Cassadee Pope was a household name for the primetime millions across the U.S. who tuned into season 3 of the country’s version of The Voice in 2012. Following the disbanding of her rock outfit Hey Monday, an acoustic tour, and self-titled EP, she auditioned for and became that year’s champion of the reality TV talent show, promising the launch of a music career with a coveted major label record deal. And with country star Blake Shelton coaching her to victory, she was signed to an imprint of Nashville’s Big Machine, home to music royalty Taylor Swift until late last year.
But following the lukewarm success of debut record Frame By Frame, Pope took the brave step of leaving the comfort and pressures of a major label to pursue the music she wanted to make. The move has led to this year’s Stages, which highlights an evolution of the 29-year-old’s sound beyond the somewhat clichéd, radio-friendly country-pop of her debut.
Joined by Tennessee native Logan Brill and rising English country artist Twinnie, tonight sees Pope bring the CMT’s Next Women of Country tour out of the U.S. for the very first time, once again highlighting the appeal and divergence of American country music outside the southern United States.
The crowd are nicely warmed up by the southern-twanged Brill, who opens with Roll and lyrics like “you’re the Country Sheriff’s son but you tote a gun” to set us in good stead for a night of fun with artists enjoying themselves.
“I’m so excited to be back in London,” declares the Knoxville native. “I always tour with only men, so it’s nice to have chicks around once in a while,” she says of the female-driven tour. A few slow numbers have the crowd swaying along before Brill gushes her love for Bonnie Raitt, singing an acapella excerpt of I Can’t Make You Love Me to hushed silence.
Former Hollyoaks actress Twinnie loudens things up next, bringing a three-piece band to the Islington stage along with her broad Yorkshire accent that adds grounding to this night of country. Her voice bridges the gap between classic country and home-grown pop music, with Daddy Issues soaked in Nashville sunshine while Bad Bitch tries to be controversial. Hollywood Gypsy, which will be the title track of the 32-year-old’s album, starts slowly before progressing into a clap-along upbeat song, before audience participation is mandated for the cheeky Cupid.
A keyboard-led short foray into Whitney Houston classic I Wanna Dance With Somebody has the crowd screaming along before Twinnie rounds things up with an upbeat Better When I’m Drunk.
It’s not too long before the Florida-born headliner and her three-piece band leap onto the stage, bursting straight into Stages’ lead single Take You Home. Pope is quick to embrace all that has come before, launching into Frame By Frame single I Wish I Could Break Your Heart as the crowd respond to the 2014 single with screams.
How I Feel Right Now harks back to Pope’s alt. rock influences with a reference to Third Eye Blind’s 1997 eponymous debut. “Thank you so much for spending a Monday night with us,” she says. “Hopefully you’re not hungover tomorrow, but if you are that means I did my job, so drink up,” she encourages before shouting out to Logan Brill and Twinnie. A stripped-back, keyboard-led rendition of single If My Heart Had A Heart has the crowd swaying in adoration while fan-favourite debut album cut 11 sees Pope thank the illegal British voters for their contributions to her win on the American Voice.
Tour mates Logan Brill and Twinnie are invited back onto the stage, for a round of Happy Birthday for Twinnie and a rendition of Lady Antebellum’s smash hit single Need You Now, the country mainstay thrilling the crowd as each woman of country takes on the vocal parts of Lady A’s Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley. Stages single One More Red Light keeps the momentum going.
“I’ve got one more surprise for you guys,” Pope teases. She tells us that she’s dating an English man, a Cornish man to be exact, before introducing Sam Palladio, the star of TV series Nashville. “This song changed my life, so I wanted to sing it with a man that changed my life,” she says gushingly introducing Think Of You, a duet originally recorded with Chris Young that shot to the top of the country charts in 2015.
As the couple duet, the energy is high in the Islington Academy, the crowd excited to see a genuine Nashville fairytale in song live on stage, Palladio stirring the crowd up to show appreciation for his lady but never upstaging the main act.
Appearing back on stage alone after the musicians make their customary encore exit, Pope jests: “How awkward would it be if you all just left and didn’t cheer for me to come back”. She dives back into her history, recalling her first show in London supporting Fall Out Boy at the sizeably larger O2 Arena fronting Hey Monday at the age of 18. “I could not play a show in London without playing a Hey Monday song,” she continues, introducing Candles and encouraging a sea of mobile phone lights to sway along.
Stages cut I’ve Been Good is introduced with its background – a writer’s circle performance by a friend who wrote the song – before the night is closed out with Frame By Frame hit single Wasting All These Tears. While the mandolins and electric guitars heard in the recorded versions are clearly missing tonight, the songs are never left lacking and the largely British audience at tonight’s show continue to show a love and a home for country music. But, apart from the genre’s growing international appeal, what tonight demonstrates is that them women of country can hold their own and then some.
Following shows in Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham and London, CMT’s Next Women of Country closes out the run of U.K. shows at Glasgow’s famous King Tut’s venue on 15th May. Cassadee Pope returns to the U.S. for a run of summer festival shows.