Shawn Colvin has been to the UK many times. In fact, she regales us with tales of how her early days of playing and touring had her shipped out to London for the final European leg of Suzanne Vega’s 1987 Solitude Standing tour where Colvin’s excitement at learning the backing vocals she was sent out to perform (for $750 a week!) was not reflected by a tired and weary touring crew.
Shawn Colvin @ Union Chapel
But tonight’s solo show, the last on Colvin’s current UK run, comes at the latter end of a delightful career that has seen the South Dakota-born singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist release 10 solo studio albums, her 1996 highlight – A Few Small Repairs – going on to be certified Platinum in the US and being a core draw of the Lilith Fair concert series in the late 1990s, focusing on promoting female artists in a male-dominated music festival landscape (sound familiar?).
Both the solo-nature of the night, with Colvin accompanied by her own acoustic-guitar playing for the most part (a couple of piano-driven songs thrown in towards the end), and the majestic Chapel venue with its fully-seated audience, lend to a more subdued feeling. The songs themselves are often preceded with a tale from Colvin that, in many cases, is longer than the actual song that follows! Colvin has brought two acoustic guitars tonight, but the varied nature of the tunings for each of her delicately-crafted songs leads to much time spent fiddling with tunings and capos with no guitar tech to hand.
Rowland Sally classic Killing The Blues kicks off the 67-year-old’s set, which goes on to be made up of covers and original tunes. Fast finger-picking and guitar-tapping lead into A Few Small Repairs tune Trouble before “travelogue song” Polaroids from 1992’s Fat City is delivered, proceeded with the first of many tales, this one about Colvin’s move to New York City in the 1980s at the invitation of friend and collaborator Buddy Miller. Just as we think she’s about to start the song however, Colvin dives back into more of her very-detailed back story. A huge cheer rings out across the Chapel as the song is eventually kicked-off, the third song commencing a good 20 minutes into her set.
Shotgun Down the Avalanche is the first of four tunes tonight taken from Colvin’s 1989 debut Steady On, silence from the crowd as they bask in the gorgeously sad tune. “There’s nothing I like better than doing a cover song, because I’m such a fan” the Carbondale, Illinois-hailing singer says as she dives deep into Beatles classic I’ll Be Back. “The original of that was kinda perky” she jests at her subdued rendition’s conclusion.
Debut record tune Diamond In The Rough is preceded by an enchanting tale of how Colvin drew her first album cover at the age of 14. “I knew I’d be singing sad-ass songs for the rest of my life!”, chuckles spilling out across her audience. “This is another ‘guy who done me wrong’ song” she says, introducing The Facts About Jimmy. “It’s a deep well” she continues drily, the tale continuing to extend as Colvin fiddles with her tuning.
She ups the audience participation by soliciting requests, “right now I’m not doing any of those” she responds as the yells die down, delivering on them later in the night. Debut record tune Cry Like An Angel continues the music, dedicated to the singer’s friends before the sole cut from her 2006 record These Four Walls is offered by way of That Don’t Worry Me Now, we learn that the music for the tune was written but the lyrics simply weren’t coming ahead of the album needing to wrap, and so Colvin lent on a PBS documentary about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiration.
A rendition of The Band’s 1975 single Twilight is offered next, following multiple requests for the tune from the audience, the song’s writer Robbie Robertson’s passing away just last month alluded to by Colvin. A lovely acoustic rendition of Colvin’s 1996 hit single Sunny Came Home is offered next and garners the biggest cheer of the night so far, the tune preceded by the tale of frequent collaborator Steve Earle praising the song as “the ultimate break-up song”.
“Can you repeat those requests just one more time?” Colvin requests, and her audience responding thick and fast. “I can do some cover stuff for you that will make your head spin” she offers before diving into Tom Waits’ 1975 tune (Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night. “It’s not Saturday night though” she quips, kicking off the tune but leaning hard on her audience to offer up lyrics as she constantly forgets them.
Fat City single I Don’t Know Why is introduced as “the first song I ever really wrote”, following Colvin’s move to New York City in the winter of 1980, couch-surfing with band members to save money before the singer moves across the stage to sit behind the upright piano that has sat untouched so far this evening for 1996 tune If I Were Brave and a cover of Tom Waits song Ol’ 55. “She’s going to play the piano, no one requested the piano, what is she doing?!” Colvin jests.
She picks up her guitar one last time to round out the night with Steady On single Ricochet In Time, her audience watching enamoured and keen to be upstanding in applause for what has truly been an enchanting, if somewhat elongated, night of music and banter.
Live review and photography of Shawn Colvin @ Union Chapel by Kalpesh Patel on 25th September 2023.