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Clare Bowen, Royal Festival Hall, London live review

The Nashville star and singer-songwriter gave a high-energy, jam-packed performance.

Clare Bowen
Credit: BMG

The name Clare Bowen might be unfamiliar to many people, but to others she’s best known as Scarlett O’Connor. Australian-born Bowen played singer-songwriter Scarlett on the TV series Nashville for six years, as well as playing to crowds in the UK and US on tour alongside her castmates. She’s been performing original songs as part of these tours for several years, and following the release of her debut album last month is taking her own music on the road in the UK.

Bowen opened her show with My Song, which she originally performed on Nashville. It’s a powerful number with a stomping rhythm and showed off the power and depth in her voice as she dashed around the stage. She followed that with Lijah And The Shadow from her album. The song brought out the sweeter tones in her vocals as well as a bit of huskiness, and the simple arrangement added to the emotional impact. Bowen could be seen throwing her head back during the performance and looked completely lost in the music throughout.

Those two sides of Bowen’s music were on display throughout the jam-packed set, which included tracks from her album as well as fan favourites from Nashville. Early highlights included the soaring Doors And Corridors, an ode to Bowen’s parents, Aves’ Song with its vocal runs and jazzy piano (which I’m not ashamed to admit brought a tear to my eye), and the funky, toe-tapping Premonition with its slide guitar and quickfire lyrics. Meanwhile, later in the set Let It Rain and Tide Rolls In had a rocky, soulful feel as Bowen let rip vocally, almost yelling in places.

However, for every uptempo rock-influenced song there was a gentle, lilting ballad to balance it out, and for me this was where Bowen really shone. Her soft, soothing delivery on songs like Lullabye and Little By Little (which she dedicated to her UK fans) were full of hope and conviction, as well as featuring some great vocal runs and huge notes. The song Warrior was a particular standout, with its almost tribal drums and anthemic chorus, as was When The Right One Comes Alone – which Bowen performed whilst seated in the centre of the stage – and a powerful rendition of Black Roses that sent shivers up my spine.

One thing I particularly liked about the performance was Bowen’s warmth and openness. She frequently spoke to the audience about the importance of doing what you can to make the world a better place, encouraged them to sing and clap along, and twice hopped down from the stage to run through the crowd and stop for photos and hugs with fans. That said, she was also very witty and funny, regularly cracking self-deprecating jokes, and came across as incredibly warm and likeable.

That generosity of spirit extended to Bowen’s performance as she let her band members take on the starring roles. Her brother Timothy’s rendition of From Here On Out which put me in mind of a young Chris Stapleton, whilst guitarist Colin Linden – a regular feature on the Nashville tours – got his chance to shine on a cover of The Band’s hit Remedy as well as with plenty of bluesy guitar licks throughout the performance. However, I particularly loved her three duets with her husband, Brandon Robert Young. Their voices blended beautifully together, particularly on the intense Longer where you could practically feel the heat radiating off the pair of them, and the delicate, romantic All The Beds I’ve Made. Brandon also performed his own song, Hate It For You, which highlighted the gravelly edge to his voice and was full of emotion.

After a barnstorming mash-up of three country classics – 9 To 5, Folsom Prison Blues and The Gambler – Bowen finished the main part of her set with the cheeky, playful Someone’s Pinched The Whiskey. The song had rollicking barroom vibes with Bowen’s Australian accent creeping through as she rattled through the lyrics, kicking and leaping about the stage, before calling on each of her band members to perform a solo. Following the thunderous applause from the crowd, she came back on to perform the sweeping I Won’t Forget and A Life That’s Good – a staple of the Nashville tour which featured support act Striking Matches on backing vocals. The moving tunes showed off the clarity and richness of her voice and were full of affection, and the crowd rewarded her with a standing ovation. Bowen was clearly very moved by this positive response and thanked the audience before calling her crew and band forward to take their bows and a selfie from the stage.

Overall Bowen delivered a jam-packed, high-energy performance that showed why she was a highliht of the Nashville live shows as well as introducing her original music to new fans. She drew on blues, folk, rock and country influences, showing that she’s just as comfortable with a full-on gospel-influenced number as she is with slow songs, and there was a great balance between her own tracks and Nashville hits. The one criticism I have is that on a couple of occasions her vocal got a little lost against the band, but otherwise it was an absolutely outstanding show and hopefully the first of many in London. She’s an absolutely unique performer and has definitely stepped out of Scarlett’s shadow to show why she’s a star in her own right.

Set list: 1. My Song 2. Lijah And The Shadow 3. Doors And Corridors 4. If I Didn’t Know Better (duet with Brandon Robert Young) 5. Aves’ Song 6. Hate It For You (performed by Brandon Robert Young) 6. Premonition 7. Lullabye 8. Longer (with Brandon Robert Young) 9. From Here On Out (performed by Timothy James Bowen) 10. Little By Little 11. Black Roses 12. All The Beds I’ve Made (with Brandon Robert Young) 13. Warrior 14. When The Right One Comes Along 15. Let It Rain 16. Tide Rolls In 17. Remedy (The Band cover performed by Colin Linden) 18. Telescope 19. 9 To 5/Folsom Prison Blues/The Gambler (Dolly Parton/Johnny Cash/Kenny Rogers cover) 20. Someone’s Pinched The Whiskey 21. I Won’t Forget 22. A Life That’s Good Performance date: 12th September 2018

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