My faith in the universe is slightly restored by seeing around five hundred people crammed into a sold out Dingwalls eagerly awaiting the arrival of Grace Petrie on stage. It’s a massive and well-deserved step up from the south London pub where I last saw her enchant an audience of around forty at a benefit gig a few years ago.
She arrives to a deafening roar and steams into ‘Farewell to welfare’ a song that embodies her ability to run an eloquent commentary of our troubled times through the medium of beautifully structured songs. It is a searing indictment of the savage attacks on the most needy at the behest of the most greedy. Then with barely a pause for breath she launches into ‘A young women’s tale’ an unaccompanied vocal chronicle of her life and its political upheavals in the style of a classic English folk ballad. Most performers would shy away from attempting such a track just two songs into the set but she pulls it off and the crowd are hypnotised. You could actually hear a pin hit the floor had somebody been rude enough to drop one.
Another early highlight is ‘Ivy’. Her story of the frantic hours spent packing up at Glastonbury festival and driving through the night to be in time for the birth of her niece, whom was kind enough hang on long enough for Dolly Parton to be watched on the Pyramid Stage. The bit where she parrots Dolly classic ‘Nine to five’ is comedy gold and one of the many laugh out loud moments that we get tonight. This has always been a live experience that balances a raft of deadly serious political messages with plenty of good humour. So her tales of the road which include the Radio Four experience and managing to assemble every lefty on the deeply conservative Isle of White in the same place the day before are welcome moments of joyous giggling, when we’re not joining her in contemplating the injustices of the world.
‘You build a wall’ is another highlight from her earlier material, which she dedicates to all those kids skipping their classes to protest for the planet. It is a song that could have been written about them had it not preceded Greta Thunburg’s first protest by around two years.
But it is the new material from latest album ‘Queer As Folk’ that takes centre stage and most of the set. Her latest album represents a vast step forward for her song writing. A fact demonstrated by the audience singing along to pretty much every word of each of the new tracks.
The greatest cheer of the night comes with the introduction of ‘Black tie’ a song that recently struck a chord with so many in the LGBT scene whom are fed up with an endless toxic argument over gender that has caused so much hurt and pitted so many former allies against each other. She introduces the tune on a lighter note making fun of her own trademark attire, telling us that she has a snooker match to play after the show. But the serious points made in the lyrics reaffirms the resolve of everyone present to challenge all forms of bigotry regardless of where it is coming from. There really is nothing like a well-written melody to make sense of a seemingly unresolvable row.
Final tune ‘Northbound’ is her upbeat ode to the road. The place where she has spent more time than anywhere else over the past few years as she established herself through relentless touring and sheer hard graft. Each and every gig combined with those hours in the studio has brought her to the place where she is now and this sold out headline show in one of London’s best known venues. She is visibly moved by the size and enthusiasm of tonight’s crowd. But not as moved as we are by her music and the genuine warmth of her live shows.
There are many brilliant artists presently responding to this turbulent era in the best possible way by affirming our opposition to all that is wrong and invigorating our defiance to it. Grace does all of these things. But on top of that her gigs overflow with such feelings of community and passion that you end up experiencing something that is quite rare these days; huge feelings of hope.
By Guy Smallman