Mary Chapin Carpenter With Support From Bella Hardy

Out To Lunch Digest: Part 3

Mary Chapin Carpenter With Support From Bella Hardy

Cara Gibney • Photography: Gerry McNally

“I wanted to open with songs of hope and resilience as a counter to the freak show back home” Mary Chapin Carpenter told us from her temporary stage in the mighty interior of St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast.

Real Music Club had brought the much-esteemed singer-songwriter over for the Out To Lunch festival, and she didn’t come empty handed. Her latest album The Things That We Are Made Of was nestling comfortably beside the much loved classics in her set that night. However, before any of Chapin Carpenter’s latest songs were played to her congregation, the opening act Bella Hardy took to the stage.

2014’s BBC Folk Singer of the Year, Bella Hardy, didn’t necessarily seem to be sticking to her award winning roots with all the songs she performed for us, but the thread ran through her set. Take for example ‘Jolly Good Luck to the Girl That Loves a Soldier’ written for the Songs For The Voiceless project, remembering the forgotten of the First World War. Her crystal unsullied voice was front of stage with this, showing its strength, painting the weight of the message. The instruments in a way were hidden, acting as insulation, making sure that message was dispatched. Near the end, her voice morphed the song into a brief, slow, solemn chorus of ‘Glory, Glory, Hallelujah’. The “Hallelujah” long, and high, and fragile. A solitary voice followed by sparse notes. A half refrain seeming to fade in the middle. There was no more that could, or needed, to be said.

Mary Chapin Carpenter was glad we were there. “It makes things a little warmer she said to an audience that hadn’t considered taking our coats off in the vast confines of a cathedral on a cold January night. Seems St Anne’s haven’t signed up to any pellet burning initiatives recently.

She’d started on ‘The Age of Miracles’ with a voice sounding even, and deep. Jon Carroll, Chapin Carpenter’s long-time keyboardist appeared to be doing a Rick Wakeman with what looked like a keyboard placed above the piano keys, between which he switched as the songs progressed. On occasion it looked as if he was playing both? Were my eyes deceiving me? Any better angles on that would be interesting to hear.

“I wrote this in a time of great polarisation” she recalled, and the audience applauded as the opening bars of ‘Stones In The Road’ finely triggered Chapin Carpenter’s warm voice.

“We give a dollar when we pass, and hope our eyes don’t meet
We pencil in, we cancel out, we crave the corner suite
We kiss your ass, we make you hold, we doctor the receipt”

Later she told us about the imaginary conversation that inspired ‘Oh Rosetta’ from that latest album The Things That We Are Made Of. (Produced by man of the moment Dave Cobb, who has been working with the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Anderson East). She told of how she had been walking on a grey day. “I had trouble in my heart and in my soul” she said. Her mind was wandering and somehow she started to imagine having a conversation with “the original soul sister,” gospel singer, and forerunner to rock and roll – Sister Rosetta Tharpe. “May I call you sister when we talk this way?/you make me feel as if there’s nothing I can’t say.” The guitar was understated, the keys were gentle, her voice was conversational, and the tone was country. The packed out St Anne’s Cathedral was listening intently. Eyes front, hands in pockets. we were s soaking it all in.


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