“I grew up thinking I was the only one in the world who liked country music who wasn’t in Nashville”
At this stage in her career, name a better support slot for young rising star Catherine McGrath than Maren Morris at an intimate venue; basically the hottest ticket in town. I’ll wait.
It’s testament to the hard work of McGrath and her team that this wasn’t a case of showcasing her material to an uninterested crowd. It may as well have been a headline show for all the people excitedly singing along to tracks from her debut album and EP.
Respect also for smashing such a key show while in the grips of jetlag as her international tour career is taking off: “I haven’t slept since I woke up yesterday,” she admitted. Still, smash it she did, looking genuinely at ease and cracking jokes throughout.
Sure, that brand of lovesick Nashville pop isn’t to everyone’s taste but if it’s your jam then McGrath is one of the best in the business in the UK right now. Heavily influenced by Taylor Swift with a head voice to match, notably in Lost.
Good luck getting catchy relatable songs like “my sassy one” Hell Would Have To Freeze Over and Thought It Was Gonna Be Me out of your head!
Given its Coldplay subject matter, it was fitting that she mashed up another earworm, Wild, with one of Chris Martin’s own tunes.
All eyes and lights were on McGrath to the extent that few noticed Joel from Lawson quietly backing her up on guitar. Kudos to the guy. As with his appearance with Twinnie at Laura Evans’ showcase recently, he put in a flawless performance in their first show together after only one rehearsal.
“You guys sold this show out in 1 minute!”
We got insight in to the tiny creative compromises required at Morris’ level: “I had to take the weed shit out of the song so they would play it on the radio!” With Drunk Girls Don’t Cry, another substance song of substance, we got insights into her talent with some fine vocal runs.
Another vocal moment was during Angel From Montgomery, the first song she learned to play after hearing Bonnie Raitt’s take on the John Prine’s song. The room was silent to take Morris’ version of it.
That was an exception, though. At one point, Morris stopped and urged her fans on: “please keep singing along, it just makes me so happy!” It’s not like she actually had a choice; songs like I Could Use A Long Song from Morris’ debut album, Hereo, have already become so iconic.
The same treatment was given for deeper cuts too. Good thing she has that support as her next UK tour will be extensive and is due to include a night at Royal Albert Hall: “it’s a bit of a capacity jump!” she observed, looking out over the small but perfectly formed 350 capacity venue.
The conversational style segued into Morris’ personal life: “I hope he’s not still pissed at me” she mused about the ex described in I Wish I Was.
We heard about her background as a songwriter for other people – though she soon realised she needed to reclaim Second Wind, originally cut by Kelly Clarkson.
Her time as a performer has famously been marred; she performed at Route 91 Harvest and knew that some of the people lost to gun violence had been there to enjoy her show the night before. Her response, naturally, came in writing and releasing a heartfelt and cathartic song.
Dear Hate was clearly still difficult to sing given the context, but it was still (sadly) necessary to keep having the conversation. Also, sadly, given the already precarious nature of women on commercial radio in the U.S., it’s brave for a country star, a southerner no less, to approach that debate at all.
Morris touched on the airplay issue directly: “people don’t want to hear women being sad on the radio? I love hearing sad on the radio. It makes me feel like I’m not fucking crazy.”
Lightening the mood, the background to 80s Mercedes was more prosaic: “talking about a guy whose a douchebag, but he had a really cool car.”
It wasn’t all about Morris’ back catalogue. The micro tour of mini London and Paris venues was bookended with listening parties for a lucky group of fans to hear the forthcoming album, currently referred to as MM (eventually titled Girl). From the early feedback, it’s a worthy successor to hero. Morris explained “there’s some R&B on there, there’s some straight up country shit.”
To Hell and Back was only a week too late to make it on to Morris’ debut album, Hero. Nonetheless it marked a new era for Morris; a straight up love song written with the realisation that someone loved her for her, not for what they wanted her to be: “they liked the broken pieces.”
Speaking of love songs, she performed Last Turn Home which she had written for Tim McGraw. To the joy of the crowd, she was joined by the song’s co-writer – Morris’ new husband – singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd.
The songs just kept coming. Final highlights included Bummin’ Cigarettes inspired by a chance complaint by a songwriter friend about always “bumming cigarettes from the wrong guy,” and Greener Pastures which she had co-written with Hurd and Brothers Osbourne.
All in all, an absolute delight for Maren Morris fans who got to see their hero in an intimate setting and hear new cuts and old favourites stripped back, backed by double bass.
Check out the reaction to Morris’ smash hits, The Middle and My Church if you need proof!