Angaleena Presley Live
Words by Lesley Hastings and Photos by HelsBels Photography
Anyone who read my review on this website of Angaleena Presley’s debut solo album, “American Middle Class” ( here it is if you care to read https://thinkcountry.co.uk/reviews/angaleena-presley-2/ ) will appreciate how much I had been anticipating her recent UK tour . Imagine my excitement on discovering that she was to play within (relatively) easy reach of where I live on two consecutive nights, one gig being an acoustic set and the other a full band one ( no, not her Nashville musicians which she admitted was too costly a proposition, but British band ” The Jamie Freeman Agreement” who apparently had to learn seventeen songs from scratch for the honour!) …………and what an incredible couple of nights they turned out to be, firstly at the Bullingdon Club, Oxford swiftly followed by a trip to The Borderline in central London.
So, my first glimpse of the lady herself was in a small, seated venue which was pretty packed with about 150 people ( my first time there, was very impressed with the sound quality and friendliness of the staff and particularly the promotor, Mike Trotman of Empty Room Promotions) . After Mike’s introduction, Angaleena took to the stage in a totally unassuming fashion, accusing him of making her sound ” much fancier” than she really is. This set the scene and atmosphere for the evening, and I thought that throughout she seemed not quite at ease and possibly a little nervous at times, out of her comfort zone even………..perhaps not helped by the restrained ( but totally attentive) audience who none-the-less showed their appreciation between songs and deservedly gave her a standing ovation at the end of the show. Indeed, she admitted that she wasn’t used to playing such a long set, and had brought a note book with her as she was worried about remembering everything. There was a lot of re-tuning of her guitar between numbers ( she joked that she was paying herself extra to be her own guitar tech!), she was really having to concentrate on her guitar playing throughout ( again, she joked about what she considered to be her less than polished skills, saying how the audience could no doubt hear every little mistake and that she felt practically naked on the stage but wasn’t ashamed and that hey, Johnny Cash couldn’t play that well either! ) ………. as far as I was concerned I found her humbleness and self-depreciation totally endearing ( I’d love to say “Bless her Heart” but anyone who caught her tour will know that wouldn’t be a great idea!). But if she was concerned about any aspect of her performance, she needn’t have been as it was a magical evening, hearing her songs played in their original form and she was vocally spot on. In between songs, she was incredibly witty and entertaining, revealing a wicked sense of humour which isn’t surprising if you are familiar with her songwriting, and taking time to explain the inspiration behind her writing which is something in which I am especially interested. One particularly (and unusually) poignant moment was when she introduced the song “Pain Pills”, telling how proud she was of a member of her family who had recently sought help for pill addiction, something that wasn’t done lightly in a small town where everyone knows your business. She switched smoothly from heartwrenchers such as “Better off Red” to more lighthearted songs like “Knocked Up” , joking that she had to apologise to her ex-husband about that song when the record came out, and also mentioning how her son came home from school bragging about how he’d sung this one to all his friends in the playground!
Both nights were naturally dominated by Angaleena playing tracks from her album, but the 80 minute sets also included a couple of “Pistol Annie” songs from back when she was part of that fantastic trio of ” country gals” and quite a few self-penned songs as yet unreleased ( she assured me when I spoke to her that there were plenty more, too….hopefully for a second album?) which were at times totally hilarious, with lyrics like ” you ain’t that blonde so don’t play that dumb to me” and ” if you bless my heart, I’ll smack your face” ( hence my previous comment!) …….she mentioned how she doesn’t have a filter but writes whatever comes up!
Which brings me to the “Borderline” full band gig, a much larger, standing venue ( again, packed, but with a much more varied age group than the more mature crowd in Oxford). Having hot-footed it from nearby broadcasting house where she had just played a fabulous live session for BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris Country show ( I had tuned in on the train!) she was straight away fired up and raring to go when she took to the stage with Jamie Freeman and his talented band ( just an aside, Jamie played keys, guitar and electric mandolin, what a guy!) and seemed so much more relaxed and confident having backing behind her. She was able to include a few songs from her album that didn’t work acoustically, including one of my favourites “Grocery Store” that she admitted to having tried in Glasgow earlier in the week but which didn’t work as it was written ” in the key of Lori Mckenna” ( the co-writer)!!
Fewer of her unreleased writes at this gig and slightly less of the story-behind-the-song intros, but some great covers were added ( including a superb rendition of Merle Haggard’s ” Workin’ Man Blues” ) and she also played a couple of songs acoustically in the middle of the set which made for a good contrast to the band-led numbers. The audience were so much livelier ( a great support slot from rising British band Dexeter, playing as a duo, no doubt helping) and Angaleena was genuinely amazed at how many in the crowd were singing along with her. A real party atmosphere from the outset.
After both gigs Angaleena was only too happy to wait patiently and meet her adoring fans, sign albums and have photos taken. Which did I prefer? Loved both of them for different reasons, what a charming and talented lady she is, and I really hope she will be back here very soon.
I’ll close with words from one of Angaleena’s songs about her heros, such as Dolly, Tammy and Emmylou, which I am sure many of you will agree with…….
“Country Girl, sing your song,
Find a place where you belong.
Speak your mind and tell the world
There ain’t nothing better than a country girl.”