SaraBeth & Glen Mitchell
The Hind Hotel, Wellingborough, August 18th 2016. Support from Paris Georgia.
Reviewed by Caroline Gulla
It’s a muggy night in Wellingborough and the Grade 2 listed Hind Hotel is an unlikely local venue for a couple of Nashville singer/songwriters. The new owner is an avid music fan and reached out to the pair when he read about their UK tour. Thankfully for me, they accepted and Wellingborough was added to the list. I’m hoping it will be the first of many intimate gigs that can be held in this gem of a venue in the middle of Northamptonshire.
Due to the usual work/life balance I was running late and missed the first 20 minutes of Paris Georgia’s set – sorry! Walking through the front doors, her beautiful vocals came floating through the hotel reception as if to greet us, along with Glen Mitchell! After a brief hello, he urged us to go straight through as she was definitely not worth missing anymore of – how right he was. Paris Georgia is a stunning young lady equipped with an acoustic guitar, confident attitude and a well-tuned, beautiful voice. She is an accomplished songwriter and an upcoming star in the UK country music scene. www.parisgeorgia.com for more tour dates. Her EP ‘Stranger to You’ is available to download on iTunes.
After a brief break, Glen Mitchell was next to take the floor – as I said before, it was definitely an ‘intimate’ gig with no space for a stage, the first row of chairs were literally sitting on top of the artists. Better than a gig in my front room! Glen was introduced as having played with the world’s best in country music (I later found out this has included Darius Rucker, Billy Currington, Jason Michael Carroll, Frankie Ballard and the impressive list goes on).
Now, I’ve not experienced a Glen Mitchell gig before and I have to confess to not listening to any of his music until a few days before this but it resulted in me downloading his EP ‘Back In Love Again’ on iTunes. His music and guitar work had me from the first verse of the first song. Despite a couple of initial sound issues that Glen commented on at the beginning, the beautiful melody of Broken, complete with SaraBeth’s soaring, harmonic backing vocals had the audience enthralled from the onset. The temperature in the room was rising rapidly, prompting an audience member at the front to offer his beer to a very hot Glen to cool down.
In true rock ‘n’ roll style the beer was turned down in favour of the ritual downing of something resembling a large shot of something delicious that would warm the vocal chords up nicely – for Dutch courage of course – but he definitely didn’t need any Dutch courage tonight. Opening up with the riff from the title track from the ‘Back in Love Again’ EP, Glen talked about being trapped in a toxic relationship which he managed to escape from but not before he’d written a song about it! Proving that the stories behind the man are the truth that make a country song so compelling and with great guitar work to match. Another swift shot and a confession that although he never gets nervous, having such a small crowd staring at you can be quite intimidating!
Glen’s stories in between the songs are a direct opening to his heart and a real glimpse at the man behind the music. He tells the crowd, who are hanging onto his every word, about the fact that he has played country music all his life and his dad had a country band before he was even born which Glen joined when he was only 13 years old. He takes his hat off to Paris Georgia’s ‘world class’ real British talent, much to the delight of his appreciative audience. His excitement in the current UK country music scene is evident when he praises the talent that is emerging currently and although the American scene is great, the UK have finally proven themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Beth Thornton also gets a nod who I’m sure will soon be exploding onto the scene.
Explaining that he used to be married and was going through a bad patch so he wrote his next song and promptly got divorced when he played it to his ex, Glen breaks into ‘Amazing Again’, a song about how a great relationship could be, well – amazing again! I feel genuinely sorry that it didn’t work out but he got a fabulous song out of the backstory so hey ho!! A man in the front row again offers Glen a pint (although it looks like it’s had a huge swig emptied from it first!). Glen is gracious in his decline and trades for another swift shot of rocket fuel to keep the tempo going – it’s so hot in the room I’m surprised he’s not melting.
The superb songs and musicianship keep on coming and it’s an easy transition moving from his song to slipping in a bit of Tom Petty’s ‘Free Fallin’ and back again. Keeping the crowd involved it’s time for a singalong and I think if Glen asked us to sing Baa Baa Black Sheep with a country twang at this point in the night, we’d have all gone along with it! Cue Robbie Williams’ anthem ‘Angel’ and I know which version I now prefer. I’m sure the collective vocals of around 40 people managed to fill the streets of Wellingborough as they sang with Glen, la-la-la-ing, switching midway to a bit of The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’ and then back to a bit of Robbie with unabashed joy. If it’s good enough for Glen Mitchell…
Another story – this time about getting his record deal with RCA and becoming a fully-fledged country music artist for around ‘5 minutes’. He played for a lot of people after this and wrote a song with Jason Michael Carroll on his tour bus which sold over a million copies in both songs and ringtones. He also won a coveted NASCAP award for this song – ‘Livin Our Love Song’ and yes, it did live up to all expectations when he played it. Glen genuinely came across when talking about this song that it is all about the song writing and not so much the adoration received that makes it all worthwhile. Next up ‘That’s How Babies Are Made’ provided a light-hearted and fun element before the final song, another superb cover, this time of Bryan Adams ‘Run To You’ with guitar playing that Adams could only dream of playing. Yes, really.
I could have quite forgotten that SaraBeth is actually the headline on this tour and she hasn’t even played yet, such is the adoration and standing ovation that Glen Mitchell receives. He credits SaraBeth with ‘dragging him out of retirement’ as he hasn’t actually fronted a band since he lost his record deal and his confidence ‘was crushed’. Glen is SaraBeth’s bandleader and producer and it is down to her confidence in him that he has re-emerged as an incredibly competent, fun and super talented artist again. Big thanks to SaraBeth – I owe you one.
30 minutes later….
How do you follow the incredible Glen Mitchell? How about with SaraBeth singing a powerful cover of The Band Perry’s ‘Done’ of course! SaraBeth cuts a striking figure in her brown tassel waistcoat, Daisy Dukes, tousled blonde hair and fringed boots – the epitome of the all American Texan girl living her dream. However, beneath the image, SaraBeth is a level headed, business major with clear determination to get to the top but not at the expense of anyone. She’s sweet and savvy with a happy and positive personality that really shines through in her song writing and performance. The chemistry with Glen Mitchell is evident, especially when she quips that ‘unlike Glen Mitchell, it really IS tea in her coffee cup!’ Her voice has taken a hit this week and is running at about 90% – but I can’t tell and neither can the rest of the adoring crowd. Her energy is 100% however as she breaks into her new single and chart topping hit ‘Rock My Rodeo’ with another singalong with an audience who are more than happy to keep the equilibrium going.
SaraBeth explains the story behind the song writing process for the next song ‘Nowhere with You’ which was briefed as a simple (four chords on the guitar), Summer song and was written with Ashlee Hewitt and Dean Sams from Lonestar. It’s a lovely, top down driving song that I can imagine would make you want to put your foot full down on the pedal and just sing along! She talks about the music she grew up listening to – from pop, soft rock, barber shop, gospel, country and Christian – she listened to it all, although country was the only genre she was ever going to make a music career in.
Due to her earlier sore throat, there’s some slight confusion as to which song she’s going to be singing next as the set list has been slightly reshuffled. Her band – made up of Glen Mitchell, Michael Ball (no, not that one!), Christen Cole & Darren Will – start playing a song she’s not intending to sing much to her and everyone else’s amusement. Instead, quick change and a rousing rendition of Lynn Anderson’s hit (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden. SaraBeth’s vocals are truly beautiful – her tone is lovely and lends itself to classic country and modern country alike. Next we’re treated to her first Top 40 hit in the US, accompanied by the fact that she was in the ‘Cheez It’ aisle in Target when she got the news. I think these are similar to Ritz crackers?! Bizarrely, it’s the little shared facts like these that make her so endearing and approachable. However, when she opens her mouth and sings SaraBeth is transported to that place where stars seem quite untouchable – a quality that seems to ooze so easily from her.
‘Somebody Who Is’ follows – a business break up song, disguised as a couples break-up song as SaraBeth quite rightly points out, ‘who would want to listen to a business break-up song? Err, me, if you’re going to sing it. At this point, I’d be tapping my feet and listening to her singing the phone book quite happily! Her last couple of EP’s have been completely co-written by her and Glen Mitchell and she credits Glen with teaching her everything she knows about song writing. She has a pointless story about driving around Nashville feeling really happy listening to Shania and the Dixie Chicks and telling this story to her co-writers and ‘You Keep Me Smiling’ being the product of this. It’s just a happy tune which keeps a smile on your face whilst SaraBeth’s singing it. Who said country music had to be drawn from a pit of misery and hopelessness?
‘Slow’ does indeed slow the pace down, a beautiful heartfelt ballad. Next is the feel-good cover of Jo Dee Messina ‘Bye, Bye’ which was co-written by C2C & Buckle & Boots favourite Phil Vassar. ‘Song About You’ from the new EP follows, inspired by past dates asking if she was going to write a song about them, with SaraBeth showing off her tambourine prowess. ‘Running Out of Lipstick’ – a song that every woman can empathise with – co-written with her friend Gwen Sebastian, is another melodic, feel-good song. Food for the Hungry is a charity close to her heart and SaraBeth takes this opportunity to talk about something that obviously means a lot to her. It’s so refreshing to see an artist talk about this casually in the middle of a gig, without a fuss and moving onto her next song without expecting anyone to cheer her on for wearing her heart on a sleeve. Another reason to love her.
A cover of one of her favourite bands songs, The Dixie Chicks ‘Some Days You Gotta Dance’ is next before she gives her heartfelt thanks for getting her new EP to the top of the country iTunes charts. Building up to the final song we’re going country rock with ‘Windshield/Rearview’ before finishing with ‘the angriest song I’ve ever written’ – ‘Sick of It’. The band sound a lot heavier with Glen’s soaring guitar work really coming into play again building up to the finale that’s inevitable but nobody really wants to come.
What a fantastic gig. What’s left for the crowd to give? Another standing ovation for a new female star in country music as SaraBeth is gathering speed and is surely going to be giving other female stars a run for their money. I for one will be cheering her on.