Margo Price - Scala, London
Entering the Scala in London you can immediately see its previous form as a cinema, the fake decoration outside emphasises that bit of its past, and the box office is clearly where you’d have purchased tickets in the dim and distant past. Now though it’s a venue. And one that specialises in the kind of nearly mainstream music that won’t fill the Shepherd’s Bush Empire but is too much for The Borderline. Over the years many huge acts, including Coldplay, Moby and Foo Fighters, have appeared here but on this Thursday night it’s a double header of two of today's best country music acts.
Holding his own in front of an already sizeable crowd, Andrew Combs is the night's high class opener. The last time the Nashville native was in London he was opening the Sunday night of C2C Country To Country Festival. The Scala hold about 1,100 people, the O2 about 20,000, it’s a different scale and Combs inclusive banter and sweetly sad songs are more suited to an intimate environment. Playing solo he’s the most engaging of performers, and he has a catalogue of brilliant country songs, the sublime soul of ‘Month Of Bad Habit’, and the quirky ‘Strange Birds’ (“It’s got a whistle solo in it, and all that shit.”). Combs plays a new song, ‘Rose Colored Blues’, that bodes well for his new record (“... due out next year.”), and the totally sublime slice of major melancholy that is ‘Too Stoned To Cry’.
The volume is increased significantly for the main act, and is again a major difference from the last time Margo Price took to a stage in London. Back in May she appeared in The Social, which is little more than a bar, holding about 100 people, tonight though she owns the stage of the Scala. Having shut her fingers in the door of her car Price is not on guitar duty tonight. Joining her accomplished band in her place is her husband, looking for all the world like he’d rather be back home in Nashville. The six of them rattle through a set filled with Price’s own memorable songs, ‘Hands Of Time’ surely one of the best opening songs on a debut record, ‘Weekender’ gets the tempo rising, ‘Four Years Of Chances’ brings the party to a crescendo.
Unlike other acts with only one album to work through, the Nashville singer isn’t afraid of doing covers, and the show is somewhat of a history lesson with the likes of Levon Helm, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and more getting an airing. Then there’s time for “two fingers up” to Music Row in Nashville with ‘This Town Gets Around’, though “The CMAs were announced yesterday, they gave them right back” (Price was snubbed in every category announced for the annual Country Music Awards).
It’s this kind of show that makes the UK such a great place to see country music at the moment. One of the best reviewed records of 2016 is played live to an audience that is in love with the music. The sometimes disconcerting quietness of the British audience is lapped up by Price and her band, and her ninety minute set demonstrates everything that’s good about the resurgence in trad.country in 2016.