Holly Williams - St Bonaventure's, Bristol
Another week, another packed show at St Bonaventure’s Parish Social Club. In terms of venues outside London where you can catch the latest and greatest Campfire Tales-type acts it’s nigh impossible to beat. But enough evangalising about the venue, on this Thursday evening it’s the return of Holly Williams, four years on from her last appearance. A lot has happened in her life since then, mainly marriage and pregnancy (the baby is due in October). Oh, and a fab third album, The Highway. But that’s not where we’re going to start; tonight starts with Anderson East, nominally Williams’ touring guitarist but also opening the show.
And what a way to get going. Probably the most quietly transfixed St Bons has been for a support act, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by the softly spoken American from Athens, Georgia, who describes it as “intimidatingly quiet and respectful”, and that he’s “a little freaked out but appreciative”. Although new to Bristol, East pulled out a mix of songs from his 2012 debut and soon-to-be-released second album. Holding the room in the palm of your hand is quite a feat but through almost 45 minutes of mainly heartwrenching, quiet rootsy folk songs, East manages it. Standout tracks are ‘Cotton Field Heart’ (about the things you miss from home), the delicate, sweethearted ‘Cabinet Door’, and the fever hot blues rocker ‘Flowers Of The Broken Hearted’. As East is closing his show the mood is neatly summed up by a heartfelt shout in typically British fashion - “You’ve been bloody brilliant, mate!”
It’s into this chattering, excitable atmosphere that Holly Williams takes that stage (with East on guitar and Annie Clements on upright bass) kitted out with cowboy boots and a guitar. Williams’ set is heavy on the new album, although the odd oldie is thrown in (including ‘Mama’ and ‘Three Days In Bed’), along with a cover of John Prine’s ‘Angel Of Montgomery’. Along the way it’s obvious that Williams is an excellent storyteller, her songs a mix of the autobiographical and fictional. She explains the meanings behind songs like ‘Without You’, about missing her husband while she’s touring, and ‘Giving Up’, about her friend’s struggle with addiction. At times the content is sombre, but Williams rich voice and ease as a performer makes sure the atmosphere never gets that way. Even odd moments where her concerns over the sound levels mean a back and forth with the sound guy fail to break the mood. The final tune of her set is The Highway’s final track, ‘Waitin’ On June’; on the album it’s nice enough but live it’s a showstopper - cute, sad, and poignant.
By giving the crowd exactly what they came for the Nashville shop owner (Williams owns a women’s boutique in the city) manages to wrest back the night, but there’s no doubt where the lasting impact lay.