Drake White took a deep dive into his back catalogue as he showcased his soulful country vocals alongside the power of his Big Fire band during an eight-strong series of shows across the UK and Ireland.
He wrapped up the tour on Sunday night in Cambridge, mainly mixing old favourites from 2016’s Spark album – including a fabulous freestyle off the back of Story – with newer songs from last year’s The Optimystic album, as well as treating us to his brand new single, due out this Friday (June 30).
It was an inspirational, honest and energy-filled set; telling stories, having fun with the crowd, talking about the need to ‘live in the moment’ instead of seeing the world through your phone, and a promise that he will keep coming back as long as audiences here will have him. (I think we know the answer to that one).
(All Cambridge photos – Craig Dewar)
Having been fortunate enough to see Drake in both Glasgow and Cambridge, I chose to review the Glasgow show at SWG3 simply because it felt magical:
There are gigs – and sometimes there are really special gigs. Thursday night’s Drake White concert in Glasgow was one of those.
Before we get onto Drake’s gig however, a shout-out to Stephen Wilson Jnr (don’t forget the ph!) who sounded genuinely touched to be part of the wider Drake White family and who earned himself plenty of new fans across the venues too.
And now for the main act…Drake’s struggles to return to the stage after a brain injury in 2019 have been well documented and the man himself says it’s taken ‘a lot of hard work, positivity and the power of prayer’ to get him to where he is today.
It was a joy to see him arrive on stage with guitar in hand again as he joined his Big Fire bandmates for a rocking version of 50 Years Too Late, followed hot on the heels by It Feels Good – the crowd needing little encouragement to clap and sing along.
There were far too many highlights to mention every song, but it’s clear that Drake is in love with Scotland and the Scots – recalling a previous trip where he got to hang out with friends in a far-flung spot further north and enjoy getting back to nature – the perfect anecdote to tell ahead of Back to Free, a favourite from the Spark album.
It also prompted a plea from him to ‘put your phones back in your pocket’ and just ‘be in the moment’ – saying that if ever there was a song which deserved your full attention, this was it.
The show was the perfect blend of rocking the night away and reining it in telling stories sitting on a stool. He talked about his ongoing recovery and the need to write his way through such a difficult period; of teaming up with Allison Veltz-Cruz and Aaron Chafin for zoom co-writes that led to Hurts The Healing. This is such an emotional song that means so much to so many people – I think there were a few ‘dust in the eyes’ moments for that one.
And talking of power, Drake paid a touching tribute to his wife Alex who he said ‘duct-taped’ her leg to his paralysed left leg to help get him up and walking again. The song Power of A Woman is both about her and all the powerful women out there in the universe.
There were plenty of classic Drake songs Makin’ Me Look Good Again and The Coast Is Clear among them…a very special moment with the latter when he talked about dark times, and on cue the lights went out leaving the crowd to light up the room before segueing into the traditional gospel song This Little Light of Mine with the beautiful chorus-line Let It Shine – powerful stuff from the man who grew up singing in church.
He was having so much fun that it took his bandmates to remind him he’d sped on and missed out Giants – a song he says is important to him as he co-wrote it at a time when he was having thoughts of giving up. He says it’s for everyone out there’s who’s struggling and, for anyone who doesn’t know this song, I urge them to look up the lyrics….
Giants featured on 2022’s The Optimystic and there was another standout moment as Drake was joined by bandmate Devin Trout for a stunning acoustic version of the album’s title track, accompanied solely by Graham Mallany on guitar. You could hear a pin drop and feel the hairs on the back of your neck rising for this one.
After the quiet, the band turned the volume back up for a rousing rendition of Mix ‘Em With Whiskey – moving neatly on to Story because (as he says) ‘everyone’s got a cotton-picking story’ and it was especially great to see him bring the mouth organ to the fore.
(Interesting to note that at the Cambridge gig he revealed he wrote Story about ‘real people’ from his hometown – giving a whole new dimension to the song – and added a spot of ‘Freestyle Sunday’ for good measure.)
There was good news in the shape of new music to come, he has two new records written and recorded and the first we’ll hear is when Spirit is released this Friday. It’s a song which perfectly fits the Drake White portfolio and one which the crowd instantly took to their hearts as he said this was for all the free spirits out there.
As the gig sped far too quickly towards the end, he introduced the remaining members of his band – Seth Bolte on bass and Boone Daughdrill on drums. Long-time fans will know that the Big Fire band line-up has changed over the years, but this group is as tight and compact (and talented) as any, very much adding to the feeling of the Big Fire ‘family’.
Declaring how much he loves coming to ‘this beautiful place’ Drake said ‘we truly are livin’ the dream tonight’…cue the song of the same name.
Unlike other venues, instead of going off stage and coming back for the encore, he chose to plough straight through – playing Can’t Have My Dog in response to a request from the crowd and finishing with the Paul McCartney/John Lennon classic With A Little Help From My Friends.
Safe to say he has plenty of friends on these shores…and he made many more as, instead of having a more traditional paid-for Meet & Greet session before each gig, he took time to come out to the merch stand afterwards and pose for photos with everyone who wanted one.
Sure, there were some disappointed folk who’ve always enjoyed those more ‘intimate’ songs and storytelling sessions pre the main event, but in many ways it was a more ‘equal’ approach, giving everyone the opportunity to meet Drake if they really wanted to, rather than based on whether or not they could afford the extra money for the M&G.
Indeed, in Glasgow, two lucky fans even got to sing a few bars acapella with him – including one lady from a couple who are getting married – so of course it had to be The Best Is Yet To Come.
Surely, it has to be for Drake White too. As fabulous as it is to see him in small venues like these, there’s little doubt this artist deserves a bigger stage.
(All Glasgow photos – Alison Dewar)
50 Years Too Late
It Feels Good
Hard To Handle
Back To Free
Hurts The Healing
Power Of A Woman
Makin’ Me Look Good Again
The Coast Is Clear
Legends Never Die
Mix ‘em With Whiskey
Livin’ The Dream
Can’t Have My Dog
With A Little Help From My Friends