Ashley Campbell had plenty to celebrate last Wednesday night in London, as she played her first gig as an ‘official resident’ of the city and was named as the fastest-selling NML artist of the year.
The sold-out concert, part of the series of Nashville Meets London presents and held at PizzaExpress Live (Holborn), treated the crowd to a veritable feast of sublime vocals and stunning musicianship.
The evening kicked off with a great set from Ags Connolly, who played several songs from his latest album Siempre, released in June. Catch him supporting Charley Crockett this month during his UK and European tour.
Then it was time for Ashley to take to the stage. Supporting her was the other half of the Campbell/Jensen duo, virtuoso guitarist and songwriter Thor Jensen. Ashley’s country/Americana background makes the perfect foil for Thor’s rock/gypsy jazz style and together they know how to make their instruments sing in beautiful harmony.
The pair met in late 2021 and have been playing music together ever since, recently recording their debut Campbell/Jensen album, due for release in early November and supported with a UK-wide series of shows.
Thor Jensen (above) and Kieran Towers (far right) made the music sing with Ashley
Between Ashley switching from guitar to banjo and back again (as she said, thank goodness her dress has pockets for the picks!), and fellow musician Kieran Towers adding some fabulous fiddle playing, you could feel the music wrap itself around you like a warm hug.
The pureness and clarity of Ashley’s voice was perfected suited to this small venue and she started with the title track from her 2018 debut album The Lonely One, going on to produce a smorgasbord of original songs, including Suitcase Heart and Something Lovely, the latter from her 2020 album of the same name.
Ashley Campbell’s performance with Thor Jensen and Kieran Towers delivered a fun evening at NML
Thor brought his vocals to the fore on La Bête, a 2021 release written by Ashley and Nashville songwriter Dylan Smucker, delivering an ‘old time’ vibe and an instrumental to make your heart sing.
Talking of hearts, the evening took a brief but emotional trip down memory lane, as Ashley spoke movingly of her late father Glen Campbell and, as an homage, sang the John Hartford song Gentle On My Mind, generating huge cheers and not a few tears (I suspect not just from me).
The talents of Glen’s longtime friend, bandmate and banjo player Carl Jackson (who just happens to be Ashley’s Godfather) loomed large as we were treated to a new instrumental track recently recorded by Ashley and Carl for a forthcoming EP, as well as the track Carl and Ashley’s Breakdown from The Lonely One album.
If you want to see footage of Carl and Ashley playing together in Nashville, then check out this YouTube video from 2022.
Talking about her co-writing sessions in Nashville, Ashley described how sometimes you sit down with fellow writers, think of a subject and see where it goes – cue the light-hearted Dirty Dishes and Sit Right Down…literally a song about writing a song, both due out on new music soon.
Never afraid to mix it up, there were covers in the shape of Roger Millers’ In the Summertime, a dash of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues and even a ‘waltzified’ version of the classic Willie Nelson tune Bloody Mary Morning.
And, playing it live for the first time, Ashley gave us a jazzy 1930s-style banjo version of Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits – described as one of her favourite pop songs – which she recorded earlier this year with Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox.
The penultimate track of the night was Remembering, written for her father after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ashley, who was one of his main caregivers, describes the song as “a way to connect with him and let him know she would always be there for him”. Remembering is featured on the Grammy-award winning and Oscar nominated album for the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.
So special then, to finish with a cover of Dolly Parton’s Do I Ever Cross Your Mind…remembering indeed.
This was an evening high on entertainment value and laughter. Ashley was chatty, engaging and clearly loves to interact with the crowd. Given the ongoing moans about audiences being disrespectful and talking loudly over the artists, to be able to sit at your table and enjoy the music in peace has a lot going for it.
And while I love to be on the barrier as much as anyone, Nashville Meets London gigs provide a very welcome and enjoyable alternative – we can’t wait for the new season to start.
All NML photos: Craig Dewar