Having initially bought tickets to see Grace Petrie back in May 2020, it was with great excitement that I finally got to witness her politically-charged, yet beautifully uplifting, folk anthems live on 12th November. And it was with even more excitement that, having been a Croydon resident for over three years now, I was able to attend an event at charming local venue Stanley Arts (formally Stanley Halls), just down the road in South Norwood. As a South London resident, it made a particularly nice change to be able to walk to and from a gig, when normally I have to brave various modes of public transport to venture across to the other side of the city…
And the venue seems to suit Grace Petrie’s understated, yet strident, charm perfectly. Sitting in the picturesque old community hall (that now strives to be a completely inclusive space with a focus on hosting LGBTQIA+ creatives and artists of colour), as Petrie introduces us to her “songs of social justice”, a refreshing sense of togetherness seems to unite the crowd and she’s greeted with cheers for the first song of the set – ‘Farewell To Welfare’; one she says that she used to end with, but has now decided to open with as “if that wasn’t politically up your street, the rest of the gig is not for you!” And she’s right; this particularly resonant offering, this longing for a socialist revolution, continues throughout the set, and it’s right up my street – both politically, and musically.
Continuing with an emotive track from 2017’s Heart First Aid Kit, ‘Coldwaterproofjacket’, Petrie invites us all to sing along to the catchy chorus, and we joyfully oblige; accompanying her own exquisite, rich vocals and lilting melodies to this beautifully heartwarming ballad. And the endearing, friendly vibes continue as Petrie introduces us to multi-instrumentalist Ben Moss, who is not only her musical partner, but was unintentionally her housemate for 6 months during the first of last year’s lockdowns – “We’ve come out of it much closer than we were, there’s not many people I could spend six months locked in a house with. But we got through it!” (in fact she seems to be so fond of him, and in awe of his talents, that later in the set she shares that she has considered setting up a crowdfunder to clone him…)
It was during this first lockdown that Grace Petrie wrote her latest album, Connectivity – a poignant collection of tracks reflecting on our connection to, and unity with, other people to keep us going through hard times. Taken from this album, Grace introduces ‘Storm To Weather’ as being for “us storm-battered socialists who don’t know when this hurricane is going to stop…” A stirring sentiment oozing an empowering message of solidarity and resilience and, as we all join in with heartfelt gusto to the mainline of the chorus “I will love you forever and we’ll dance again next year”, I feel an overpowering raw emotion, heeding this political call to arms to keep going; to keep fighting for change, for better times…
Following the twinkling grace of ‘Ivy’, a song dedicated to Petrie’s niece who came into the world during Glastonbury 2014 – thankfully after Dolly Parton’s set (which I too was lucky enough to witness!), there’s another offering from the new album. A moving reflection on the confused headspace that can come from mixed messages and unrequited feelings, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ showcases Ben Moss’ immense musical skill as he switches between banjo and fiddle, alongside Petrie’s immersive crystalline charm; poignantly juxtaposing the raw emotion of its heartfelt sentiment with a refreshingly joyous musicality and instantly catchy energy.
Taking a brief interlude from her own songs, Petrie then hands over to Moss to take centre stage as we’re treated to one of his own, solo offerings – the chiming traditional folk sounds of ‘Bold Reynard’, a lilting ode to the “modern day fox”.
Resuming her unifying, politically-driven passion, Petrie introduces 2017’s ‘God Save The Hungry’ as an “alternative national anthem” – clarifying that, although God may not be her thing, if he was then surely there are more worthy people in need of saving than the Queen. As she sings with a fervent emotion – “God save the hungry, God save the poor, God save those desperate souls whose lives are torn apart by war. God save the homeless and those with disabilities, and all the other targets of this heartless ideology.” – I’m struck by this extremely pertinent sentiment, once again showcasing Petrie’s knack for combining resonant, necessary themes with an utterly unique, shimmering musicality.
Reviving our appreciation of Ben Moss, we’re then reminded of a project that he and Petrie worked on together throughout lockdown. Recording a rendition of a song beginning with each of the 26 letters of the alphabet each day, the two of them united with fans at a time when small pleasures were especially important; bringing a little joy into our locked-down lives, connecting us to each other, with each of these covers, and in the process raising money for The Big Issue. Petrie explains that on each of their gigs on the current tour, they’ve been picking out of a hat which one of these covers to play, and “hope it’s not ‘Xanadoo‘”… We end up with V and so ‘Venus’ it is – a fun-filled, folk-tinged rendition of the classic ‘80s hit – such a special rendition in fact, that we forgive Grace for forgetting some of the words.
Following the rousing, heartfelt emotion of the beautifully accordion-accompanied ‘Some Days Are Worse Than Others’, Petrie explains that the reason she is dressed so smartly is not actually because she has a snooker match after the gig, but to convey the message of the next song – the poignant and empowering ‘Black Tie’. Addressing the damaging effects of enforced gender norms, it was written as a message of hope to Grace’s younger self, and to those like her – she explains that as an unhappy teenager, she had to deal with society telling her she was wrong, but today she is proud to be a butch lesbian: “I turned 30 and instantly stopped giving a fuck.” Tonight, Petrie dedicates the song to all her trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming siblings, and urges us all to protest transphobia at this time when it is more important than ever to stand together and protect each other against those who are seeking to oppress us. And, as we all sing along to the lyrics “and the images that fucked you were a patriarchal structure, and you never will surrender to a narrow view of gender…”, I feel an overwhelming sense of unity, a fierce determination to be the best ally I can possibly be and stand with my trans siblings, today and every day. Because trans rights are human rights, trans women are women and trans men are men. Non-binary people are valid. And every single one of us, whatever gender, race or nationality we may be, deserve equal rights, safety and joy.
Following an enlivening call and response crowd participation for Queer As Folk’s ‘Northbound’, Petrie returns for a welcome encore with the closing track of her latest album, ‘The Losing Side’, for all her comrades – “If I’ve spent my life on the losing side, you can lay me down knowing that I’ve tried.” A stirring way to end the set, leaving us with a poignant sense of hope and unity. A sense of joy at finding solidarity in each other, and a determination not to give up in the face of adversity.
So, thank you to Grace Petrie (and Ben!) for such a lovely evening. A perfectly cathartic experience in these strange times, reminding me of the connection that music can bring, offering a comforting message of solidarity and resilience at a time when we need it the most.
Plus, I got to be home and in bed by 11pm!