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BRIDGET ST JOHN - The Greystones, Sheffield - 6 September 2018

As a schoolboy, I listened to John Peel’s Night Ride radio show. Much as I enjoyed the music, there were only two artists that excited me enough to spend my pocket money on their records, Chicken Shack and Bridget St John, so when I found out that Bridget St John was appearing less than 50 miles away I booked tickets immediately.

The Greystones is the flagship pub of Sheffield’s Thornbridge Brewery with live music in The Backroom on most evenings. The room itself is quite basic and dimly lit with a stage at one end and seating for an audience of 120, cabaret-style around tables at the front and rows of seats further back, but the quality of the sound was excellent. It was good to see a full house for the concert.

The gig started promptly with no MC or introductions and Bridget performed just one set – for an hour and a half! She sang to her own guitar playing and was accompanied throughout by Sarah Smout on cello, a Sheffield-based musician she’d met earlier this year at a Michael Chapman recording session. The cello had just the right timbre and pitch for Bridget’s voice, which was instantly recognisable and has changed little over the years with every word, spoken or sung, clear and distinct.

Bridget’s set was a good mix of covers and traditional songs but mostly her own material, from her early work in the 1960s through to recent songs. The covers included Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman, Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle And The Drum, which segued into Bridget’s modern version of America (The Beautiful), and Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

It’s always good to learn more about the background of songs. Bridget, returning to Sheffield after 50 years to where she had studied languages at university, remembered this as she sang a song she’d written in French, Mon Gala Papillons, and responded to an English teacher who’d told her never to use the word in essays, by writing Nice. She dedicated the title track from her first album, Ask Me No Questions, to the late John Peel, who had recorded and championed her music. We learnt that Fly High was co-written with Robert Louis Stevenson by adding more words to a couple of lines from a poem. Introducing Lazarus that she’d learnt from the singing of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bridget, who has lived in New York for many years, recalled discovering that Buffy Sainte-Marie was playing a gig in Toronto and phoned up to make sure she could get in, then drove for seven hours to see one of her inspirations and then seven hours home again. And I’d thought that driving for an hour and a half to see Bridget St John was a long way!

Although Bridget only visits the UK for a tour every few years, her back catalogue is available on CD, digitally and by streaming for those who want to catch up or to check her out for the first time.

Mike Everett