A lady called Hannah, already giddy with wine, was stood next to me in the new venue underneath Universal Records’ UK base in Kings Cross. She had never been to a country show before, so had no idea what to expect.
Someone had told her that opening act Twinnie had played Porsche on Hollyoaks. Tracks from her new four-track EP got an airing: Welcome To The Club opened the set with a bang, One Heart (‘it only takes one heart to break two) and Somebody or Somebody now rivals Better When I’m Drunk as a set highlight. As well as a brand new ballad written with Lucie Silvas to rival Superhero, there were some fine solos by Rich which made Twinnie whip her hair back and forth. Arms swayed, voices warmed up and Twinnie knew her role as an opening act (‘You’ve not come to see me!’ she said).
Fun fact, with which I won’t bore Hannah: Ben Johnson has produced Twinnie’s EP and co-written much of Morgan’s latest project Country and the Coast. It’s being released in two parts. The second one will surely include All Right Here, which Morgan performed solo and which sounded like an instant smash.
The first part of the project included the magical driving song Love Is Real, where Morgan adopted the rather hackneyed trick of dividing the crowd into two and making them compete for noise. His new single Country Outta My Girl is a fine distillation of his sound, which reflects well on Kelsea. I love the line ‘She’ll “Bless Your Heart” when she’s mad’!
Like Ryan Hurd, Morgan has a wife (Kelsea Ballerini) who is better known than he is. Morgan told me that he wasn’t even the best songwriter in his kitchen, but he can certainly match Kelsea for showmanship. That girl, who has just announced that her fourth album is to be called Subject To Change, features in absentia.
Morgan played his wedding song I Do and his ballad Dance With Me. He also told a story about his American Dream Truck (‘we sold the house and kept the truck!’). Morgan was able to thank the crowd for supporting his debut smash Kiss Somebody and give some background to Hooked, a song cut by Dylan Scott which spun off an idea to write a response song to Kelsea’s Peter Pan. That’s one for Hannah to catch up on.
Morgan was warming up for two arena dates in support of Brad Paisley, the London show ‘a good cure for jetlag!’ He first came over to the UK at the request of Gary Quinn in 2017, accompanied by his trusty loop pedal, playing songs which would end up on his debut album Things That We Drink To. He now had three musicians backing him up, including guitarist Gideon and a frizzy-haired bassist who was visibly impressed by the crowd’s knowledge of Morgan’s music.
The 80-minute set was full of contemporary country classics and Hannah whooped and hollered in the right places. The title track of his first album is a tribute to his old manager, and he interpolated the coda of Coldplay’s Fix You into the song, which he performed at the piano. Elsewhere he celebrated George Harrison with a take on Here Comes The Sun, fresh from holding up the traffic on Abbey Road.
His set opened with Young Again, a song full of wordless woahs, while set closer Day Drunk was accompanied by solos from each bandmember that stretched the track out. New song Sing Along Drink Along was written for small crowds like ours, and Hannah must have been impressed at the skill of Morgan as both a writer and a showman. His well-deserved encore was Diamonds, a standalone track from 2019 that I’d missed completely when it came out. Hannah loved it and will begin her journey of country discovery which may take her away from the house music to which she usually dances.
Brad Paisley has once again chosen a fine opening act to his UK shows. Morgan will surely return to the UK in 2023, if the grip’n’grin queue was any indication.