20 years ago I embarked on my first tour of the UK, a few months after my first album, The Secret of Life, came out. Although it had received some glowing reviews, they didn’t translate into sales or radio play (or gigs) here in the US, and prospects for the album were looking grim. A friend who’d toured the UK with a popular folk artist urged me to make the trip. He assured me I’d find an audience there, where one had eluded me here.
How right he was. On that first tour it was a very small audience – 40 or 50 folks at a go, in small venues which in some cases were no more than pubs with a tiny corner stage. But I felt a connection almost immediately. This month, that connection was tangible as I met dozens of people who were at those first shows. Twenty years later, they were still coming to see us play – in venues ten or twenty times the size. I don’t know what the norm is for most artists, but I have a suspicion that I’ve somehow accrued as loyal an audience over twenty years as anyone could. It sure seems that way from my point of view.
Last month’s 20th Anniversary Tour was a celebration, an emotional reconnection to those longtime fans, and hopefully a warm welcome to new ones. We pulled out some old songs, played some new ones, reinvented a couple. We had us a time. One of the many highlights was our show in London at Union Chapel on February 16th. It’s hard to put into words what I felt that night. When I first came to the UK in 1996 I didn’t envision myself performing to a full house in such an awe-inducing space. I don’t think I spent much time thinking about it – I’ve always been more comfortable concentrating on the work (the writing, the recording, the performing) than on the dreams. Focusing on the outcome opens the door to disappointment, unpreparedness, nerves and a host of other devils. Put your head down and do the work, and, you’ll get where you’re going – that’s always been my way of working.
But I did take a moment onstage in London during the heart-opening standing ovation at the end of the show to stop, be in the moment and take in what was happening. I wanted to be present for what was given to us so generously by the audience that night – their appreciation, enthusiasm and love. It’s harder than you’d think – your mind is going 50 different places and it’s hard to just – be. It seems almost self-indulgent to bask in it.
As someone very wise once told me, the only gracious way to receive a compliment is to simply say “thank you”. So I want to say thank you – to all of you who came to any of our UK shows, from 1996 to 2016 – and sat in the dark with us while we tried to conjure some magic. Some of you have come to many, many shows over the years; some of you have just been to your first on this tour. I’m grateful for you both. Huge thanks are also in order to our tour manager, Rebecca Kemp, who moves mountains whilst smiling all the while; and to my UK booking agent, Nigel Morton, whose enthusiastic support has kept me both working and believing. And finally, it was my deepest pleasure to play these songs with Barry Walsh, Conor McCreanor and Colm McClean – three brilliant and intuitive musicians who help me keep the lyrics front and center, yet take the songs so far beyond what they are in themselves. I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Thank you for all the love.