Ashley McBryde with special guest Sean McConnell… what better way to spend a Sunday evening in Manchester? Two top class songwriters and performers climbing up the UK country ranks, albeit at different levels. Ashley mesmerised 20,000 people with a stunning set at the O2 back in March at C2C, whilst Sean McConnell has been incredibly dedicated to growing his overseas fan base, opening for Ashley Monroe last year as well as performing at The Long Road just last month. This was a gig we just had to see; Ashley won’t be performing at venues the size of the Manchester Academy 2 for much longer if her rise in the UK continues at this rapid pace.
Sean McConnell gave a fantastic 30-minute opening set. For anyone who isn’t too familiar with Sean’s background, as well as being a performer in his own right, he’s written songs for the likes of Brett Young, Rascal Flatts and Brothers Osborne, just to name a few. That tells you all you need to know about the level of Sean’s writing. In Manchester, he impressed with a selection of favourites from his recent ‘Secondhand Smoke’ album, including the soulful ‘Shaky Bridges’, title track ‘Secondhand Smoke’ and my personal highlight, ‘Greetings From Niagara Falls’. His ability to command a room with just an acoustic guitar (and occasional harmonica!) has to be admired; the reaction to his music on this tour has been really promising, so hopefully he’ll be back soon.
You know exactly what you’re going to get from Ashley – quality from start to finish. Kicking off with ‘Livin’ Next To Leroy’ followed by old favourite ‘Lookin’ For A Buzz’, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand, backed by her simply brilliant bunch of musicians. It was so good to see a full set from Ashley; we’ve become so used to seeing the usual 45 minutes, so the longer set allowed time for the likes of ‘Radioland’ (which she didn’t do at C2C!), a few newbies and even ‘Southern Babylon’ which had been requested by someone at the meet and greet before the show. Her back catalogue now provides her with a solid 90 minutes of material, with rockier moments as well as some lovely stripped-back acoustic performances.
Speaking of the new tracks, we’ve got a lot to look forward to with the next album – that’s for sure. ‘First Thing I Reach For’ is just about as country as it gets, written with the late Randall Clay. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of quite a sad topic (“the first thing I reach for is the last thing I need”) with a rather light-hearted, honky-tonk melody. It was incredibly well received by the Manchester fans, and will no doubt be a big fan favourite when released. New single ‘One Night Standards’ sounded awesome, too, and it’s been out just long enough for the die-hards to have learned all the words! You can’t really go wrong with a Shane McAnally co-write.
A personal highlight of the show was ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone’, which she collaborated with Brooks & Dunn on for their hugely successful ‘Reboot’ album. The best track on the album for me, and an absolute stand-out moment in any show that Ashley does now. I was fortunate enough to see their duet at CMA Fest this year, which was mind-blowing, but Ashley’s solo performance in Manchester was equally as spine-tingling with her guitarist adding the male vocals. Amazing stuff.
To close out the show, Ashley kicked off her encore with ‘Rattlesnake Preacher’, which she told us in an interview won’t be on the next album, despite the fans’ response to the song. She said it just isn’t the right fit for the sound she’s going for with the new project, but it’s one hell of a track for the live shows and she’ll keep on playing it as long as the fans want to hear it! She then followed up with an intriguing cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Dirty Diana’ which certainly took us by surprise… it’s never been a personal favourite from MJ’s catalogue but Ashley made it her own and it provided a real high-energy finish to the set.
There’s no stopping this lady in the UK – Ashley’s rise has been meteoric in a relatively short space of time. Make the most of these occasions where we can see her in venues this size; it won’t last long.
Livin’ Next To Leroy
Lookin’ For A Buzz
You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone
First Thing I Reach For
Bible and a .44
Girl Goin’ Nowhere
One Night Standards
Home Sweet Highway
A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega
Tired Of Being Happy
Dirty Diana (Cover)