Beth Hart Live at the Ulster Hall: Six Things We Learned
Grammy and Blues Music Award nominee Beth Hart has had a roller-coaster of a life. After a chaotic childhood in LA, she began playing clubs in Hollywood aged 15 and recorded her first album six years later. She’s gone through the loss of a beloved sister and suffered from bipolar disorder and drug addiction. But she’s battled through and her career has flourished, with last year’s War In My Mind her ninth solo studio album. Hart has said that discovering her faith was instrumental in her recovery.
She has played and recorded, to great acclaim, with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, releasing one live and three studio albums so far. She has collaborated with Slash, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy, and performed for President Obama and his wife. Channelling rock, blues, gospel and soul, she is a dynamic performer, an incredible singer and a great song-writer.
Her album, War in My Mind (one of our Best Blues Albums 2019) sees Hart open up herself to her audience in new ways. “More than any record I’ve ever made, I’m more open to being myself on these songs,” she explains. “I’ve come a long way with healing, and I’m comfortable with my darknesses, weirdnesses and things that I’m ashamed of – as well as all the things that make me feel good.”
Beth played the Ulster Hall in Belfast, an iconic venue with excellent acoustics, and which dates back to 1862 and along the way has hosted Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, Dire Straits, Jackson Browne and a host of top classical orchestras. With a top-class band of three – Jon Nichols on guitar, Tom Lilly, on bass and Bill Ransom on drums, Beth Hart came on stage to a rapturous reception from 2,000 fans. Here’s what we learned:
1. Beth Hart is an incredible singer. She’s not only powerful, but she’s got great range, dynamics and versatility. She gave an awesome blues performance of Lloyd C. Glenn and Lowell Fulson’s Sinner’s Prayer (made famous, of course by Ray Charles), had us rocking in the aisles with Spirit of God, and then did full justice to a number of ballads and jazzy numbers.
2. Her energy and stage presence is full-on. There’s nothing half-hearted about a Beth Hart performance. The woman gives it all she’s got and then some. When she arrived on stage, she immediately stamped her personality all over it in a swirling, foot stomping, gyrating, sinuous maelstrom of movement. Much to the delight of the audience.
3. Beth Hart doesn’t just give you an incredible music performance – she puts herself out there, with a display of vulnerability I’ve never encountered in an artist before. As she gave the background and the stories to the songs from War In My Mind, you came face to face with the battles she’s fought, of a broken home, addiction, lack of self-esteem and mental illness. Her performance of Tell Her You Belong To Me (from Better Than Home), with its background of her father leaving the family home, was stunning but heart-breaking. This wasn’t just entertainment, it was an artist really opening herself up to her audience – that, I’m sure, must take its toll on the artist; it wasn’t always easy on the audience either.
4. Beth Hart’s story is one of redemption. That comes through loud and clear, in her confidence, in her delight in the music and in the gratitude she exudes. It came through the joyous Spirit of God, inspired, she said from an experience of a Baptist Revival Church which exposed her to a different kind of Christian worship from the rather formal sort she’d been brought up with. And through her faith which she referred to briefly on several occasions. Previously she’s said “When I’m really doubtful of myself, I gravitate to God. Because if my faith can’t be in me, then it can be in him.” And her redemption has come in large part through her husband Scott Guetzkow who has helped her through the dark times and is always there for her. As she emotionally sang I Need A Hero, she dedicated it to Scott, and it was a touching moment when he crept on stage to give her a hug at the song’s conclusion.
5. Turning your rockin’ electric band into a tight acoustic group for a set of jazz- and latin-tinged numbers is a neat trick, and demonstrated the versatility of Hart’s three collaborators. Baby Shot Me Down worked exceptionally well here.
6. If you’re going to sling your guitar as low as Jon Nichols, you better have long arms. I’ve seen guitarist sporting as many guitars as Jon did in a gig, but never one who played it somewhere around his knees. Quite something.
Simply put, this was a performance from Beth Hart and her band that will live long in the memory.
The low slung guitar of Jon Nichols