‘Mono – it’s a lovely venue,’ starts Grace Petrie, swinging her guitar strap over her head. ‘There’s only one thing I can really say about it… it’s the American name for glandular fever, innit?’
It’s a fitting opening line for the gig to follow; a sincere compliment buried beneath a joke. Because that’s what makes Grace Petrie so special – she makes you laugh beneath your tears.
I’ve never been a person who does well with sincerity, either in real life or in music. I’m incapable of hearing Mitski’s whispered wailings or the opening acoustic chords of a Phoebe Bridgers song without hearing the disembodied voice of my grandma telling me to pull myself together. But we all need something to cry to, and for me, I found my sincerity the day I first heard ‘Black Tie’ by Grace Petrie. As Grace herself said from the Mono stage, everybody has a lonely teenager left somewhere within them (I say this as a wizened and world-wearied 20-year-old), and the lonely teenager that I in fact was at the time, frantically clawed onto the lyrics of the chorus:
‘Cause I’m in black tie tonight
Get a postcard to my
Year 11 self
In a Year 11 hell
Saying everything’s gonna be alright No you won’t grow out of it You will find the clothes that fit’
Well, this is my postcard to my year-11 self (or S4 for all you Scots), and I need you to know: one day you’re going to scream this line at the top of your lungs in the middle of Mono, and it will be well worth that text you sent to your manager telling him you couldn’t come in cause you had a very real case of flu.
Judging by the crowd entirely composed of folk-punk over-30s, most of the readers of qmunicate may not be aware of Grace Petrie, and I think that’s a massive fucking shame, because everyone needs to hear her music (especially if you were ever a strange kid with a gender-non-conforming haircut, and while I don’t want to make assumptions about our readership, I’m betting at least some of you feel personally targeted right now…). She’s a butch lesbian protest singer, described in her own Twitter bio with the New Statesman’s review ‘so sickeningly worthy I almost choked on my falafel burger’ – but don’t let that put you off. Despite what you’ve been led to believe, some leftist protest singers do have a sense of humour, and Grace’s comes through in her brilliant lyricism, delicately balancing heart-rending screams of loneliness and heart-healing expressions of love with rhymes so witty you can’t help but smile. She follows up the above tear-jerking chorus with ‘And the images that fucked ya/were a patriarchal structure’ – a line she encourages the crowd to sing, proudly declaring it to be ‘the best thing she’s ever written’ (a title I personally think goes to rhyming ‘the hard times, they will never overcome us’ with a promise to always keep her vegan girlfriend ‘in houmous’ in ‘The Vegan Song’, but I don’t blame her for struggling to choose a greatest line from her impressive repertoire).
Grace herself is an electrifying performer, perfectly riding the outpouring of emotion with lively anecdotes and criticisms of her own lyrics, taking the piss out of anything that strays too close to whining long before the crowd can think to do so. She shares the stage with folk performer Ben Moss, a man who seemingly can play any instrument, whipping out mandolin after guitar after fiddle after accordion, all while providing back-up vocals – Grace encourages requests from the crowd, safe in the knowledge that Ben can play literally anything we might throw at them. They toss banter back and forth, at each other and the crowd, teaching us call-and-response sections to bolster the choruses, a beautiful reciprocity flowing between us as we all join the song – the low stage and naturalistic lighting of Mono removing the usual enforced-separation between artist and crowd. It’s the perfect venue for such an intimate folk gig – with the stage decorated by swags of fairy lights festooning the white-washed wall beyond the bare-boards stage, and a slightly Elrond-esque sketched portrait staring down from the domed ceiling, plus a large chunk of the crowd having opted to wear waistcoats, it’s no wonder I ended up shouting ‘We should have been born hobbits!’ to my friend over guitar-strums. It takes a particularly special gig to transform a cynical trad-Goth into a resident of the Shire, but that’s the power Grace carries in her lyricism and her emergency back-up guitar. Sometimes, a songwriter is capable of unleashing pure magic – and if you’ve ever felt even a little bit alone, Grace’s is a magic that you need to hear.
Image credits: https://www.monocafebar.com/events/grace-petrie