So, we were at the dark but friendly Bodega in Nottingham for the marvellous talent that is Nell Bryden. The venue in the Bodega is a small affair upstairs from the bar itself. We scaled the tight stairway just in time to catch the start of the support act Jon Sandler, who was I have to say was really good. He was there to promote his forthcoming album ‘Late Night Champ’, and made an enormous amount of noise despite just having his guitar with him.

Then it was time for Nell to make her appearance. And what an appearance! Nell strode on to the stage in a black and white hooped blouse and black skirt, large silver earrings and with no hair. Now, this caught a few of us by surprise. I was struggling to think of the last time I saw Nell Bryden, and thought that it was probably on ‘Later…with Jools Holland’ some months ago at which stage she had long, blonde ringlets. She jumped straight into the first track 'Not Like Loving You' with a beaming smile on her face. She certainly didn't look like she was bothered, and so neither were we.

A few songs into the first half of the set came the answer. She spoke in a quiet matter-of-fact voice and said, “By the time my debut album, ‘What Does It Take?’, came out in the UK in 2009, I had been touring for six years, averaging 250 shows a year, including performances with KT Tunstall. I was my own manager and booking agent, and I wrote my own songs too. I was living my dream. But I was living at a breakneck pace. One day last spring, I was on my way to a meeting when I noticed a few extra strands of hair on the sleeves of my blazer. I pulled them off one by one, putting it down to the hair extensions that the stylist had given me the day before. Then I began seeing strands splayed around my pillow when I woke up. and by the end of the week I noticed the hairline at the back of my head had receded, and I felt a bald patch above my right ear.”

“I saw two doctors before the third one confirmed I had Alopecia. I cried for weeks. After a month of wallowing, something changed in me. I shaved my head on that stormy Tuesday evening, and started mapping out the next chapter of my life. I'd never heard the word Alopecia before. The doctor's advice? ‘Try not to stress, you'll make it worse'.”

“But the songs started pouring out of me. When there was nothing more to hide behind, I finally found my voice. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. My hair is growing back, though very slowly. I wear a wig on stage and out during the day because I don’t want to be defined by the lack of hair on my head. You guys are the first to see me as I am on stage.”

With that news, the place erupted with applause and cheers, and she smiled back and carried on. She took us on a seventeen song journey which ran a course from smooth stylish ballads to racing guitar numbers including the 'Buildings and Treetops', 'Someday' and new song ‘Westbourne Park’. Then at the end of the main set she called a young girl up from the crowd. Rhianna Davies was only fifteen, and had won her time on stage in a competition I understand. I have seen loads of these moments, and have to admit that I feared the worst for the girl but jeepers! What a voice! This was one of those hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments as they pumped out a duet version of 'Shake the Tree'. Rounding off the set with the encore tracks of the brilliant 'Sirens' and 'Second Time Around', Nell Bryden had won the Bodega. It was hers to take home.

Set List:

Not Like Loving You
Mercy on Me
Helen’s Requiem
Downtown Lullaby,
Westbourne Park
Learn to Fly
Buildings and Treetops
What Does It Take
Crescent City Gold
Shake the Tree


Second Time Around

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