“I write lots of songs, but usually I don’t write them from other people’s perspectives,” admits Terra Lightfoot. “But I met a woman in Canada a couple of years back who’s so inspiring to me that I had to write her a song. Her name is Norma Gale and she played bass.”
The Canadian musician is introducing her latest single, named after the ’70s country musician, at Stoke Newington’s intimate Waiting Room venue.
“She played the Grand Old Oprey, she backed up Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. She was so cool. But she was also raising a young son as a single mom on the road while all of this was happening,” she continues, before revealing a touching account of Gale’s life. With an authenticity to her delivery of universal lines like “I was an angel in the morning/ I was a devil in the night” and the refrain of “I knew I had to keep on going”, the moving ballad is a high point of Lightfoot’s London performance and her current LP New Mistakes.
A 12-track collection of gritty blues- and soul-based rock ‘n roll, sonically it balances the unabashed Marc Bolan fan’s desire to time travel back to 1971 and the more contemporary sound favoured by producers Gus van Go and Werner F. So there’s no auto-tune, but a fuller, richer, more ambitious sound to Lightfoot’s third studio album.
The acoustic folk of her 2011 self-titled debut and rootsy vibe of 2016’s While Every Time My Mind Runs Wild, are now enhanced by a power and confidence that’s partly down to the production. But most of the credit must go to the actual songs and the way in which they’re played.
Described as a travelogue, or a road map, of places she’s been and would like to go, New Mistakes features the likes of Stars Over Dakota (about a trip around the Great Lakes, quite literally written while driving), Lonesome Eyes (penned in a dressing room after seeing a light pillar in the sky in Saskatchewan), You Get High (composed on a family holiday in the mountains of Northern Quebec), and Slick Back Kid (started in Germany and inspired by an upcoming trip to the Mojave Desert).
Thematically just as diverse – Lightfoot tackles subjects like letting go of perfection in love, the exhaustions of touring, and playing pinball – the tracks are united not just by her soulful vocals but the performance of her tight-knit touring band. Lightfoot’s guitar (usually a Gibson SG named Veronica, played through a vintage 1962 Fender Bassman amp) leads bassist Maury LaFoy, drummer Joel Haynes, and keyboard player Jeff Heisholt through 12 tracks that run the gamut from raw, rowdy rockers and swaggering soul to gospel-tinged psychedelia and graceful ballads, with all sounding equally vibrant and authentic.
All that time out on the road has clearly paid off, and not just during the two weeks of recording. Up on stage, Lightfoot is a natural who has an easy rapport with her audience, sharing stories, making jokes, encouraging an anything goes dance competition for a free T-shirt, declaring her love of T-Rex, and performing with nothing short of 100% conviction.
The musician from Hamilton, Ontario and her rhythm section of LaFoy and Haynes tellingly start the Waiting Room gig with a three-way fist-pump and play with a natural comfort that only come from months spent together in a tour bus or venues around the world, All three, following a red, white, and black dress code, play with a joy and enthusiasm that’s simply contagious and every bit as compelling as New Mistakes.
Words by Nils van der Linden & Photography by Al Stuart of Terra Lightfoot at Waiting Room, Stoke Newington on 2nd December 2017