It’s a balmy Wednesday evening here in Manchester and I’m heading to The Castle Hotel, an intimate live music venue hidden away on Oldham Street, to watch Ingrid Andress play.
The small back room is already filling up nicely with eager patrons, eerily lit by the hot blue lights coming from the stage where instruments await their players.
Suddenly there’s a rush of movement cutting through the chatter as a young woman weaves her way with purpose through the crowds to the front before hopping on the stage and grabbing a waiting guitar.
Opening the show tonight for Ingrid is Mabes, an Essex-based singer/songwriter and after a quick introduction she closes her eyes and begins.
The tone of her voice is as silky as caramel; soft, breathy and melodic it has a purity and depth that reminds me of an early Corinne Bailey Rae.
Her lyrics are all deeply personal, but as the audience we feel an affinity to what they describe, and I get a sense of déjà vu as I connect with new music that somehow feels so familiar. At times it’s almost as if the words must be on the tip of my tongue, that they might tumble out of my own mouth at any moment.
Singing aside, Mabes also interacts brilliantly with her audience, and between songs she shares the stories, influences and experiences behind her writing with deference and sincerity. She’s quite simply captivating.
Her stand out tracks for me include America, a love song inspired by a friend she met at a writers’ workshop in Nashville which has undertones of Laura Marling or Katie Melua; and Gone, which has something catching in my throat and tears ready to fall from the get-go.
But they aren’t just songs about heartache, her tracks are peppered with real-life everyday moments and coming of age stories: teenage arguments with parents, feeling uncomfortable and anxious at a party, hearing a track on the radio that sends you straight back to a particular treasured moment.
There’s a great number too where she asks the crowd to help with a whistling part, and when we do it really brings it to life, and puts a big smile on Mabes’ face to boot.
Her songs have a maturity and insight about them, with Little Loves in particular made all the more stunning when she tells us she wrote it at the tender age of 15.
As she finished her set with a track reminiscent of a lullaby, leaving the stage to great applause, I can’t help but think we’ll be hearing Mabes all across the airwaves pretty soon.
There’s a small break whilst we await our headliner Ingrid, but not long enough that the buzz from Mabes peters out, and pretty soon a drummer and guitarist hit the stage.
And then there she is.
Ingrid blows in like a hurricane, instant energy radiating from every part of her. Though hailing from Colorado, her love of the West Coast (she often heads to LA to write) is clear in her surfer-wave curls worn lose, and her bright orange tank top. She looks like she stepped straight off Venice Beach perhaps, and her smile is certainly as bright as the California sunshine.
She launches into the upbeat Bad Advice, dancing along to her own party, gripping our attention with every move, followed by Both, a playful response to the dating app trend. Constantly in motion on the stage, her unbridled passion is contagious.
In between tracks she’s straight-talking and down-to-earth. Yes, she may be insanely talented, but she’s also naturally funny and has the ability to laugh at herself with the kind of Miranda Lambert ‘no-shit’ vibe that endears her even more to her audience.
She confides in us that her songs are often written after a drink or two (maybe you wouldn’t think you could write a song that would work after a bottle of wine, she says, but who knew?!) and her honesty is refreshing.
Originally cutting her teeth as a songwriter before emerging as an artist in her own right, it shows in the way her words are able to make us feel. She’s more than paid her dues, and so it’s no wonder the likes of Charli XCX and Fletcher have cut her tracks, and she performs both Boys, and About You on the piano, her stripped back versions wowing the crowd.
These are followed by We’re Not Friends, a song about a moment we’ve all been in, the blurring of lines between friendship and love, of ‘fingers intertwined’; and The Stranger, a song about her parents which offers more insight and empathy than you’d ever expect to give a twenty-something credit for. But then again, Ingrid isn’t your average twenty-something.
Too much tequila has paved the way for the classic country Waste Of Lime, a real crowd pleaser that has a George Strait old-school with just a hint of Maren Morris vibe to it, making it easy to see why she was named one of CMT’s Next Women of Country for 2019.
She chases it nicely with the glorious Life Of The Party and more bitter-sweet lyrics, before delivering Blue, the only real love song we are getting she claims, but it’s worth it: haunting, delicate and vulnerable; it’s so exquisitely heart-exposing that I don’t want it to end.
She brings her set to a close with the subtle yet brilliant More Hearts Than Mine, about the importance of family and what it means to bring a potential partner home to meet the people who mean the most to you.
It’s performed back at the piano, and a silence descends before she begins and the crowd join in, singing her lyrics back at her word for word, something – she says with a grin – she is still getting used to.
She goes out on a high with her current hit (which is currently gracing the current Radio 2 playlist no less), Lady Like, and it couldn’t sum her up better. Ingrid is not what you might expect: not perfect, nor prim, nor proper, but she’s just so damn real, so damn raw – and it’s utterly wonderful.
As the last notes are played the crowd begin to whoop and holler, cheering her off as she bounds back through the crowds, that endless energy trailing like fire in her wake.
Everyone is talking animatedly about how amazing both performers were as we roll from the heat of the small back room to the cool streets beyond, the excitement tingeing the night air.
I’m bowled over by the abundance of talent I’ve seen here tonight and awed by the prowess of both these young women and their ability to write and perform such incredible songs. But more than that, it’s their ability to bare their souls, to truly put themselves and their lyrics out there on the line in order to achieve their dreams.
Now THAT’S what I’d call lady like.