Beth Nielsen Chapman began the first of two nights in Milton Keynes just as I expected, with an emotional piano driven recital of The Color Of Roses which hushed the entire auditorium. She continued in this vain with I Find Your Love, written with Patrick Doyle for the 2003 Calendar Girls film, and I settled in for an emotional roller coaster of exquisitely penned and sensitively delivered ballads. At that point it seemed the night, however enthralling, could hold few major surprises. How wrong I was.
What I hadn’t realised before the show is that the new album, The Mighty Sky, is a collection of astronomy and science themed songs for children. Marrying these tracks into a set with all of the old material was either going to go one way or the other – utter genius or total train wreck. Thankfully it was the former. Deftly switching between the two, from the emotive guitar driven Even As It All Goes By from 2009’s Back To Love, to the rapid bluegrass style of The Way That We Lean, remains to my mind a feat worthy of some admiration. Even the full frontal sense assault of The Big Bang Boom, a song she describes as “[the] Beach Boys meets Jimmy Buffet” seemed to go down well as the audience were encouraged to “BOOM” as loud as possible during the chorus.
Whilst the regular interludes of staged abandon, which Chapman and her accompanist Ruth Trimble relished with devilish smiles throughout and entwined with knowing banter about everything up to and including Terry Wogan, may not have been to everyone’s taste, there were points when turning away was all I could do to keep my tears of laughter in check. On any other night, I would surely have aligned myself with the rest of the audience in their applause for Sand and Water or Life Holds On. I did share their love of both, but perhaps I was a little distracted by the novelty of songs for children which didn’t, to put it crudely, absolutely stink. Because of that, Test Re-Test And Verify must be noted as my own highlight – a reminder that you should never judge a book, however cliched the phrase, by its cover.