GRETCHEN Peters surveyed the ornately decorative Royal Hall, the re-polished jewel in Harrogate’s crown. “Pretty fancy,” she said. “First thing I thought, ‘S**t, I can’t cuss in here’!”

Such humour was to pepper the two sets by the newest inductee to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, touring this month in support of new album Blackbirds.

Accompanied as ever by Barry Walsh – her pianist for 25 years and husband for four (“It was a long audition,” he said) – Gretchen was joined too by Christine Bougie on guitar, percussion and lap steel guitar and Conor McCreanor on electric and double bass, and unlike past tours, she had the size and range of line-up to measure up to her beauteous, complex, poignant songwriting.

The album’s spark had been a week where 57-year-old Gretchen’s ratio of funerals to wedding attendances had been three to one, prompting contemplation of mortality, distant, near or brutal in Friday night’s opening murder ballad, Blackbirds. “It’s kind of a dark album,” acknowledged Gretchen, rather gleefully regaling her audience with how a couple of people had asked her if she was okay after hearing the record.

“There are two types of people,” she said. “People who find sad songs depressing... and then there are us.” How true, we all nodded. Everything Falls Away announced itself as her next ballad awaiting a country superstar makeover. It proved prophetic too when Walsh’s piano stool gave way and broke. Still, at least he didn’t cuss in that pretty fancy hall.