Sunday, 3 February 2019

GIG REVIEW: Wild Ponies - Elford Village Hall, Staffordshire. Saturday 2nd February 2019

November 2nd 2013 dawned a new era of friendship, association and mutual appreciation between the Wild Ponies and the village of Elford in Staffordshire. Little did those attending the Rod Picott show, ably backed by the Wild Ponies that evening, realise the extent that small seeds would grow. Maybe it would be good for both acts to align schedules one day and reenact that show, in light of how they have kept the UK firmly on their touring horizon since.

There has rarely been a tour gone by in the last six years where Doug and Telisha Williams aka Wild Ponies have not called into the Midlands area for a show. (It helps they have to pass through when travelling north south!). Elford has often been the dropping off point even when the gig relocates to nearby Lichfield, and in recent times connections in the Birmingham area have stepped in to widen the exposure. All this is greatly assisted by Wild Ponies being a superb act, steeped in the great tradition of American roots music whilst applying a considerable contemporary sheen.

This latest trip from East Nashville to the UK saw the duo once again joined by Devon-exiled Austin Texas-based mandolin playing percussionist Katie Marie on a host of dates stretching from Scotland to Brighton. The industry highlight was the AMA UK fest in London, but an opportunity to take in Elford on the final night of the tour was too good to miss.

To say that the Wild Ponies were sounding better than ever is almost becoming a cliché. Mind you, evidence backing it up was aplenty from folks seeing them for the first time and those approaching double figures in live shows. Just listening to Telisha knock a version of the Hazel Dickens song ‘Pretty Bird’ into the stars off mic to close the show was worth any investment and travelling. This was just the crowning moment of a winding journey through the band’s last three albums alongside a little peep into what the future holds.

Renewal is the lifeblood of any progressive artist and the sharing of two new songs demonstrated that the Wild Ponies are set strong to carry their songwriting and artistry forward. More will become available in the near future, but just imagine Telisha sitting on the front porch becoming emotionally nostalgic about a grandparent and then the most gorgeous of songs appears. You’ll, or perhaps y’all, love it! Doug’s new song delves into the issue of dying young (stern stuff), and watch out for this tune having multiple lives.

Elsewhere, the twin sets blossomed with old favourites stretching from the never-aging ‘Things That Used to Shine’ off the first Wild Ponies record (not counting Doug and Telisha Williams’ credited album that preceded it) to beautiful numbers like ‘Hearts and Bones’ and ‘Mamma Bird’ that made 2017’s GALAX such an enticing listen.

Unpredictable moments occurred as well. Doug responded admirably to a request for ‘Massey’s Run’, a song not sung in a while, with all aids allowed. ‘Love is Not a Sin’ had a new uplifting story attached to its introduction with the conclusion that this is no longer a protest song. The pre-encore version of ‘Unplug the Machine’ slowed down into a new format, though maybe as a finale, a faster pace better suits it.

The inclusion of drums always gives a Wild Ponies show a fuller touch, especially when Doug’s telecaster kicks into action. The ability of Katie Marie to play mandolin is another positive development, though perhaps a touch under used, but it added a fresh dimension live to the Appalachian stomper ‘Sally Ann’.

All Wild Ponies shows end in a rousing chorus of mutual appreciation, and mass gratitude is forthcoming that they take a chance on sharing their gifts so far from home. Hopefully, places like Elford and other enclaves across the country do make it feel like home for them. Supporting the Wild Ponies has been a given since that November evening in 2013 and the anticipation that these trips will continue keeps the light flickering in one corner of the UK-US Americana alliance.

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