Thursday, 18 October 2018

GIG REVIEW: My Darling Clementine - The Rep, Birmingham. Wednesday 17th October 2018

Maybe there has always been a theatrical touch about My Darling Clementine. Spoof and irony nestle securely alongside exclusive musicianship with the occasional big toe dip into the literary world. Therefore, Birmingham’s Repertory theatre may not be such a left field choice to host a homecoming gig of a sort, despite its limited involvement in the local live music scene. In fact, the venue has graced My Darling Clementine on two previous occasions when crime author Mark Billingham presented The Other Half project in conjunction with Michael and Lou contributing the music input.

In the eight years since Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish launched their My Darling Clementine operation, there have been numerous highs for this husband and wife duo seriously intent on highlighting a side of country music increasing marginalised. Three superb albums in addition to a surplus of stellar gigs, including a never to be forgotten night in 2013, has kept the pair busy along with the other travails of being ordinary citizens. Making Birmingham their home in the past has always put a different slant on city gigs and there was a healthy studio turnout for this show that in effect acted as the first Birmingham appearance, at least in full band format, since the release of STILL TESTIFYING in 2017.

This latest Birmingham show is part of an extended run of dates around the country, and fortunately one incorporating a full band rather than the stripped down duo format. Joining Lou and Michael were a backroom team of Al Gare (double bass), Dean Beresford (drums) and Preben Raunsbjerg (electric guitar), the first two, well- known figures on the local music scene and the third, a distinguished Dane instantly becoming an impressive new addition to the band. Together as a team, they drove a near immaculate bunch of songs: sweet, slick and country to the core, though frequently dashed with a slice of sixties soul.

You know that old music is going to play a major part in the My Darling Clementine style, but to the band’s creative credit, covers keep to a minimum. Three key ones threaded through the evening with the band taking a break to allow Lou and Michael to duet on the George Jones and Gene Pitney number ‘That’s All It Took’ and a version of Hank’s ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’. Listening to the latter act as the first part of a two-song encore prodded the summation that Hank Williams’ covers are just borrowed for their three-minute duration before safely returning to their owner’s legacy.

The other significant cover saw Lou take to the keyboard and churn out her usual rendition of the country standard ‘A Good Year for the Roses’. Apart from collaborating with Michael in the vocal duet stakes throughout, there were two precious moments when Lou takes her impassioned voice to searing levels. Just prior to the break, the Tammy Wynette response song ‘No Matter What Tammy Said’ had the most magnificent of airings, full of vigour, fire and stubborn zest. Later in the set, emotions ran high during ‘Ashes, Flowers and Dust’, as the My Darling Clementine fa├žade took a slip.

From a set list pushing twenty songs across the evening, stand out moments kept jostling for recognition, but ultimately the twinning of ‘Departure Lounge’ and ‘Nothing Left to Say’ from the 2011 debut album HOW DO YOU PLEAD possessed a certain panache which goes a long way to defining My Darling Clementine.

This was an evening without the need for any support. While this band line up was different to previous impressive set ups, the assembled trio ensured each cultured song had the optimum backdrop. Maybe additional pedal steel could have enhanced the sound, but let us not be greedy and the country credentials were still strong, as exemplified by acres of electric twang and a bunch of sincere melodies ratcheting up the heartache and misery. Another upgrade could have been adding ‘Two Lane Texaco’ to the set list, but it joined a lengthening list of personal album high spots not making the live cut in 2018.

The Rep may be better known for its thespian escapades, but after a slight pause for sound adjustment during the first song, the listening experience in the bleachers was top notch. It helps when you are exposing your ears to fine musicians and songs packed with loads of appeal. The evening continued to soar towards its inevitable conclusion of ‘100,000 Words’, with increasing thoughts of how enjoyable My Darling Clementine shows have been over the last half a dozen years. It helps that ears are tuned into what Lou and Michael set out to do, although execution has to match intent, which is achieved with consummate ease.

Midway through the gig, the song ‘Our Race is Run’ prompted thoughts that this notion need not apply to My Darling Clementine anytime soon. Where Lou and Michael eventually take this project, who knows? What is important is that someone carries on the mantle of projecting an iconic style and who better than My Darling Clementine to keep turning on the creative tap. Nights like these make it all worthwhile.

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