ACHY BREAKY HEART...AND EARS
Country music is cool. There, I said it. Get with the fucking times, people. Exhibit A: Maddie & Tae. See below.
Okay, obviously I'm kidding. That was shit, wasn't it? Really, really shit. I think that IS probably how most people picture country music, though. Which is a shame. It's a shame, because I do genuinely believe it to be a great genre of music when done right. I'm not talking about artists like 'Maddie' & 'Tae', I'm talking about Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams...I'm talking about 'Honky Tonk' country bands like 'Whitey Morgan & The 78's' or blues inspired country from people like 'Reverend Deadeye', who I briefly wrote about here. Austin, Nashville, Memphis...These are all places crawling with great country musicians and great country songs. There are even examples of country music emerging within the more mainstream market, such as in the form of Swedish band 'First Aid Kit'. Particularly in the UK, I think that it is an under-appreciated genre, and that deserves to change.
So, consider myself interested when I saw 'Time Out London' and 'W21 Music' were collaborating to put on a night of 'rising stars' from the UK country scene. After a long, disrupted journey through London's underground system I arrive a little later than planned, but am welcomed through the door to the sounds of a gentlemen called 'Steve Young'.
EESH. Fucking hell. A rocky start, to say the least.
So he's wearing a checked shirt, waistcoat, trilby, cowboy boots...Yeah, yeah, so far so cliché. The songs are bad, though. Really bad. Something about tears and being lonely, or something. Like I said; so far, so cliché. Except it's not even REALLY country music. It's just a man and an acoustic guitar, and it's just like 95% of buskers you see on the streets of London, Leeds, Manchester...anywhere. If you want to hear for yourself though, here you go. Don't say I didn't warn you.
We move on. The night's compere returns to the stage to double check everyone is 'ready to rock' (yes, he did actually ask that and no, I wasn't) before introducing the next act; Katy Hurt.
This is better. Hurt has a good voice, looks the part...But no, AGAIN the songs themselves let our artist down. Oh, what an appropriate surname; I just realised. Katy certainly did fucking hurt. Why do so many female singers just write about one night stands and being mistreated by men? It puts their gender back years. Katy follows suit though, and gives us a well sung but painfully written 'Part-Time Girlfriend'. Sigh. It's okay, I suppose. I won't be too harsh on her - Paired with a good song writer, and Katy could be a credible artist.
The feeling of déjà vu from my time spent in Tennessee and Texas is hardly overwhelming me when our compere bounds back onto the stage, announcing that the time for the evening's raffle has now arrived. 'It's a pink ticket...' he teases as literally everyone continues to talk amongst themselves...'AND IT'S NUMBER 64!' When it's revealed the prize is actually a free copy of Steve Young's new album, the already ambivalent crowd begin to look even less interested, and the next singer is introduced.
This is an amateur shot live recording of our next act's best song 'Alabama'. Sonia Leigh finally brought some much needed quality to the night. Crazily, though, she only plays two songs. TWO! We've had two (worse) artists so far, and they've BOTH played five or more songs! Eurgh. It was a real shame that Leigh played for such little time, because she was genuinely good. A great voice, charisma, and charm. In terms of quality, this would be the highlight of the night.
'A VERY SPECIAL GUEST' is what we're promised next. Fucking hell, have they got Willie Nelson down? The excitement builds. 'IT'S MEGAN O'NEILL AND THE COMMON THREADS!' we are told. A smattering of applause breaks out, and keen to justify his claim of this being a 'special' guest, our compere adds that she once had a song featured in Nashville. The TV show, not the place. Right, okay. Much like Katy Hurt before her, Megan and her band are perfectly fine, but ultimately boring. Her songs plod along, the crowd gently bob, and I begin to reflect on an ultimately disappointing evening of talent. There isn't much to say on Megan that I haven't already said in the previous five lines, but if you still want to hear her, click here.
And now, the time has come for our headlining act. Bye bye Megan, hello 'Raintown'. Just like literally no gig ever, as the headlining slot gets nearer and nearer, the room gets emptier and emptier. The need to escalate things myself by moving from beer and onto whiskey grows, and I cave. INJECT IT INTO MY VEINS. Oh, they're starting.
'They are another UK band who are on everybody's lips - everyone's talking about Raintown' says Baylen Leonard of Radio 2. Come on Baylen, own up; how much did they pay you? Or, actually, do you just mean everyone's talking about how shit they are? I would agree with that, actually.
Maybe I'm being too harsh. They're not SHIT, just...You know...Boring, again. One half of the duo Paul Bain is so cringe-worthy I actually wince, too. He's got an incredible receding hairline that he needs to just take the plunge on and shave off, is bursting out of his shirt, and is now doing the air guitar. He keeps trying to get the crowd to sing along to their songs, too. Where does he think he is? WHO does he think he is? This isn't Wembley mate, and you're not Bono. Just when I didn't think it could get worse, the two of them cover Blue's 'One Love', and Bain starts recording it all on 'Snapchat'. Done. Finished. I give up; I'm out.
So as I head towards the exit, I think what a weird night it's been. What a weird crowd. What a weird line up. The room lost around 50% of it's earlier audience by the end, and those left consisted mainly of middle aged women, and then there was one man in a white leather cowboy hat. I guess this is why country music is struggling to be considered cool, there just aren't enough artists - particularly in the UK - producing credible, modern, and enjoyable country music. The crowd doesn't lie; I'm one of the youngest here by about fifteen years. As a genre, I know there is potential there, and I know that cool country music is standing right on the cusp of emergence. If nights like this can continue, and the type of country music featured can change, then the UK has a damn good chance of introducing the genre to these fair isles. Until then, I'm leaving it to Nashville.