This weekend saw if not the end than the end of an era for one of the stalwarts of the UK Country scene Dexeter as original member, guitarist, and vocalist Gareth Thomas heads for pastures new. Our association with Dexeter goes back many years so it seems remiss to let this event go by without paying some sort of tribute.
It was back in August 2014 that we first came upon Dexeter, as part of research for the following months Yeehaw 2014 Festival, they were one of the few acts, along with Raintown that had actually released anything, fellow festival acts Ward Thomas had just released a single and The Shires had yet to release anything! From the opening, with Deeanne’s vocals on “Something Gold” we were hooked and “Brighter Skies” rarely left the CD player for the next two weeks. It was an album of perfect pop songs, the Portishead influenced guitar of “Trouble”, through to the pop folkiness of “(Isn’t Just) Another Day” it’s an album that still delivers pleasure three years down the line.
The Yeehaw festival was a prototype Buckle & Boots, without the attendees or the weather but for those who were there it is still fondly remembered. Dexeter were allocated an early afternoon slot and proceeded to blow away nearly every other act on the bill. I believe this may have only been about their 6th gig, they had recently played at C2C 2014 and Gareth was truly amazed to see a young teenager singing along to most of their songs, so much so that he mentioned it from the stage. At this time they were a 6 piece, with accordion and pedal steel as well as sterling bass playing from Paul Matthews, one of the few members to stay the course! Interestingly even at that stage “Older” was part of the set and there was a pledge campaign running for their new album, at that point called “Somewhere To Run”
The next time I can recall seeing them, they were impressively supporting Jeannine Barry at the Barfly, and later for the sorely missed on the UK Country scene, Hannah Jane Lewis, at the Borderline. By now there were fiddle players, backing vocalists, they seemed to fill the stage completely. As ever it was another tremendous performance, they were everybody’s favourite support band guaranteed to get the evening off to a rip roaring start. The Borderline show also had a significant part in the creation of the W21Music Team with Gareth, identifying that teenager from Yeehaw as being a person who might pen a review or two seeing as she and her father were at nearly every London country show!
One of the features of Dexeter was a flexible line up, members would come and go with alarming regularity, the final total being somewhere around 17.. It was at another support slot, again at the Borderline with Lindsay Ell that saw a couple of notable events. A new song “Meet Me There” seemed to get an amazing response, its chorus leading to an arena like chant even in The Borderline – this was the kind of song, along with “Older” that should surely lead to them joining the big league. After the show Gareth was to give an uncannily accurate prediction that he thought that they had 2 years in which to make the big break through. Things continued apace and it is quite possible that Dexeter’s stunning C2C performance on the Big Entrance stage in 2015 led to the O2 having to introduce painted crowd free areas, such was the congestion that they caused and such was the roar that accompanied “Meet Me There”. Such was our utter belief in their forthcoming rise to fame that we when we bumped into Bob Harris at Callaghan's Showcase we recommended that he should be playing their music on the radio.,
The Barfly was the chosen venue for the launch of the second Dexeter album, in a stunning show with Lucy May & Liv Austin in support. It was a hot summer’s night and we have memories of meeting Deeanne in a mild state of panic as to whether she’d remember the words to the new songs, naturally she did and the show as we recall was a huge success with the band upping the volume and rocking out. The album by now had been rechristened to “Four Thousand Miles To Nashville” but something got lost somewhere in the mixing and the recording, somehow “Meet Me There” failed to capture the joie de vivre of the live version. Although the title track and “Getaway Car” seemed to have great promise it all felt a little rushed, not completely realised..The packaging printed the lyrics in brown on a brown backing making them virtually unreadable. In retrospect, it would probably have made a killer EP but hindsight is an easy thing.
The next 12 months saw them play a phenomenal number of shows sometimes travelling hundreds of miles for a mid-afternoon slot at a local festival. The live brand of Dexeter was also slowly diluting, whereas the early shows were with 5, 6 or 8 piece bands, they were now more often a duo or a trio still undeniably entertaining but sometimes you did wish for that early onslaught of sound. There was always the highlight of hearing Gareth rail against the lyrics of Lady A’s “747”, with the 23 aisle plane and his attempts at making contact with Aubrey Peeples on twitter.
Two events were to breathe life back into the Dexeter recorded repertoire, they were one of four acts chosen as part of Ben Earle’s Decca project to promote UK country music, “Nashville You and Me” was a real coming together of the best of Dexeter and The Shires. Sadly the project got nowhere near the praise and publicity it deserved and all four songs, the others with Dahlia, Liv Austin & Megan O’Neill are well worth checking out.
The other event was a real return to form in the shape of the “Waiting For A Lifetime” EP. It was also a return to the studios where “Brighter Skies” had been recorded and the results were simply splendid. The lead track “Try” was played on BBC Radio 2 by Bob Harris but sadly could not quite make the leap on the main playlist, which was a great shame as this driving song with the chorus that refused to leave your brain deserved its day in the spotlight. Among the other songs, “Waiting For A Lifetime” which had the kudos of being written with Michael Logen (of Will Hoge and Kelly Clarkson fame, recently seen touring with Sarah Darling & Jenn Bostic) but strangely I’ve always found it to be the weakest track of the EP, compared to the excellent “Weight Of The World” inspired by #TEAMW21’s Andy & Sarah, it seems a little low key. This was Dexeter back at the very peak of their powers and the final song “Not Giving Up Tonight” also managed to capture the spirit that had been missing on the “4000 Miles To Nashville” album.
They continued to furiously gig around the country including some very prestigious shows such as the inaugural “Under The Apple Tree” Festival in a day, at Cadogan Hall where they were cruelly allocated a slot in the foyer. They still played to a huge crowd and did a wonderful job but they were easily worthy of a slot on that main stage. Their performance at the 2016 BCMA’s was also quite startling as they set out of the blocks like greyhounds powering though the opening 3 or 4 numbers like Queen at Live Aid with super high intensity.
Sadly, all good things come to an end and at FSA this weekend in Newark, this chapter of Dexeter came to a close. I’ve no doubt there was a show fitting for the occasion, followed by plenty of tears and copious amounts of drink. It would be great if they were able to put out something that captured just how fine they were as a live band. We’ll obviously continue to follow what happens with the various members but from all at #TEAMW21 – Thank you for the wonderful memories.