Country Music Week finally arrived but what a day it chose. With the day breaking to horrendous news from Las Vegas you could quite be forgiven for thinking that a country music concert might be the last thing that many would want attend – but “this is Country music – and we do”.
Tonight, was ostensibly a chance to introduce and celebrate a number of artists attached to Broken Bow Records now acquired by corporate giant BMG. While normally these takeovers rarely ripple on this side of the pond, it seems that BMG are dipping their toes into the waters of UK country music to see what the fan base is like and by the end of the evening I suspect they were quietly pleased. The acts on show tonight covered a spectrum, one male solo artist, one female and a male duo.
It never does any harm to start an evening with free bag and cd and for the lucky few a chance to mingle at a pre show reception. It also helps if the opening act is of the quality of Walker McGuire, who having only played at the Las Vegas festival on Friday could have had more reason than most for pulling out. This was their UK debut, and with their new album due soon there is little that many could be expected to know about them but they immediately won over Bush Hall. Jordan Walker hidden beneath a hat and Johnny McGuire immediately got the party started with their new single “Mysteries Of The World” with it is a list of lifes great mysteries such as what happens to socks in the dryer mixed in with the shooter on the grassy knoll wrapped around an immediately catchy chorus.
With a few moments silence, to allow the audience to say a silent prayer they continued with a new song “American Dream”, a song in the vein of Springsteen’s The River in that it paints a picture of modern America, with real lyrics about people “laid off last month”. It was very powerful and very strong yet not on their new album, which makes you think that the album must be awesome if songs of this quality can be left off. This was a showcase after all, and so as if to highlight another string to their bow came a song called “What’s Her Name?”, a hilarious true story created from the need to write a song after blowing your publishing advance in a 4 day jaunt to Mexico. Filled with Spanish references it was an absolute hoot and definitely lightened the mood.
These guys might be new to us but their fingerprints are on other peoples work such as Luke Comb’s “When It Rains It Pours” which they rolled out next and brought about the first of many unsolicited singalongs of the evening from an obviously knowledgeable audience. Finishing with the killer chorus of “Till Tomorrow” the harmonies of these two affable guys are going to going far.
Next up was a welcome return to the UK for TEAMw21 favourite Lindsay Ell, the pocket princess and queen of the loop who literally bounced on stage, with a multicoloured guitar and a guitar strap bearing her name declaring “music is a good thing”, before laying down a funky guitar riff for “Wildfire”. As the song got about 3 minutes in it was great to see her take a step back, while the riff carried on playing allowing her to launch into a great solo, her inventiveness has so been missed on the UK stage.
Next up another, was another song from her Kristian Bush produced album “The Project”, with all the wizardry it easy to forget just how good a singer and guitarist she is, without doubt she is the complete package. For “Castle” it was great to see her casually set up the opening riff, leaving it to loop round while she addressed the introduction to the crowd, and was then able to wander the stage adding in additional flourishes. There was a great story and a switch to acoustic guitar that accompanied a cover of John Mayers “Stop This Train”, a beautiful vocal performance. The quality of singing followed on into the next song “Space” which came with an almost bluesy riff and you could really feel the angst in the vocals of a song about being apart. Once again reassuring the crowd that “the best thing we could be doing is playing”, there was one more song in a criminally short set ironically called “Criminal”, those attending the Borderline show later in the week are in for an absolute treat.
Randy Houser took to the stage with just a drummer and keyboard player as accompaniment, and as if the day had not been horrendous enough already, the news of the early passing of Tom Petty had been filtering around the audience. So Randy’s plans went up in smoke and his UK debut began with a short rendition of “I Won’t Back Down” immediately giving us a chance to hear those powerhouse vocals. Wearing a black cap and for the most part just playing an acoustic guitar he would spend the next ninety minutes or so just ripping through his back catalogue with no set list. As if to prove the point keyboardist John Henry consistently had to check what chords Randy was getting ready to play to prepare for what song was going to come next.
Highlights were thick and fast, as if an awesome “We Need” was not enough it was followed by “How Country Feels” where he was almost like a preacher man urging the audience to sing along. Mixing humour with heartbreak we got the Trace Adkins covered “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” followed by the absolute power ballad of his first song to be played on the radio “Anything Goes”. The next song “NightTime” was to prove to be the “never ending song”, first a string broke within a few seconds of commencing the song, with no guitar tech on hand Randy just asked for some strings to be brought out and set about changing it, all the time the band kept on playing behind him. Once changed though it steadfastly refused to go into tune, and then once it had and we were ready to once again begin, the words to the first verse completely eluded Randy and he was forced to ask his wife and tour manager for the first line. It may sound a shambles but was in fact fantastic entertainment.
There was a planned tribute, for Don Williams, who perhaps is better known on this side of the Atlantic for his slower material, with a thumpingly groovy“Tulsa Time” which was followed by another storming moment as Randy played his first number one “Goodnight Kiss”, initially just with him on guitar before the band came in for the second verse, which saw both a massive audience participation and a rousing round of applause at the end. Randy’s last shows were playing to 40,000 people so playing to 400 or so, the size of the village where he was born was something special.