Country Music Week Day 3 - Drake White & The Big Fire, Ryan Kinder, Tenille Townes - Koko
The groundwork for tonight, as Drake would later mention from the stage was sown at the C2C Songwriters show in 2016 where a maverick newcomer stole the show and for many the entire festival with his unique performances. The follow up show at The Borderline was equally "rowdy" and UK audiences immediately took him to their hearts. The queues tonight even an hour before doors are a testament to that and are huge and full of expectation.
This was to be no one man show and we got to see showcase sets from strong supporting artists. Tenille Townes took to the stage for her five song set, a tiny figure almost dwarfed by her acoustic guitar which she proceeded to well and truly batter and you almost wondered if she would rather it was electrified so she could make some noise. With a voice always seemingly almost on the edge of cracking like Passenger or Jake Bugg, yet always in control, the Canadian from Calgary Alberta had a batch of songs, strong songs that had something to say!
Opening with "Where You Are", where she details all that she'd do to be back with someone, from climbing mountains to queuing in a ticket line. It was an startling introduction and things were to only get better. The next song "Jersey On The Wall (I'm Just Asking) was introduced as her having some hard questions for God if she got to meet him. The first verse of the song sets the scene without giving too much away, "there's a jersey hanging on the wall". The chorus lulls the listener in, she asks some almost childish questions that she'd ask God, "How do you make a snowflake, are you angry when the earth quakes" and then just as you are about to think that the song may be a little twee, the first verse is brought sharply back into focus as she asks "Why can't you stop a car from crashing?". The change in tone hits you like a heavyweights left hook, absolutely breathtaking.
The next song, the rocking "White Horse" was followed by a song that was her Dad's favourite, a solo version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" got Koko singing along and made me realise i'd misheard a number of the lyrics for many years! The final song "Somebody's Daughter" was another song taking a quite unique path,. looking at a young girl begging in the street and tracing back how she had got to this point after she had been somebody's "Best Friend", "their first kiss" and asks whether "she got lost or they just forgot her". There was some neat word play in this song that had a conscience and for a few moments made us think. With only one EP out at the moment Tenille is going to be a talent to watch out for.
Ryan Kinder is exactly the kind of artist UK audiences take to , he was even in the local pub with the audience prior to the show! His opener "I'm On My Way" displayed a bluesy country style and the follow up "Alabama" about his home town, with it's power chords albeit a little muted with tonight performance being acoustic. For the opening few songs Ryan chose to use a drum machine as backing, which did give the feeling of their being a band so much so that for the third song "Close" the lighting man gave us rotating spotlights as if a full band were on stage. One of the most unusual events of the evening came during "Mine", for which he dispensed with the drum machine. About 20 seconds in he stopped singing to comment on the fact that someone had rebuked the slightly rowdy audience with a "sshhh!" remarking that it would not happen at home!. For "Stay" he was joined by John the fiddle player with "The Big Fire" during which he put in a warm soulful performance. The drumbeat returned for "Stay" which had a more modern feel to it before closing out with "Still Believe In Crazy Love" for which he got the audience joining in as well as singing the final chorus off microphone which resulted in multiple cries of "shhh". A great rapport with the audience, Ryan Kinder did a great job in getting the audience prepared for the main event.
As mentioned earlier the hard work for Drake was done two years ago and from the off with "Heartbeat" and "Everybody Has Got Their Story" the party was well and truly started and by the third song Drake had dispensed with his guitar and was spinning round with a tambourine. Things carried on in that vein and it was during "Waiting On The Whiskey To Work" which was extended out to about eight minutes via an extended guitar solo you had time to ponder. Having been at that Songwriters show in 2016 you could not help but feel that in many ways "The Big Fire" shackle Drake somewhat. They are individually talented gifted players but as a band they don't seem to provide the necessary oomph to propel him to the next level.
As if to prove the point when Drake took a time out and sat by the drums they played a mellow blues interlude before he rejoined them for an ill advised version of James Brown's "I Feel Good". The absolute highlight of the night came when Drake dispensed with them altogether and played solo, suddenly the sense of danger was back, "50 Years Too Late" seemed to galvanize him and take things to a whole different level. as he solely took on the mantle of entertaining us. A second song "The Coast Is Clear" only reinforced this, with a finale that saw him freestyle at the end mentioning all sorts of things from Joe Cocker, Fish & Chips through to how much he missed his dog - it was bizarre but hugely entertaining and good fun. The band returned with "Girl In Pieces" which although great was a bit of a cod reggae version tohugh they did follow it with an excellent "Loving The Dream" with the audience providing full backing.
With a first encore consisting of "Makin’ Me Look Good Again" and ." It Feels Good" the party atmosphere reached full swing before a second encore brought the house down with a Joe Cocker styled version of "With A Little Help From My Friends" with Ryan Kinder once again appearing to help out on proceedings.