Michael Weston King - Kingsmead House
The world of house concerts has always been intruiging to us at #TEAMw21, yet until Sunday the urge to investigate further has not really occurred to us - oh my how wrong we were! The key catalyst was to be an event that we could not possibly see elsewhere, something so compelling that we would not be able to let it pass by - and that event suddenly occurred. When pushed to name Album Of The Year for 2022, it took a blink of an eye to name Michael Weston King's "The Struggle" - an album that takes on many subjects and genres, is packed with contributions from many quality musicians and is pretty much faultless. Michael of course is one half of My Darling Clementine and on their most recent tour, pressures of time meant that only 2 songs from "The Struggle" were able to make it into the set - it seemed a shame that the whole album should not get its own day in the sun.
As it turned out, the album was to be performed in its entirety and even better it was to happen less than 15 minutes away and so on a Sunday afternoon, in High Wycombe, our House Concert adventure was to begin. The venue was a short distance from a car park and so there was no risk of annoying the neighbours with concert goers stealing their parking spaces. The door to Kingsmead House an ordinary looking suburban house, had a picture of Michael outside so this was definitely the right place and any doubts were immediately put to one side when a friendly face wearing a David Ramirez T shirt opened the door and welcomed us in. Moving into the the lounge, there was an immediate easy going feel about the place, the walls were adorned with bill posters for shows by people that we were well aware of and the fellow guests were all exceptionally friendly and knew their music - in fact as the evening commenced it became apparent that many of us had been at the same shows, knew similar people and had tastes that were different yet crossed over on many artists - it could finally have been a use for school day Venn diagrams, tracking where various members overlapped!.
Through the kitchen supplying nibbles and drinks was the main performance area, a conservatory with a wooden floor and a sloped roof giving the room plenty of height The walls again were adorned with folk and Americana posters mixed in with some from the punk era - one with Talking Heads playing at Aylesbury Friars supported by some combo called Dire Straits just one of the evenings that we'd have loved to have been present at. The curious mix of Larkin Poe, Eddie & The Hot Rods, and Peter Bruntnell to name but three meant that there was much to take in. A small PA would provide a lovely crystal clear sound as the select gathering settled down to watch the afternoons events unfold.
Things open with "Weight Of The World" - everything that was wrong with Trump's America having to be relayed back from the UK. With Michael playing acoustic guitar, the additional electric guitar would come from Preben Raunsbjerg, a gentle giant of a man with an enormous beard, who would provide unfussy perfect embellishments throughout the event - to quote Dire Straits - "He doesn't want to make it cry or sing" - what he would do though is flesh out the overall sound producing great effects with seemingly minimal effort.
A show with Michael will always deliver a number of things, the first being good natured banter, you will always emerge having had a smile on your face most of the evening, you may also have had to wipe away a tear if a particular song has moved you, as will happen to at least one audience member today - the third thing is that you will come away with more musical knowledge than which you entered. The second song of the set "Sugar" was a Peter Case co write - who used to be an band called The Plimsouls, but Michael would then regale us not only with the fact that he was in a band called The Nerves - but that they had written the original version of Blondie's "Hanging On The Telephone" something I thought only #TEAMw21 and Danny Baker ever seemed to be aware of, even letting us know that Peter has not been one of the writers of that particular song. This level of musicology you do not get at your average show!
This was not simply the playing of "The Struggle" this was your bonus DVD of the inspirations behind the songs, delivered in person, with breathtaking performances one after the other, After "The Hardest Thing Of All" and "Just Another Dying Day" the usual grading system we use for a live review was just seeing even more stars fill the page.
Each song seemed to surpass the next rasing the already high bar a little higher, "The Final Reel" upped the volume levels a little and uplifted the room with its sheer anthemic feeling of joyfulness. To know you share key influences with an artist is one thing, but to know that you've shared the same key moments is something else - the introduction to "The Old Soft Shoe" referenced Jesse Winchester's appearance on Elvis Costello's "Spectacle" programme, specifically when he sang the song "Sham A Ling A Ding Dong" - it is incredibly moving - for #TEAMw21 it started a journey into Jesse's life and back catalogue, for Michael it set the challenge to write a song in a similar vein - and knowing that just enhances "The Old Soft Shoe" even more as it does just that. For a lot of the song Michael left all the guitar work to Preben , reinforcing each line with a gentle gesture from his left hand. The absolute strength of Michaels writing is the ability to make things seem visible before your eyes and in this song the protagonist all but appears, it is that vivid.
That verisimilitude followed through into "Valerie's Coming Home" which is based on actual personal events but the details picked out could apply to anyone in a similar situation - it is perfectly universal. The one song that was always a puzzler on "The Struggle" was "Me & Frank" seemingly so real in the early verses to have been made up and so wild in the later verses to be true - so it was something of a blessing to find out that it was exactly that mixture. It came with an introduction that was better than many artists songs!. The opening set closed out with "Theory Of The Truthmakers" with Preben once again perfectly setting the scene with his guitar work.
After a short break during which more nibbles and more music based chatter took place it was time for the second half of the show, a dip into varous parts of the MWK/MDC catalogue. It was Preben's perfectly picked out guitar line that got the second half off to a fast paced start with "Life Is Fine" along with Michael's work on harmonica and at times how Townes Van Zandt like vocal delivery.
There was certainly no let up in standards in the second half "Hey Ma I'm Coming Home" was simply beautiful in many ways - even incorporating a snatch of Simon & Garfunkel it still had that air of reality about it that made it so affecting.
For "I Take No Longer Pride" Michael channelled his inner Nick Lowe to great effect - the details immaculately laced throughout the song, perfectly allow the listener to build a mental 3D picture of the narrator. Testing the limits of what 2 musicians could provide. Preben's jangly guitar line and solo mixed with Michael's on harmonica, acoustic guitar and vocals managing to make a perfect piece of pop music wth "Celestial City" about the wonders of Birmingham. The second set closed with a very old MWK song "Riding The Range" with Michael really letting his vocals fly. The afternoon would close with a Joe Henry cover, a song he co wrote with Loudon Wainwright - "You Can't Fail Me Now" closing out a perfect day.
With the ability afterwards to chat with both host and performer this truly was a wondrous way to spend a Sunday afternoon - but for a personal commitment we would probably have been discussing musical minutiae into the late evening. A home concert at Kingsmead House is undoubtedly something we would highly recommend.
Michael Weston King's - The Struggle and much more is available now at https://michaelwestonking.com/
Kingsmead House schedule can be found at https://kingsmeadconcerts.wordpress.com