• Chris Farlie

Midwinterfest 2020: Day 2 - The Haley Sisters

It was to be a welcome return for the Haley Sisters after their last appearance at Midwinterfest promoted to the main Saturday night slot. Last time we met they'd recently played the London Palladium and this time round they'd completed an arena tour supporting a holographic Roy Orbison so don't let the fact that they are not regulars on the London Americana circuit in any way fool you, these are top drawer performers.

The two sisters ( Jo-Ann & Becky) along with Becky's' husband Brian ( Smiffy) Smith on guitar and his effects board of a million sounds make a formidable unit. Sibling harmonies be it Ward Thomas or the Hayleys always have a special quality about them and as they launched into David Allen Coe's "Would You Lay With Me In A Field Of Stone" it was easy to see why. and as if to further drive home the point the second song was a cover of another sibling duo The Everly Brothers "Let It Be Me", with Brian adding some mournful slide guitar effects just top things off. perfectly. The opening few songs were sung by Jo-Ann who also doubles up as bass player and has a unique playing style that makes it look like she gently caresses each string, however as the net result is exactly the same who needs these showy bass players trying to make it look difficult?

The sisters are pretty much interchangeable, either seems happy taking lead vocal and when they sing together it is a sheer delight. When they played Midwinterfest before their set was predominantly cover based, this time round the ratio was a little more in favour of home grown material and if they return at some point for a third visit they really should contemplate doing a set that mainly showcases their own song - Midwinterfest is a safe space and their material really would support that.

The first of their home grown songs "Luckiest Girl Alive" saw Becky take on lead vocals and proved that very point that their are plenty of gems to be discovered in their own catalogue, it was an uptempo piece of pop country easily the equal of their covers. In 2018 as mentioned earlier they were support on Roy Orbisons hologram arena tour, and their version of his song "You Got It" took the original and injected a little more urgency while still staying true to the original and saw Brian working wonders to generate an impressive sound.

The Haley's have a great line in stage patter, laced with some cheeky one liners, and never seem in any way to get flustered. The next excellent home created song was written by Brian, "Somewhere Along The Road", addressed his first and hopefully only divorce and saw Jo-Ann return to lead vocal duties. Occasionally Brian gets to choose a song and so we got to hear what you'd think would be the unlikely sound of the Haley's taking on Johnny Cash's "Long Black Veil" however it undoubtedly worked.

Amazingly and somewhat incredulously the Haley Sisters are celebrating their 30th year of playing together ( one presumes they must have been in a childhood band!), it was time for yodelling to return to Torquay with a cover of "I Want To Be A Cowboys Sweetheart". As unlikely as it seems the yodel seems to be making a comeback what with the likes of The Wandering Hearts doing it and this version which began with Brian playing a furiously fast guitar saw Becky displaying her inherited yodelling skills.

Their last album "Always By My Side" provided one of the stand out moments of the whole festival last time they played and again would have affected many emotionally, for "Hello Dad What's It Like In Your World" is an uplifting beautiful song and another testament as to why they should really play more of their own material. If the Haley Brothers taking on Johnny Cash seemed off the wall, when they announced that they were about to take on a Queen song the thought was somewhat terrifying. If pushed to guess I'd have gone with it being "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" but they chose exceedingly well in a song from "A Night at The Opera", which saw "Love In My Life", they turned it into something of an undiscovered country classic with Becky taking on main guitar duties on a song that gives the player little room to hide as on this version it was just the two sisters. With the twin harmonies, it is hard to express just how perfect this version was.

A return to their own songs came in the shape of "Put Yourself In My Shoes", another uptempo rocker played with a pace that many names on the UK circuit would not be able to match and was a delight to behold. It was swiftly folowed by Rodney Crowell's "Till I Can Gain Control Again" from their 2012 record, that then saw them receive their first standing ovation of the night, and this was no TV talent show standing ovation for remembering the open line of a song - this was a well earned appreciation of their talents.

The Dixie Chicks "Travelling Soldier" is simply tailor made for The Hayley's to cover and what an exquisite job they made of it. and in a set that seemed to defy the laws of time, in that it travelled by far to fast, The Haleys take on Elvis Presley head on for a rocking "It's Alright Mama" which came at a frantic pace and saw Brian put his effects pedals to good use to get a wah wah sound,

One final piece of home crafted magic came with "Lottys Song" the aid of rising money for the MIND charity. The Haley's have an ability to tackle difficult subjects head on, anchoring them in reality and not sugar coating them and in a world of vacuous self obsessed songs this shone out like a beacon as being special and this was to be a debut for them playing it live.

Closing the main set with Paul SImon's "The Boxer" they cemented themselves in the hearts of the Midwinterfest crowd, and engineered a final audience singalong including Becky making the improvised noise that the chorus demands!

The demand for an encore was incessant and was duly provided in the shape of Miranda Lamberts "The House That Built Me" which they delivered with some aplomb and made their own. With an innate ability to sprinkle country magic over whatever they do The Haley Sisters are simply in a calss of their own!.

For those wishing to donate to MIND https://www.mind.org.uk/donate

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