My Darling Clementine - Norden Arts Centre - Maidenhead
Returning from a spell touring Germany and the Netherlands to resume their massive UK tour, and making their debut at the Norden Arts Centre are My Darling Clementine. Essentially this is the much delayed tour promoting their album of Elvis Costello covers "Country Darkness" created with Costello keyboard maestro, Steve Nieve, but tonight will be much more than that, touching all corners of the MDC catalogue and beyond. It is an intimate setting with the audience sat at round, candlelit tables within touching distance of the performers. Tonight is in two parts during which MDC will dazzle and delight with a variety of styles across the Americana spectrum while also displaying a high level of songwriting prowess and interpretation.
Lou Dalgleish is to the left of the stage as we view it, taking to the stage in her hat, carrying a bright red handbag, she will sing. play piano and when required tambourine throughout the evening , while the white bearded Michael Weston King on our right, with an array of harmonicas laid out on a table, will provide vocals and cover off guitar duties. From the very start this was attention grabbing stuff, "Unhappily Ever After" details a couple petitioning for divorce in a court house. It has the sort of drama within it that lesser acts might make the centre piece of their set, but here it is used to invite the audience into the world of MDC. This is not so much sung as performed as a play, Lou relishing her part, detailing the failings in her man, "He's not the man that I married that day" while Michael tells of a wife who has "tired of affection", With Michael playing the gentlest of guitar lines, the whole audience were transferred to that courtroom and transfixed.
From there it was off to the Tex Mex sound of "King Of The Carnival" and then to the classic country of "No Heart In This Heartache" with Lou really generating some real volume from her tambourine. With an effortless stage banter , MDC are able to switch between comedy in their introductions, to drama in their songs which makes for a lovely counterbalance, and so light hearted jibes at the sober Berkshire crowd lead into the domestic drama of - "Put My Hair Back" with Lou really able to attack the vocals with some gusto.
On a couple of occasions during the evening, there would be, if not exactly "answer songs" than "inspired by" songs, so the classic "That's How I Got To Memphis" has a sequel in "Going Back To Memphis", that somehow magically manages to evoke the tune of the original without being a direct lift, and adds to it a plausible narrative of not only what happened next, but what happened next as a duet incorporating how both sides felt - it is clever stuff. It provided a first outing of the evening for Michael's harmonica, on this uptempo piece complete with a 60's sounding harmonies running though it.
Songwriting is often called a craft and it is only when you hear the inspirations behind songs that sometimes you realise how much art there is to it. For "Friday NIght Tulip Hotel" a chance observation in the car park of a Dutch budget hotel is worked up into a song with enough intrigue to fill a prime time TV slot, With Michael's harmonica replacing the accordion of the original, this was another highlight in a first half of high quality that would seemingly fly past in seconds. It would close with another piece of high drama in "No Matter What Tammy Said ( I Won't Stand By My Man) which tears to shreds the premise of Tammy's original song, shining light on the underlying theme of domestic violence and adding in some earthly retribution for good measure. It would see Lou take the mic in her hand and fill the hall with such power that Harry Hill in the adjoining room probably heard them through the walls.
There was to be no dip in quality for the second half of the evening which came in distinct little sections. The first dedicated to Elvis Costello covers although reinterpetations is probably more the correct term, given that the songs have been adapted into duets with occasional lyrical tweaks required to make them work in this format. Michael took to the stage in the second half in a new shirt, and for the opening song "Indoor Fireworks" would not even plug in his guitar, Lou's piano being the only instrument required in this most intimate of songs.
Michael noted that "I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came" was co written with the "Truly Great Loretta Lynn" and was therefore a "bona fide country song", Arguably as a duet the song is enhanced, and seems more vivid when played out before your very eyes. The Elvis Costello / Jim Lauderdale co write "I Lost You" was upbeat and once again showcased Lou's tambourine skills and her repertoire of 60's style harmonies.
It was back to the piano for Lou for "I'll Wear It Proudly" which was a masterpiece in how the atmosphere of a song can be changed with the volume of the playing - it veered from being tenderly quiet, to then be quite majestic with Lou pounding out the final notes. The final song of the section was "The Crooked Line" with Michael's guitar line emphasizing the Buddy Hollyness held within!
The next section dipped into Michael's excellent solo album "The Struggle" , which could easilly have been afforded a set of its own, such is the quality. Jackie Leven had been a presence throughout the evening via anecdotes but the next two songs were either co written or inspired by Jackie. With "The Theory Of Truthmakers" the sound of the evening shifted , Lou's piano playing seemed to be in a different style creating an equally compelling atmosphere. It was followed with "The Final Reel" with Michael's introduction laying the ground for the lines he would later sing, and Lou's harmonies throughout were a delight on this song that evoked a great gaelic celebrational feel
The closing section would include another of those "What happened next" songs!, this time we would get to hear Jolene's side of events and that of the man being fought over in "Jolene's Story". Once again it is a credible companion piece to the original with Michael supplying some Orbison like guitar licks as we find out what happened to the couple after the confrontation. Michael's take on trying to write a Nick Lowe song "I No Longer Take Pride" was so authentic, that #TEAMw21 found ourselves wondering if we'd heard Nick actually singing it a few months earlier. This was all but a solo performance from Michael even garnering a round of applause from a false ending before Lou appeared from beyone the grave to deliver her final verse. The main set would close with "The Embers and The Flame" providing an uptempo finale with Lou providing additional percussion by stamping her heels, almost flamenco like at times
A highly entertaining evening would close with a Costello cover of sorts, in that "A Good Year For The Roses" was already a cover. with Lou taking the first verse and Michael the second, on this tale of impending spearation. A simple version beautifully played out with just the piano required to let the words really hit home. A final song finished the evening in style with Michael affecting a little shuffle as he played guitar on "100,000 Words". It was an evening for true lovers of Americana, who appreciate great writing and performing