My Darling Clementine - The Stables Milton Keynes
It is hard to know quite how to categorize an evening with My Darling Clementine, you'll laugh out loud, you'll be emotionally moved, you'll even receive a little musical education along the way but most of all, you will witness wondrous singing and songwriting and see just how much effort and craft goes into making their songs work as a duo. The way that they reinterpreted the songs of Elvis Costello for their "Country Darkness" record was a clue, slight changes in the lyrics had the ability to open up the song to a completely new interpretation, however seeing them live really made you appreciate the art of the duo - its so much more than just two people singing!
As Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish take to the stage, the immediately grab the attention, Michael sporting an impeccable suit matched by an equally impressive beard, while Lou mysteriously arrives clutching a handbag and a scarf that she will hold throughout the first number before placing it centre stage. The evening is to be divided into 2 parts, the first a dive into the My Darling Clementine back catalogue, while the second will dive into works of Mr Costello and much much more.
Opening with "The King Of Carnival", Michael's guitar playing immediately transported us down Mexico way, a vibe enhanced by Lou's vocals and clapping. The song rich in narrative, rewarding the listener if hearing it for the first or the hundred and first time. It was true of the whole first set, which was new to us yet felt like we were listening to favourites that we had cherished for years. It was upbeat in tune if down beat in lyrics for "No Heart In This Heartache"" a piece of classic Country with Lou soundly whacking a tambourine and powering out the lines "I'm not losing sleep over you my Darling".
Working without a setlist, you could not help but feel that they could play any of their tunes if asked. Lou initially took the lead for "Put Your Hair Back" and it was at this point that you started to really appreciate how each song was constructed as a duet wonderfully enhancing the song with its interplay.
As Michael affixed his harmonica into place there was the first of a My Darling Clementine speciality that would play out through the night, whereby the next song would be an answer to or inspired by another song. So not only did we get a shout out and appreciation of Tom T Hall, and his song "That's How I Got To Memphis" but we got a reply in the shape of "Going Back To Memphis" which perfectly evoked the original. Beautifully worked so that we hear both sides of the story in a great uptempo song, punctuated by a harmonica solo and some more tambourine work, this was classic stuff on all sorts of levels.
"Our Race Is Run" was a delightfully intense ballad which would see Michael take steps back away from the microphone at the times he wasn't singing only to then quickly get back into position - ending with Michael belting out "Our Race Is Run" while Lou cross harmonised a different line across him - this was magical to watch.
"Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel" was another masterpiece and another testament to the observational skills of the songwriter who can see a situation and build a complete narrative from it and wrap it up in a cracking tune.
Lou took to the piano, and told a great back story to "Eugene", taking the first verse while Michael watched on, his hands clasped looking on in admiration. This piano ballad, enhanced with a short harmonica solo was another piece of sheer perfection. Michael led the way on "Yours Is The Cross I Still Bear" before Lou took over for the second on another simply exemplary song ending with Lou closing out on some divine harmonies.
Closing out an exceptional first half was another answer song "No Matter What Tammy Said ( I Won't Stand By My Man)" in which Lou plays a suffering wife and Michael a bystander willing to stand by no more and compelled to intervene. This was blistering stuff and also quite touching when Lou holding the mic in one hand at one point gently placed the other on Michaels shoulder as he sung.
Anyone expecting a slackening off in the second half would have had a rude awakening as Lou, once again at the piano, introduced the Costello section of the show with a Jerry Chestnut song, made famous by George Jones but for UK listeners perhaps Elvis's version is more well known - "Good Year For The Roses" always sounds majestic and this was no exception.
The batch of true Elvis songs began with "Indoor Fireworks" and having worked with Steve Nieve on the "Country Darkness" project perhaps the odd tip got passed on, as Lou's piano playing was impeccable, Charged with emotion this version captured the full essence of the song.
"I Lost You" had a wonderful 60's energetic vibe about it, once again enhanced by Lou's tambourine and backing vocals, while "I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came", the song co written with Loretta Lynn
seemed to fit My Darling Clementine like a glove working excellently as a duet. Both songs were from "Secret Profane & Sugarcane", an album that the "Country Darkness" project really shone a light on and caused many Costello fans to revisit and re-evaluate.
It was a debut performance for "I'll Wear It Proudly" from "King Of America", another song totally transformed by receiving the duet treatment, offering a chance for both dramatinc playing and singing. The last of the Costello collection saw things move upbeat with "The Crooked Line", with Michael frantically playing his acoustic once more with the tambourine giving that extra little bit of percussion.
Lou was to remark that Elvis had left the building but we then moved on to a song inspired by the producer of his opening 5 albums Nick Lowe. Anyone who has heard Nick's later albums would see his influence in "I No Longer Take Pride" but this is most definitely an MDC song, delivered with Michael channelling his inner Nick to great effect, each line carefully detailing a man of styles descent after the loss of his wife. The audience burst into applause at the false ending, before Lou completed the song as a voice from beyond the grave!!
The stand out moment of the second set came with "Ashes Flowers Dust" - it came with a moving introduction and had a narrative that grabbed the listener from the first line. It was a deeply personal song yet one that the whole audience could empathise with. Exquisitely performed - Michael and Lou put everything into this performance - and it was something truly special to witness.
The second set was to close out in an uptempo mood, with "The Embers and The Flame" but anyone thinking that the evenings special moments had all passed would be surprised once more.
In a nice bit of showmanship My Darling Clementine stepped from the stage to perform a sublime off mic version of "Your Cheating Heart". Returning to the stage for the final song, My Darling Clementine finished the show by taking us back to where it all began with their debut release"100,000 Words".
My Darling Clementine will be touring the UK throughout March & April - An absolute must see for Country afficionados everywhere