My Darling Clementine - West Hampstead Arts Centre
It was to be our first visit to the West Hampstead Arts Centre - a slighly strange venue in that the bar is upstairs, where the walls are filled with various gold, platinum and silver disks and where the merchandise will later be sold, while downstairs is a venue the could give tinned salmon packers some tips in how to squeeze people in, with every available space taken. Everyone is seated in this compact venue for what will prove to be a very entertaining night. It is rare that we dip into a UK tour twice and even less often that we touch bases three times with an act, however such has been the enjoyment each time with My Darling Clementine that it seemed churlish to turn down the promise of an additional band member and the odd Christmas tune or two.
Tonights show is the winding down of a tour the has criss crossed the UK and Europe in a year that has also seen the release of Michael Weston King's exceptional solo album "The Struggle", Tonight MDC will be joined by guitarist Preben Raunsbjerg, who took to the stage a good few minutes before his bandmates looking to all intents and purposes as if he was about to deliver a solo set of his own. He cut an imposing figure standing impossibly tall with hair as long as his beard and his beard is best described as fulsome! Preben changed the dynamic from the previous shows that we'd seen, his presence meant that the pressure was no longer on Michael to generate all of the guitar sound, while his guitar flourishes and and solos would make some songs become much more prominent. Strangely it also had the opposite effect on other songs that really traded on that intensity generated by the interaction between Michael and Lou such as the opener "Unhappily Ever After", where they are pleading in the courthouse before a judge. The theatrics of being a duo trading off against the musicality of being a trio - both versions marvellous just different.
The reverse was true of "Eugene" where Michael's harmonica and Preben's guitar work lifted the song to another level, while the Orbisonness of "Jolene's Story" became ever greater and the guitar line running through "Going Back To Memphis" was a delight.
After a first half delving into the MDC catalogue the second half housed the Costello covers and Chrismas tunes. Preben immediately marking his presence by the picked out intro to "I Lost You"
Here at #TEAMw21 we always judge a band by the quality of their choice of covers and MDC did not disappoint, as they opened up their batch of Christmas themed songs with Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper" in a truly epic performance. The Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" certainly covered the religious aspects of the season, matched to a wondrous tune that made you wonder why this song is not heard more often.
Nick Lowe's "Quality Streett" album provided the rousing "Rise Up Shepherd" while it was over to the piano for Lou to perform an outstanding rendition of "Silver Bells" with Michael just looking on intently, like us, savouring every second - it was that special. Another gem, still as pertinent today as when it was written 50 plus years earlier was the cover of Lindisfarnes "Winter Song" beautifully descriptive lyrics.
The main set would close with "The Embers & The Flame", yet the evening still had much more to give. The first encore of "No Matter What Tammy Said ( I Won't Stand By Him)" rightly calling out the somewhat dubious nature in the lyrics of Tammy Wynette's biggest hit, while managing to mix in a little retribution on the violent husband of the song. As Michael sung his part of exacting punishment, Lou watched on with her hand gently placed upon his shoulder in a touching moment. It also closed with Lou suppplying a wonderfully seemingly never ending extended note.The evening was to close with "Miracle Mabel", a song to melt the coldest of hearts and despite proclaiming itself to "not be a song for Christmas" it ended with Lou picking out "Jingle Bells" on the piano's high notes, just like Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town".
A hugely enjoyable evening, funny, moving even musically educational at times - what better Christmas present could one ask for?