One Night in Texas, Radlett Centre, September 22

The village of Radlett is home to a large Jewish community, many of who are descended from Polish and German immigrants. There’s a phrase in Yiddish, which is a mishmash of those languages and Hebrew, which immediately came to mind as the music began in this tour de force of country music: ‘Mach Schau!‘

The Beatles were yelled to ‘mach schau’ when in Hamburg, and plenty of performers know that they’ve got to ‘put on a show!’ when a crowd demands it. The ten musicians onstage, many of whom double as the band for One Night in Dublin, each showcased fine showmanship and musicianship over the course of two hour-long sets that ticked every box. They also remembered to smile with their eyes and teeth, lest anyone forget that they were taking us out of our troubles and over to Texas.

In country music, you get laughed out of town if you can’t play. The band members all have their moment in the spotlight to prove their chops, with impressive solos from Matt Carr on guitar, Trevor Brewis on drums and the multipurpose Tim Howard, who brought out banjo and dobro in various spots during the evening. In a nice touch, the male members of the band were dressed in a uniform of checked shirts and cowboy hats.

Middi Murphy was our bandleader for the evening and, despite a very poor joke about a drunkard and a preacher, was on form. A fine vocalist who led the audience by the hand, Middi took lead on Friends in Low Places, where he sang the alternate version of the second verse, got his tongue around Chattahoochee, and was note-perfect on the Don Williams ballad She’s In Love with a Rodeo Man. Middi also brought out the mandolin for Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road – like Ziggy Stardust, he played it left hand – then chucked the instrument to their stage manager and ‘Pot Noodle purchaser’ Phil.

There were also two ‘girl singers’, to use a term that died in about 1985. Deeanne Dexeter, whose own music is worth a listen, sang crowd pleasers like 9 to 5, Suds in the Bucket and She’s In Love With The Boy. Best of all was a brilliant contribution to Past The Point of Rescue, a duet with Middi that was one of the standout songs of the night and which I listened to on repeat as I wrote up this piece.

There was also a mighty arrangement of the Alison Krauss song The Lucky One with Tim on the dobro and Sophy Ball on violin. Sophy’s playing was extraordinary all night, and she put on a costume for her showstopper about a devil down in Georgia. Props also go to clarinet and sax player Fay Donaldson, who brought Ring of Fire and sundry other tunes to life. There was even a (toy) train whistle for Folsom Prison Blues.

Biddy Ronelle, whose energy could be bottled and sold as a tonic, was just as tremendous, especially on the surprisingly jaunty Golden Ring, which country fans will know is about the breakdown of a marriage symbolised in the title object. There was unbridled panache on Man! I Feel Like A Woman!, with Biddy’s performance taking in those two exclamation marks, and fine harmonies all night from the ladies especially on Country Roads.

The pair flapped their arms during Chicken Fried, the night’s most recent song from way back in 2008, and joined voices and forces on the band numbers Mountain Music, The Gambler, Achy Breaky Heart and The Cowboy Rides Away. The medley of tunes by outlaws – Merle, Waylon, Willie and JR Cash – was expertly done early in the first half, with Middi on lead vocals and the ladies chiming in with harmonies and accoutrements. They were sat stage left at an upturned beer keg, part of a smart set design which set the mood excellently.

The event website lists plenty of dates all around the UK right up to next November so if you see One Night in Texas listed in your area rush to it and be impressed at the breadth and depth of material offered up by Middi and the band. I expect a show over Valentine’s Weekend in Blackpool would be a good choice.

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