If I were in charge of the country – and judging by the Year of Three PMs, it’s my turn soon – I would force people who talk though the quiet bits of gigs to do community service. Both gigs under discussion were rather interrupted by loud voices in the crowd, which were not policed and seem to point to the fact that as long as people pay their money at the door, they can do what they like. Is that an allegory for the country, or just an overreach?
I was quite upset that When I Meet My Maker, a quite brilliant song performed at London’s Scala by award-winning Canadian country star Tenille Townes, was ruined by a couple of chuntering ladies behind me. Two blokes to my left were even louder. Perhaps I should ‘get barrier’ and stand near the front because the back of the room seems to give licence to such imbeciles.
Tenille and her band, reduced to guitarist and drummer, filled the Scala with sound, and the singer and songwriter showed both sides of her art. Often it was Tenille playing solo, as on the encore of At Last or the modern standard Jersey on the Wall. Other times it was the trio smashing through rocking numbers like White Horse, When’s It Gonna Happen or Holding Out for the One.
As she had done at Country2Country 2022 in the O2 Arena, Tenille dropped in a verse of Sheryl Crow’s Steve McQueen. She also told a story about a guy who drove them from Cumbria to Bristol when their tour manager came down with the flu. A scared Ben Earle guested on When You Need It and more than matched Tenille’s lead, perhaps influenced by the massive held note at the end of one of the preceding songs. The Canadian wished a mazaltov to Crissie, Ben’s fellow Shire, whose twins were born in September.
Tenille ended up in tears, overwhelmed by the support of a strong UK fanbase. Matt Stell is returning to the O2 Arena in March 2023 and tested the waters at Bush Hall at the conclusion of Country Music Week, which also welcomed Breland, Caitlyn Smith and the exciting Song Suffragettes movement led by Kalie Shorr, which may well become a permanent fixture in the UK soon.
Elvie Shane, whose hit My Boy was left until the end, was nursing a two-day flu which prevented him from playing the previous day’s songwriter’s round. He joined Matt in a sort of writer’s line, with the pair alternating songs from their respective projects. Elvie winked at the crowd when he said a C2C appearance was ‘TBD’, but his redneck act suited Bush Hall. If he ends up playing Indigo2 or the O2 Arena itself in the spring, he’ll win over thousands more with his personality and full-throttle attitude.
Wouldn’t you know it, two oafs in the balcony upstairs whooped at irregular intervals, even louder than Elvie’s self-described ‘yelling in key’. He yelled/played plenty of his album Backslider, restarting the best track Love, Cold Beer, Cheap Smokes and giving great readings of I Will Run, Sundress, County Roads, Rocket Science and My Kinda Trouble. A new song called Baptised was given a big build-up by Matt, who bantered well with Elvie and shared an end-of-term feeling.
Matt was more laid back, singing ‘Ex-Boyfriend Country’ about love and relationships from his two EPs and well as coming out with an aphorism: ‘In America, 200 years is old. In Europe, 200 miles is far.’ His first song was the brilliant Better Than That and throughout the night he offered up plenty of fab singles: That Ain’t Me No More, Boyfriend Season and Man Made, plus his breakthrough song Prayed For You.
Matt also included the stuttering Sadie (‘S-s-s-Sadie!!’) and the passionate I Bet Whiskey Would, which was based around a meet-cute at a wedding reception and had the Music Row style rapid fire lyrical delivery attached to a hooky melody. These are songs built for a full band on the big stage, but it was excellent to hear them with cajon and acoustic accompaniment.
If only the eejits shut up, the gig would be better. Otherwise, Country Music Week provided a useful stopgap between CMA Fest and Country2Country and provided a route to market for stars who wanted to hit a key overseas market.