Selby Town Hall welcomed one of the UK’s most respected country duos, My Darling Clementine. For those not familiar with Selby it has an industrial heritage and the industrial bit left decades ago; the town is now mainly a dormitory for workers and families in Leeds and York. The Town Hall is a cultural oasis and a credit to the organisers. They curate an interesting selection of acts including country, americana, bluegrass, blues, rock and stand up comedy. The acts veer between several worthy but unknown US acts to UK heritage bands from the 1970s or 80s.
Ordinarily acts play, surprisingly, to a full house. The ticketing arrangement is that if you buy three tickets you get a fourth free. Yorkshire knows value for money when it sees it and there’s not a better offer midweek in winter. However, this season the attendance has been dented by Covid hesitancy. Those who brave the cold and dark nights still often don’t match the acts they’ve bowled up to see in age group, taste or humour. Just as English comedians ‘died’ on stage at the Glasgow Empire then I’ve seen Selby break several creative hearts. California’s Dustbowl Revival were bemused at the indifference to their lively show, blues sensation, Sugaray Rayford wandered amongst the audience to check pulses and I’m surprised someone hasn’t quipped that the only thing that moves in Selby is the smoke from the crematorium chimney. However, whilst Colorado’s The Railsplitters’ bluegrass didn’t get feet moving they did provoke some outrage. The lead singer said she liked the ‘village’ of Selby. The natives grew restless and were quick to demur that the settlement was certainly larger!
So onto our erstwhile impressive duo. This was their first post pandemic gig and the start of a long tour that would see further UK nights followed by a European jaunt and then some dates in the US. In front of depleted numbers Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King trod the boards with a backing guitarist and ran through 20 songs from their back catalogue including some from their Elvis Costello covers album. King’s strong voice leads the way whilst Dalgleish, his wife, takes a number of leads clutching her red handbag and scarf. The traditional acoustic country is a delight and the voices meld well and often a special atmosphere is created by the poignancy of their lyrics.
King tries to engage with the audience and soothes any fears of anything too racy by confirming this will be a laid back show (how little he knows) to help them ease back into playing live after the pandemic lockdown. His first misstep was introducing “Our Race Is Run” from their 2013 The Reconciliation? by calling the Prime Minister a bastard and that this song was for him. I’ve sat through many acts apologising for Trump and even more cringingly an excoriation of Nigel Farage by Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie. What artists don’t realise as they fail to ‘read the room’ is that these UK politicians get a lot of votes in North Yorkshire. Whatever happened to not discussing politics and religion with strangers or in polite company? I digress, other musical highlights include a wonderful “Yours Is The Cross I Still Bear”. King attempts some bants with Dalgleish: if they’re enjoying it then the audience isn’t reacting. As we approach the break Lou implores the gathering to have a drink and return ‘pissed.’ With slumped shoulders they shuffle off for their own stiff drink. I feel their pain.
The second half sees the the adaptation, into duets, of several of Elvis Costello’s country songs. The strength and timbre of King’s voice approximates to Costello’s and the interpretations are superb, not least “Indoor Fireworks”. The explanation of the co-writers that Costello worked with from Jim Lauderdale to T Bone Burnett adds to their performance. King plays “I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came”, a Costello co-write with Loretta Lynn. He opines that this has miraculously racked up 6,000 plays on Spotify in Russia and pertinently suggests ‘that maybe Vladimir’s gone country?’ When the audience prematurely applaud “I No Longer Take Pride” before the end, but after his vocal finishes, and before Dalgleish’s starts he ruefully comments that in the ‘duet game’ prenuptial agreement then both parties will have to sing on each song and we’d overlooked this clause!
The crowd is hardly on fire as the set concludes and King turns to another tragic crash. He notes that today is the 63rd anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death. Prior to the encore a rousing “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” is sung as a tribute. I hope they recovered their mojo following Selby. They are superb and I’ll be checking out their quality catalogue. Oh yes, and this is the second time they’ve played Selby. Now that is the stuff of a song!