It’s an unexpected but welcome effect of the pandemic, the sheer delight and adrenaline rush of seeing and hearing live music again after such a long period of gig starvation. As an audience member, I’ve certainly experienced it, and I reckon that is pretty much the same for the performers. Anyhow, that’s just a preamble to saying that My Darling Clementine were bloody brilliant as they closed the curtain on the 15th Glasgow Americana Festival.
If there was a headline here it would read, “Back With A Bang” as Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King kicked off their lengthy set with the Tex-Mex border delight of ‘King Of The Carnival’ before blasting into ‘No Heart In This Heartache’. I say blasting, even though it was just their voices, acoustic guitar and tambourine driving the song as the pair were in full throttle mode, helped by their selection of these excellent songs to reintroduce us to the world of My Darling Clementine. They remain the best bickering pair this side of The Handsome Family while Weston King’s sta-prest super shiny strides with permanent crease and Dalgleish’s third or fourth hand Biba like hand me downs allowed them to remind one of a 1970’s polyester version of Grant Wood’s American Gothic portrait.
Anyone who has seen them live will know that they have great fun posing as a quarrelsome couple and lockdown has given Dalgleish plenty of opportunity to come up with some new lines. Weston King’s hirsute appearance, chocolate binges and elasticated waistbands were mentioned. The comedy doesn’t detract from the quality of the songs and we were treated to spirited renditions of ‘Going Back To Memphis’ and ‘The Embers And The Flames’ along with soulful deliveries of ‘Our Race Is Run’ (described by Weston King as a lockdown break up song written four years before lockdown) and an astonishing ‘Yours Is The Cross That I Still Bear’, the ending of which was quite magical as the guitar and voices faded away before our eyes and ears. ‘No Matter What Tammy Said’ was a crowd favourite tonight and the pair were joined on stage by their teenage daughter Mabel who played recorder on ‘Friday Night Tulip Hotel’.
Before lockdown, My Darling Clementine had commenced on their ‘Country Darkness’ project – a set of Elvis Costello songs adapted to their vocal harmonies. They completed the project during lockdown and this tour was the first opportunity to play the songs live in a short mid set section. Moving to electric piano, Dalgleish led the pair into ‘A Good Year For The Roses’, not a Costello song of course but covered by him on ‘Almost Blue’, an album Weston King says helped introduce him to country music. This led into a bravado interpretation of ‘Indoor Fireworks’ and a rousing version of ‘I Lost You’ (with Dalgleish admitting, tongue in cheek, to an infatuation with Costello’s co-writer, Jim Lauderdale). This short segment ended with the pair really ripping it up on ‘The Crooked Line’ where they harmonised together like a revitalised Everly Brothers.
You can’t have country without heartache and several songs reflected this but towards the end of the set more heartache broke in as the duo sang ‘Ashes, Flowers And Dust’ in remembrance of all those lost in these Covid times. Weston King’s salute to the late Jackie Leven, ‘The Final Reel’, captured some of Leven’s Celtic vagabond ways and, with daughter Mabel back on stage, the trio left us with an affecting delivery of ‘Your Cheating Heart’. An emotional end to what was quite an emotional 90 minutes of heartfelt music.
It was a very pleasant surprise to see the support act, Arksong, who turned out to be none other than Marc Pilley, the creative lead of Hobotalk, a Scots band who were on the cusp of greatness (short listed for the Mercury Prize in 2000) before fading away, despite a legacy of excellent albums. His silken voice and gift for melodious folk songs were still much in evidence as he sang a short set of songs which flowed like honey. There was always a hint of Tim Hardin in Pilley’s songs and it was evident tonight as he sang ‘Fast Train’ while his quiet and unassuming performance led one to imagine that he was indeed a troubadour in the best sense of sixties folkies like Hardin. Pilley’s reappearance here was a delight for this old fan and he certainly delighted the audience. While his songs are, in the main, contemplative and melancholic, he closed with a redemptive songs of sorts on ‘Rescued’, a song for the times with its refrain of “love will rescue me.” His appearance was the icing on the cake for what was an excellent evening of live music.
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