“This next song,” says Pete Gow, “is probably the only reason we were invited to play Country to Country.”
It’s 11.45am on Sunday 13 March, and I’m in Greenwich, at the O2 – or the Millennium Dome, as I hope history will remember it – for a brief look in on what’s being billed as ‘Europe’s largest country music festival’.
The three-day bash has gathered together some of the genre’s current big names – the headliners are Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Eric Church – but there’s far more to the event than just an arena show, as dotted around the O2’s concourse are numerous smaller stages. Some of these stages are out in the wild, just around the corner from pizza parlours, bars and coffee houses. Others are tucked up toastily inside the dome’s satellite venues such as the Brooklyn Bowl. And it’s here, in this beautifully lit bar-cum-bowling-alley that Pete Gow, Case Hardin’s frontman and founding member, is pondering his band’s country credentials.
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“It seems I let time slip away…”
– Magnificent Bastard by Tommy Hale
Time is many things – some prosaic, some poetic. To the young it’s a comfort; to the grieving it’s a healer; to the toiling it’s a currency; to the creative it’s a storyteller. Albert Einstein once said that the separation between past, present and future is an illusion, which has got to be worth a shot the next time your mortgage payment is late.
The one universal, scientifically agreed truth about time, though, is that if you’re awaiting a new record from a favoured musician, it’s a massive pain in the arse.
It’s been eight years since Tommy Hale’s last album, Stolen Conversations, Three Chords And The Truth – and, given the opportunity to grill him about its now-imminent follow-up, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t ask him why.
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You know that a frontman is giving it his all when, after the first song, he confesses to accidentally swallowing his chewing gum. The song is titled Hidden Treasure, and it occurs to me – because I’m a childish sort – that in a day or two that’s exactly what he’ll find on a bathroom break.
And if you groaned at that, be thankful he wasn’t singing Stick Around.
Shockingly, it was nearly 15 years ago, in December 2000, that I first saw Jonny Kaplan perform. I was at the Borderline to see Caitlin Cary, who was then fresh out of Whiskeytown. Jonny was supporting – mainly in an acoustic capacity, though towards the end of his set he borrowed Caitlin’s band and started to rock out – and I was impressed enough to look him up when I got home and order his debut album, California Heart. I reviewed that record for my old webzine, describing the 12-track collection as “a face full of sunshine” and labelling Jonny a purveyor of Cosmic American Music – the term coined by the late, great Gram Parsons to describe his own soulful blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll.
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Y’know, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to write this piece. This morning, as part of a hospital outpatients procedure, I was injected with midazolam, a sedative drug whose skill set includes anterograde amnesia – or, as Wikipedia puts it, the “loss of the ability to create new memories”.
This evening, I’m sitting in the main theatre in Croydon’s Fairfield Halls watching a show called All Star ’60s, a five-band travelling revue that includes Bob Jackson’s Badfinger – or, as I’m putting it now, the best chance I’ve ever had to see the music of one of my favourite classic-rock bands performed live. And I’m wondering whether I’ll wake up tomorrow unable to remember a thing.
For the unaware, Bob Jackson joined Badfinger in 1974 and, along with Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Mike Gibbins, was part of the line-up that recorded one of the great lost albums, Head First, which remained unreleased until it was issued on CD in 2000. He and Tom Evans later formed The Dodgers, another great band with power-pop leanings, and toured the US together in an early ’80s version of Badfinger. These days, Bob appears to be a proud keeper of the flame – or, as he puts it this evening, a curator of a legacy.
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I never sleep properly in hotel rooms. If I’m not roused every 10 minutes by a slamming door or laughter from returning merrymakers, I’m kept awake by the hum of something electrical (what is that?) or deep-voiced conversation from an adjacent room.
Tonight, as my bloodshot eyes stare at the bedside table, I’m serenaded by the sound of a woman next door being pleasured by a gentleman who, to be frank, doesn’t hang about. Unfortunately (for me, at any rate), he doesn’t hang about repeatedly, and every so often I’m treated to 30 seconds of ecstatic moaning before the pair continue their humdrum conversation. It’s like a late-night Channel 5 movie circa 1998, only with better reception.
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