Darren Stockford

Honky tonk men: The Snakes and The Ely Plains live at the Golden Lion, Camden, 2 November 2008

The Ely Plains live at the Golden Lion, London, 2 November 2008When Chris Scruggs admitted in song that he was failing to heed warnings from friends, his local preacher and even God himself that his honky tonkin’ lifestyle would get the best of him, he clearly hadn’t experienced the Brits’ take on the idea.

Forget being “out till four and up at six”; the guys and gals at the Golden Lion in Camden have it licked by staging their Honky Tonkin’ Sundays in the late afternoon and early evening. The support play at 5.45pm; the headliners at 7pm. By 8.15pm, the (cowboy) hat has been passed round, the bands are pocketing their petrol money and everyone who fancies an early night can have one.

This evening’s entertainment kicks off with a set from The Ely Plains, a Bucks/Berks-based four-piece whose alt-country base provides foundations for a stone-solid set of original, highly melodic tunes with strong hooks.

Anchored by a country fried Telecaster and occasionally coloured by mandolin and some heartfelt harmonica, it’s a sound that evokes nostalgia for older and better times. There’s a hint of Dylan here, some Teenage Fanclub there, and an overall sense of a band trying to fashion something timeless and classic, which is impressive this early in proceedings.

The Snakes live at the Golden Lion, London, 2 November 2008Headliners The Snakes are a humorously self-deprecating bunch, which makes them a joy to watch in a pub atmosphere where banter reigns supreme. Their music might be part Rolling Stones raunch, part soundtrack to a lonely desert roadscape, all rock ‘n’ roll goodness, but they come damned close to capturing the country-bred honky tonk spirit this evening with the force of personality alone.

When they do break out the twang, it’s easy to see why they’ve picked up plaudits from genre veterans such as Bob Harris. They’re confident and relaxed, as any band with their material should be. The only non-original performed all night comes at the very end, when they fire up Tommy Hale’s Libertine - though that’s less a cover and more a gift from a friend.

So, a grand evening out and I’m home by 10pm - albeit starving 'cos I’ve missed my tea. It’s probably not what Hank had in mind when he wrote Honky Tonk Blues, but it’s close enough for me.

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