Back in the 60s, the likes of George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton & Porter Waggoner, as well as Johnny Cash & June Carter would take fascinated listeners behind closed doors for songs of love and hate, betrayal, regret, anger, guilt, revenge and hurt.Later, Gram and Emmylou offered enthralled post-pop kids their own songs of heartbreak and desire in the late 70s.
But the cheatin’ country duet (along with, it has to be said, most everything else that was great about classic country music) is a form which has pretty much fallen out of favour. Now half a century or so on, it’s been dazzlingly revived by My Darling Clementine – who just happen to be, not from Tennessee at all, but from these very isles. Moreover, they are performing at the Ramsbottom Festival this weekend.
The duo are are a husband and wife team: Michael Weston King, a seasoned troubadour and the former leader of UK alt country pioneers The Good Sons, and Lou Dalgleish, who has been praised by and worked with the likes of Elvis Costello, Bryan Ferry, The Brodsky Quartet and many more. A long time Costello fan, she has toured extensively with her own show They Call Her Natasha, based on his life and music.
Both of them then have reasonably thriving careers outside of their My Darling Clementine (hereafter MDC) incarnation. But with a brilliant second album The Reconciliation? just out and a lengthy tour planned (including an appearance in Nashville at the Americana Music Association awards and festival just a week after Ramsbottom – I know), has MDC taken over?
“It seems to have done – for the time being anyway,” laughs Mike. “It was something we wanted to do because it was something we could do together but it has become a bit all consuming, especially for Lou. I plan to continue touring and making albums under my own name though. In fact, a couple of the songs on The Reconciliation? started life as MWK solo tracks before morphing into MDC songs.”
Widely seen as one of Britain’s finest singer songwriters, Mike has made ten solo albums and four with The Good Sons. Always on the road, both solo and touring with the likes of Nick Cave, John Cale, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Roger McGuinn, he has collaborated with Chris Hillman, Ron Sexsmith, Jackie Leven and even the legendary Townes Van Zandt (who cut his own version of Michael’s song Riding The Range).
“It’s quite a discipline writing songs in this format and it doesn’t always work,” he admits. “There’s a song on the album, I No Longer Take Pride, where Lou had to write an additional, closing verse for her, or her character I should say, to sing from beyond the grave.
“Also, we wanted The Reconciliation? to sound less like the pure honky-tonking we were after on the first record, How Do You Plead?. This time we said ‘let’s just make a record that sounds like 1968’, if you know what I mean.
“It’s deeper and darker, I think, and we might even have made a whole country-soul record. It was a close call which way we went, but this time, it’s definitely less Camden Town-meets-Nashville, more Sheffield-meets-Memphis!”
Even with all these years of touring and making great records, though, the tedious ‘can English boys play country?’ question still crops up.
“In my dreams you do get rid of it, but I suppose at least I’m in an honourable tradition, like the Yardbirds and The Stones getting asked about playing the blues. The reason I object to it, really, is that most of those bands called British Country bands aren’t doing anything other than copying American country radio hits.
“‘British Country’ is just not a world I inhabit.”
By Kevin Bourke
*My Darling Clementine play on Saturday (September 14, 2013) at the Ramsbottom Festival.