‘Online concerts have proved one thing – that you cannot and never will beat the real thing’

My Darling Clementine – picture by Marco Bakker

UK husband and wife duo My Darling Clementine – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish – are set to release the second four-track EP from their Country Darkness project next month. 

It picks up where Volume 1. left off and sees the pair reinterpreting the country and country-soul songs of Elvis Costello, aided and abetted by keyboardist Steve Nieve (The Attractions and The Imposters), as well as members of Richard Hawley’s backing band: Colin Elliot (bass), Shez Sheridan (guitar) and Dean Beresford (drums). 

In an exclusive interview, Michael talks us through the songs on the new record – Either Side Of The Same Town, I Lost You, Different Finger – the first single from the EP – and Too Soon To Know; reveals how he’s been occupying his time during lockdown and shares his hopes and fears for what will happen to live music when we emerge from the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Picture by Nick Small

 

Q & A

How are you? How have you been coping with lockdown? 

Michael Weston King: Up and down to be honest. Some days I feel okay with it – I rather like the fact the world is on pause – but then other days are met with an overriding ‘what’s the point?’ To quote Charles Bukowski, “I don’t know about other people, but when I wake up in the morning and put my shoes on, I think, Jesus Christ, now what?”

Any advice on how to get through it?

MWK: Advice? I’m not sure I am the man for that, but maybe try and achieve something by the end of the day. That could be anything – even if it’s just tidying a room, or clearing stuff out. Set a small task and do it. There is a sense of purpose to be gained from it. Little victories. And go for walks. It’s not always easy, depending on where you live, but natural light is important.

A close friend of mine lives in rural, idyllic Herefordshire and I am very jealous of him at times like these. I live in Manchester – it’s not the greenest of cities, but everywhere looks better when the sun is shining, and, thankfully, it has been of late.

What’s been your lockdown soundtrack? What music have you been listening to –  old and new?

MWK: I have mainly been listening to our daughter, Mabel, practising piano, recorder and drums, and singing at full volume, but when that subsides, it has been a mix of old and new: Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Gill Scott Heron, early ‘70s Springsteen, Jessie Winchester, Crazy Horse (without Neil Young) and Jim Ford. I’ve also been getting back into Levon Helms’ Dirt Farmer album.

One of my favourite ever artists / songwriters is Roddy Frame and somehow I had missed out on his album The North Star, which is from 1998.

My pal Danny Champ reminded me about it, saying it was his favourite Roddy album, so that has been a fabulous (re)discovery. God, that album should have made him huge. It has some of his best songs on it – and that is saying something. And, of course, after the terribly sad news about John Prine, I revisited his whole back catalogue.

New releases? I have been enjoying the new Laura Marling album – she is a marvel. There aren’t many who are coming close to her right now. The new album, Song For Our Daughter, is yet to reach the heights of its predecessor, Semper Femina, yet. Maybe it will after a few more plays.

‘Some days I feel okay with lockdown – I like the fact the world is on pause – but then other days are met with an overriding ‘what’s the point?”

I’m also loving the new A Girl Called Eddy [aka Erin Moran]  album Been Around. Her debut – and last album – from well over 10 years ago, was coincidentally co-produced by Colin Elliot, who I have been working with for the last few years on My Darling Clementine releases. I recall Erin and I did a joint show many years ago, along with Peter Bruntnell and Thea Gilmore, for Mojo magazine. I have not seen her since but we reconnected again online recently.

I checked out new albums from Logan Ledger (produced by T. Bone Burnett) and Pokey LaFarge while I was out for a walk recently. The jury’s still out on both of those for me, though Logan has covered what I consider something of a lost country classic, Skip A Rope. Originally recorded by Henson Cargill in the late ’60s, it is a kind of a country protest song.

Have you written any new songs during lockdown? When we last spoke, in October 2019, you said you’d been suffering from writer’s block. Has that passed?

MWK: I wouldn’t say it has passed, but it has eased a little. I still have far too many unfinished songs, and now have an increasing number of new, unfinished ideas. I need a target, a deadline to make me get my ass in gear, a date for when things have to be ready by. I am currently living by the Irish mantra: “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?”

I have written and completed a new song, called No One Comes Close. It’s about the way the NHS staff have been treated by the Tory government for the past 10 years, and how the likes of Johnson and Gove are now fawning all over the health workers.

It was not long ago they were cheering in the House of Commons, having won a vote not to increases nurses’ wages. It is hypocrisy on the grandest of scales. I feel sick every time I see them clapping on a Thursday night. The song is up on YouTube as part of the Artists4NHS campaign, and I hope it will raise a few quid.

You had plans for a new solo album. What’s the latest on that?

MWK: I don’t record at home – I always go into a studio with an engineer and a co-producer, so until we can do that again it remains just a plan and not a reality. I also have all those songs to finish, so I can’t say really, but I would like to at least record it this year. It has been a long time since I made a solo record, so maybe it could be a double album. One acoustic and one electric?

As professional musicians, how has Covid-19 affected you and Lou?

MWK: It has affected us greatly, as it has so many musicians, especially those of us who make most of our income from playing live. We have lost over 50 shows and I fear there is more to come. That is quite a chunk of change, and even though a good number of the shows have been rescheduled, it still means a long period without income.

Picture by Marco Bakker
Are you optimistic about the future? What will have to happen in the ‘new normal?’ Are you worried?

MWK: As for forward planning, the great uncertainty means many venues and promoters don’t want to commit just yet. Our next shows are in September and I am getting anxious that they might not happen too.

Long-term I do think it will get back to how it was. People like to commune and come together for things – there is nothing better than coming together for music. My fear is how many venues, promoters and even musicians will be out of business when things are ready to go back?

Even though it is proving a useful stopgap for musicians and music fans alike, online concerts have proved one thing – that you cannot and never will beat the real thing.

Last time we spoke, it was ahead of the release of Country Darkness Vol. 1 – your reinterpretations of country and country-soul songs written by Elvis Costello.
You recorded the tracks with Steve Nieve, keyboardist with The Attractions and The Imposters, and members of Richard Hawley’s band. Vol. 2 is out in June. What can you tell us about the new record? When and where was it recorded and how were the sessions?

MWK: We did exactly what we did with Vol 1. Lou, Steve and I got together to decide on the key, the tempo and the basic arrangement, then we left Steve to record a solo piano or keyboard track from his studio in Paris, setting the feel for the songs, before sending it to producer Colin Elliot back in England. We would then go into Yellow Arch Studio in Sheffield and complete the full arrangement with the band.

Once again, you’ve put your own stamp on the songs. How did you tackle the arrangements and decide on the feel and treatments?

MWK: We have tried hard to re-invent the songs and not just follow the original arrangements. It would be rather pointless to do so. Also for Steve, who played on some of the originals, he was keen to do something different.

Let’s talk about the songs. The first track is Either Side Of The Same Town

MWK: Without question, it’s one of our favourite Elvis Costello songs, of any style. I think Elvis must have been listening to a lot of Dan Penn when he wrote this. It is a song mined from the same seam as his song, The Dark End Of The Street, which was a hit for James Carr.

Either Side… was originally written for another great soul voice, Howard Tate, who recorded it before Elvis did.

In 2006, Lou was on tour with The Brodsky Quartet and they performed a version of this song, arranged for quartet and voice by Brodsky viola player, Paul Cassidy, which was based on the original demo Elvis had given to Paul. It’s quite a lot different from how it ended up on Elvis’s The Delivery Man album, and in turn, very different from our version.

We have kept the country-soul feel, but added an extra verse to accommodate a guitar solo and also gone with a more understated vocal approach to it.

‘We have tried hard to re-invent the songs and not just follow the original arrangements. It would be rather pointless to do so’

What about I Lost You?

MWK: That song comes from Elvis’s more acoustic, bluegrass album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, and is co-written by Jim Lauderdale, who was also part of the touring ensemble Costello put together at that time.

Lou and I shared a festival bill with Jim at the River Town Festival in Bristol in 2017 and our paths have crossed a few times, most recently at a festival in Lafayette, Louisiana. Jim is one of the sweetest and funniest guys, and a master of the high harmony. He’s a very fine songwriter too.

The original version of this opens with a guitar riff, which then reoccurs later. We replaced that with Steve’s arpeggiated piano motif. Although written originally for one voice, the song works particularly well as a conversational duet.

What about the first single from the EP, Different Finger?

MWK: It’s a song that just had to be done for this project. It’s one of Elvis’s most authentic honky-tonkers. Like Stranger in the House [which is on the first Country Darkness EP], it is a classic country song, although still with a few songwriting idiosyncrasies that are totally Costello, as opposed to the simplicity of say Harlan Howard or Merle Haggard.

Steve had played on the original, so we wanted to find a different approach, as we have tried with all of these songs, so for this we went with the Marty Robbins treatment. Hats off to Piero Tucci for some stunning accordion playing, and also the beautiful Spanish guitar styling of Shez Sheridan.

The final track on the new EP is Too Soon To Know

MWK: This song turned out much more moody and atmospheric than any of us thought. In 2016, Darlene Love recorded it, duetting with Bill Medley – she approached it in that true ‘60s soul style she is famous for.

I had initially thought we may also go in that direction, but once Steve had set the tone with his spooky keys, and sombre feel, the song went somewhere else altogether, and I would argue it’s all the better for it.

We have taken a more understated vocal approach to try and set it apart from previous versions. Of any of the songs we have cut so far, this track personifies the phrase ‘Country Darkness.’

Picture by Marco Bakker
You have one more Country Darkness EP to release – Vol. 3 – followed by an album of the same name, which will include all of the songs from the project.
What’s the latest on the third volume and when will the album come out?  Have you recorded the next EP?

MWK: Lou and I had got together with Steve in Manchester in March, on a day off during the recent Elvis Costello tour. We were due to go into the studio a few days later, but that turned out to be the week lockdown came into effect. It should have all been done by now. We have five more Costello songs to record, plus a new My Darling Clementine song. It’s so frustrating. I just hope we can resume ASAP.

Do you know if Elvis has heard the first EP?

MWK: We saw him very briefly after the Manchester show and he thanked us for the record. We didn’t really get chance to talk about it much, as he was being ushered out the venue, plus Lou was busy wisecracking with him about his choice of stage exit music – Ken Dodd’s We Are The Diddy Men!

Finally, this country – and many others – has experienced a lot of darkness recently. What are you most looking forward to doing when lockdown is lifted?

MWK: I have a list of five things:

1) Spending time with my grown-up kids and hugging my grandchildren.

2) Going to the pub with some male friends to drink Guinness and talk nonsense.

3) Getting back on stage.

4) Getting back in the studio.

5) Getting out of Manchester, well, the UK in general. We were due in Spain in June for some shows. I think we may head there!

I actually re-wrote the lyrics for Tom T Hall’s very sweet, but rather saccharine song I Like, and called it I Miss. I’m not sure it needs to be committed to YouTube or Facebook, or maybe it will be, one night, after a bottle of wine… I had a line about missing browsing in record shops, with you in mind, Sean, but I haven’t found the second line yet. Anyway, in answer to your question, here is what ‘I Miss.’

I Miss

I miss
going to her house, sitting on the couch, her upon my knee
and tea
I miss climbing up some hill, dragging them against their will, saying theirs legs ache
and cake
And I miss you too

——–

I miss
going to the game, walking home in the rain, calling out the team,
and dreams
I miss going to the pub, giving friends a hug, putting the world to rights,
curry nights
And I miss you too

——–

I miss getting on the stage, thinking I’m all the rage
Drinks in hotel bars, and cars
I miss driving through the night, crossing borders when it’s light, hearing another voice
and choice
And I miss you too

Country Darkness Vol.2 by My Darling Clementine is released on June 5 (Fretsore Records). The single, Different Finger, is available to stream and download now. 

You can pre-order the 12in EP here: https://linktr.ee/countrydarknessvol2

www.mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk

https://www.fretsorerecords.com/

In my hour of darkness

Here at Say It With Garage Flowers, we love country and darkness, and we love My Darling Clementine and Elvis Costello, so we absolutely love Country Darkness Vol.1, the new four-track EP from My Darling Clementine, on which the UK husband and wife duo – Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgliesh – reinterpret country songs written by Costello.

They’ve even roped in the bespectacled singer-songwriter’s right hand man, Steve Nieve – keyboardist with The Attractions and The Imposters – to play on it, and, as if that wasn’t enough, it also features members of ace Sheffield crooner Richard Hawley’s backing band…

Opening song Heart Shaped Bruise is a stunning and dramatic, melancholy piano-led ballad; Stranger In The House has been reinvented in a rhumba style; That Day Is Done is a gospel song with a New Orleans funeral feel and I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came is a classic-sounding country lament, with its themes of infidelity and regret…

We spoke to Michael and asked him to shed some light on the Country Darkness project…

 Q & A

In 1981, when you were 19, Costello’s album of country cover versions, Almost Blue, first turned you on to country music, didn’t it?

Michael Weston King: Until I heard Almost Blue, country music for me was the occasional Jim Reeves record on my parents’ stereo and also Glen Campbell, who I appreciated – he’s still one of my favourite artists.

When I was 19, I was going to see The Jam and Elvis Costello. I was into post-punk, power-pop, New Wave, Joy Division, The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen – I used to go to Eric’s in Liverpool. Suddenly, Costello – my main man – made a record on which he’d covered artists I’d never heard of, in a genre that took me by surprise.

To most 19 or 20-year-old kids who’d been brought up on Dr Feelgood and The Clash, it was like, ‘what the fuck’s this?’ At the same time, it was Costello, so it had to be paid attention to.

I liked the clever lyrics and the great songs. From that record, I discovered George Jones and The Flying Burrito Brothers and whoever else Costello covered on it… His version of Hank Williams’s Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)? is sped-up, trashy and rock ‘n’ roll – it had an edge to it.

I know so many people for whom country music became something of value once they’d heard Almost Blue. Not long after that, the New Country thing came along – you had bands like The Rain Parade, Green On Red and Jason and The Scorchers, who were from a punk-rock background, but had a love of country music. The first few albums by The Jayhawks were also a big influence on me – they were fantastic records.

The track listing for Country Darkness Vol. 1 is Heart Shaped BruiseStranger In The HouseThat Day Is Done and I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came. How did you choose which songs to record?

MWK: We had a long list of songs to choose from – some got the chop because we felt they’d been done quite a lot before, or because, lyrically, they didn’t translate so well into being done by a duo.

I’ve always loved I Felt The Chill… and That Day Is Done is one of Lou’s favourite songs ever – I’ve not heard anyone else do it. That Day Is Done is a hard song to sing because of the vocal range. I also didn’t want our record to be totally country – I wanted a country soul vibe, as well. That Day Is Done is kind of gospel…

Interestingly, for the EP, you’ve chosen to cover some of Costello’s less well-known songs. You didn’t go for some of his more obvious country tracks, such as material from his King of America album…

MWK: King of America is one of my favourite albums. It’s kind of like an American record, as it was recorded in The States with T-Bone Burnett and musicians who’d played with Elvis Presley. It’s a really great collection of songs – well-formulated and brilliantly written. It was also Costello’s first album without The Attractions, so it’s a departure… I love the sound of it.

We certainly could have done a number of songs from it. In fact, there are some songs from it that are still on our shortlist – I’ll Wear It Proudly and Our Little Angel, to name but two, and they may yet be covered.

Lou had already recorded a beautiful version of Indoor Fireworks on a solo album many years ago, and I used to perform Sleep Of The Just in my solo set, so we intentionally chose to avoid those.

‘I know so many people for whom country music became something of value once they’d heard Costello’s Almost Blue…’

You recorded some of the new EP at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield, with members of Richard Hawley’s backing band – Colin Elliot (production, bass, cello, backing vocals, string and horn arrangements), Shez Sheridan (guitars, backing vocals) and Dean Beresford (drums). They’d played on your second album, The Reconciliation? How was it reuniting with them?

MWK: They’re fabulous musicians – Dean has become a regular part of the My Darling Clementine touring band and Colin and Shez are exemplary players and singers – technically and inspirationally. They’re a safe pair of hands. I can play those guys something I want to hear and they get it straight away.

When we came to make this record, we had The Imposters [Costello’s backing band] on board, who were up for it, but we had to look at how and where we did it. Would it be in London or L.A? It got complicated. In the end, we did pre-production, Steve Nieve put the piano down and sent it to us and then we went into the studio with Colin, Shez and Dean and built the tracks around the piano. It was interesting – in a way, Steve was leading the direction and then we followed that and added to it.

Had you met Steve before you worked on this project?

MWK: No – apart from maybe a nod backstage at a Costello gig. We had musical friends in common. It was interesting to go from exchanging emails with him to staying at his house in Trouville-sur-Mer [in France], which is where he and his partner, the filmmaker Muriel Téodori, have a place. We got stuck into the project – we were fully immersed in it.

Picture of My Darling Clementine by Jeff Fassano

You’ve released four songs on the first Country Darkness EP. Are there any more in the can?

MWK: We’ve worked out another five songs with Steve and I think we’ll record them using the same process, because it’s manageable and affordable and the results are fantastic. Yes – it would be nice to go and record in L.A. with The Imposters, but we can’t find the money to justify it… We’ll see… who knows?

‘It was interesting to go from exchanging emails with Steve Nieve to staying at his house. We got stuck into the project – we were fully immersed in it’

The new EP is the first in a series of Costello covers records you’re planning. Can you tell us any of the other songs you’re going to record?

MWK: Our plan is to record three EPs and then they’ll all come out together as an album. Either Side Of The Same Town from The Delivery Man is a real personal favourite of mine – it may turn up at a later date… My feeling about that song is that it’s Costello trying to re-write the Dan Penn classic The Dark End Of The Street – something we may all be guilty of trying to do at some point… It’s arguably the greatest country soul song ever written, particularly when James Carr sings it.

So what are your plans for the rest of the year? 

MWK: I’ve got a solo record that’s on the cards – I’m four songs short of having a squad that I’m happy to go and start working on. Hopefully the writing will be done by the end of November. I am going into a studio in Norway in the next few weeks to start work on that.

There are also two songs that I’m going to record with Colin Elliot and the guys – they’re bigger sounding tracks and I can hear them doing them wonderfully.

Finally, can you tell us any albums from 2019 that you have been listening to and enjoying?

MWK: My favourite record of the year has been Springsteen’s Western Stars – I absolutely adore it. It’s such a good record it’s damned near perfect he’s singing beautifully and I love the arrangements.

My favourite record of the year has been Springsteen’s Western Stars – I absolutely adore it. It’s such a good record – it’s damned near perfect’

It’s a great album apart from one duff track, Sleepy Joe’s Café...

MWK: Why is that track on it? It ruins the record if he’d taken it off, he would’ve had almost the perfect album.

Another record I really like although, due to the things he’s been saying in recent times, he’s not a person to praise is Morrissey’s covers album [California Son.] I think it’s a brilliant record with a great choice of songs his singing is great and the production is fantastic. I love that he picked songs by Tim Hardin and Phil Ochs some of my favourite songwriters. It’s very much an American record… I wonder if he’s going to do another one of songs by British artists?

I should be listening to some much more younger and hipper things, but I can’t say I am, unfortunately…

Country Darkness Vol.1 by My Darling Clementine is out now on Fretsore Records. It is available to download and stream and also on limited edition vinyl. 

https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/