My Darling Clementine with Mark Billingham: The Other Half
The Other Half is a collaboration between star-crossed lovers’ country duet My Darling Clementine (Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King) and crime writer Mark Billingham that exists as an album and a stage show incorporating spoken word, forlorn country songs and, on stage, an evocative media presentation. King and Dalgleish as My Darling Clementine had already delivered two delicious albums of fretful and quarrelsome duets, a homage of sorts to the troubled lifestyles of several venerated country duets (the ghosts of George Jones and Tammy Wynette looming large) before a mutual friend suggested they work with the author. Already a fan of the band and of the genre (Billingham had given his cop antihero, Tom Thorne a “love of country music both alt and cheesy”) they crafted The Other Half. The story line centres around a waitress in a dusty Memphis bar and the patrons she serves, their back stories illuminated by songs from My Darling Clementine’s albums along with two new bespoke songs. The album was extremely well received and the stage show has been performed on a regular basis over the past 18 months however, as Weston King admitted tonight, rarely in Scotland. An appearance at the Aye Write Festival and a sold out run of shows at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe being the only opportunities north of the border to soak up this tear stained slice of Memphis life before the announcement of two shows during this run (in Glasgow and Stirling), tonight’s show promoted by Sounds In The Suburbs.
It was well worth the wait. Reading reviews of previous shows one kind of knew what to expect, a short set from My Darling Clementine before the disc was reprised, Billingham reading his vignettes, the band playing the songs in between, as on the album. However those reviews hadn’t prepared one for the classy interaction, the verve with which the songs and stories interacted, Billingham’s animated and playful reading, his southern accents at the very least interesting, the dark humour accentuated, the characters given life. As he spoke Dalgleish and Weston King sat stage right in the half light of a sorry standard lampshade, sipping from a bottle of bourbon (or perhaps weak tea) and, as expected, strode forward at their cue points to perform. However there were moments within the monologues when guitar was strummed or keyboard stroked behind Billingham’s podium adding colour to the dramatic effect. Behind the trio monochrome images set the scene recalling the world of Robert Frank’s America while a glitter ball was used to excellent effect as Marcia, the waitress recalled her glory days as a Vegas showgirl.
As for the songs. Well, Dalgleish and Weston King have honed their act over the years, she in polyester and clutching a plastic purse, he besuited in ill matched jacket and trousers, squabbling and making up over the course of some excellent songs which accurately capture the sob stories so beloved by the record buying American salt of the earth folk back in the days. Skilfully woven into the narrative they illustrate Marcia’s customers’ stories, her memories and imaginations but they also stand alone, a nice example tonight on the tear jerkin waltz of No Heart In This Heartache with Weston King pleading an off mic “no” followed by a rueful shake of the head from Dalgleish, playing the part so well. For those who know the album there were no surprises, the narrative and songs all in place but the conjunction of Donna’s story and the song No Matter What Tammy Said was a powerful indictment of domestic abuse. And while we’re not giving away the end here there was a fine upward curve with Going Back To Memphis a joyous beacon amongst the misery and loneliness while As Precious As The Flame cemented the joys of growing old together.
Sad stories and sad songs but a jubilant celebration of the genre all wrapped up in a tear stained package topped and tailed by some songs outwith the album. My Darling Clementine opened with three songs including a new one, Since I Fell For You and closed with a selection of songs they imagined would have played on the jukebox in Marcia’s bar. Cue Hank Williams and George Jones numbers (Good Year For The Roses, That’s All It Took and Your Cheatin’ Heart), all brilliantly delivered before Billingham came back onstage, guitar in hand for the closing rendition of Ray Price’s Heartaches By The Number.