Canteen"We don't sing no real songs" says Mike West. "We just made them all up."
Any gig that makes me cry is a good gig. But I think this is the first time I have (indirectly) made the performers break down.
You probably haven't heard of Truckstop Honeymoon. I hadn't. (I heard them at Shrewsbury while waiting for the Longest Johns and have been looking forward to hearing them again.) They are a country duo who live in Wales but have deep roots in New Orleans. The majority of their music is comedic, and some of it is very silly indeed. ("We got thrown out of the waffle house for making out in the booth.") They aren't making fun of country music: even the bar staff in the Canteen were tapping their feet and bopping along to the infectious country banjo, guitar and what was consistently described as a "doghouse" double bass. They have a deep love of country and bluegrass music, but the lyrics are witty and observational. ("we ain't like Tammy and George, we don't sing them tunes, you and me we're gonna be more like Johnny and June"). A Kansas lady comes back from a trip to France. ("She went to the liquor store, get something to drink, you know she came back with a bottle or Rose, you know that shit's pink.") A friend who has toured with one of the greats reveals a personal secret. ("A friend told me, and I think it's true, Dolly Parton has sleeve tatoos"). But a goodly chunk of the material has a deeply serious edge. They lost their homes during hurricane Katrina ("that bit of inclement weather") and make the aftermath sound like something out of the Grapes of Wrath. A city the size of Manchester completely emptied; wherever they went in the US they encountered other displaced people. But even this sad story is told with a light touch. They heard that their home was underwater when they saw a photo of a street sign in the paper. ("We made the cover of the New York times".)
Bristol canteen is rather an idiosyncratic venue. The only bar in Bristol with live music every night of the year, and a marked tendency to pick folkie acts on Sunday evenings; bands sometimes struggling to make themselves heard while the audience talk and drink and work on laptops. I have had great nights there and nights when excellent singers are ruined by a disengaged audience. For the first half of the set, I felt the audience were enjoying the country tunes and the banter, but perhaps not giving the content the attention it deserved. In the interval, the bar emptied out -- whether because people weren't enjoying the music, or because it was that time of the evening I couldn't say -- and the second half felt much more like a gig, everyone who stayed wanted to listen to the band.
During the interval I mentioned to "Miss Katie" that Lousie and I had particularly enjoyed a particular song on their album, and after a brief consultation with Mike, she said they would sing it in the next half.
What I didn't know is that the song isn't part of their live set: they'd never performed it in front of an audience before. It's called Momma Don't Know Your Name, and it's about having an elderly relative with dementia. Mike said that given the subject matter, it would be fairly appropriate if he forgot the words. Like all their songs, it is rooted in very specific, bitter-sweet observation.
You show her old photographs
When she don't know what to say, she laughs
You take her for a drive one last time
She likes to count car and read road signs...
And obviously, it is written from experience. Half way through the second verse, Mike had tears in his eyes and then Miss Katie was crying because Mike was crying, and, I swear, half the audience had tears in their eyes as well. Not a dry in the house, literally.
So, yeah. Sorry about that. Won't do it again.
Fabulous band; wonderful song; eccentric venue; magical gig.