For a concept that took two years to find a label willing to take a chance on releasing their album, My Darling Clementine, a collaboration between Birmingham’s Michael Weston-King and wife Lou Dalgleish, both acclaimed singer-songwriters in their own right, paying homage to the classic countrypolitan duets of George and Tammy and Dolly and Porter, is proving to have the last laugh.
Their debut album, How Do You Plead? was picked up by Drumfire and released in 2011, garnering hugely favourable reviews for songs such as Departure Lounge, Nothing Left To Say and Reserved For You And Me and the duo went on to win Americana act of the year at the British Country Music Awards. They now top the Google search results, above the classic John Ford western.
Having spurred international interest, the duo released a follow up, The Reconciliation?, this time via Continental Song City, which continued the theme of hurtin, lovin’ and cheatin’ as the couple played out the up and down nature of relationships, both in their songs and in the repartee of their live shows. Further critical acclaim and an ever-expanding fan base followed.
Among the admirers was Solihull-born Mark Billingham, the hugely successful crime and mystery novelist behind the best selling Tom Thorne series of detective fiction. As readers of the author will know, both Thorne and Billingham are big country music fans, so when his and My Darling Clementine’s paths inevitably crossed a friendship was struck and it was proposed that they work on a joint words and music performance project. The result was The Other Half, a new original story by Billingham, inspired by and woven around songs from the two albums, set in a rundown Memphis bar, not far from Sun Studios, where Marcia, a former Las Vegas showgirl, alone and estranged from her daughter, works double shifts to keep her head above water. The place is frequented by all sorts of lonely souls, each with their own story of grief, heartbreak and even murder to tell – or not – with Marcia ready to lend an ear or prompt as she lives her life vicariously through her customers.
Backdropped by visuals, the production features Billingham narrating, the duo interspersing the reading with the songs themselves, including two new numbers written specifically for the show and the storyline (as well as playing a second half set of originals and covers, Billingham himself taking to the mic for one number). It premiered in Biddulph last November and has been touring regularly at both theatres and festivals since then and is due at the Edinburgh Festival later this year.
Now, in response to public demand, it’s being released on CD by publishers Hachette Audio, a studio recording of the production that comes in a 6 panel digi-pack sleeve with a 32 page booklet of the short story and the song lyrics with Graham Parker and David Morrissey (who played Thorne in the TV series) joining Lou, Mike and his actress daughter Florence King to provide the different characters’ voices while the music is fleshed out with additional bass, piano, guitars and mandola and special guests The Brodsky Quartet providing the strings on No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him), a brilliantly conceived classic country song about domestic violence that links to the murder element of the storyline.
In addition to that and a brief snatch of By A Thread, lifted from the debut album, playing on the bar jukebox as the story opens, there’s six other songs linking into the different character’s stories; Going Back To Memphis (with a cascading melody line surely inspired by Dimitri Tiomkin’s Western scores) and, providing the show title, mini epic The Other Half (the pair trading verses on a Patsy Cline styled wrong man/wrong woman wedding song) are taken from the debut with the uptempo No Heart In This Heartache and the poignant twist in the tale I No Longer Take Pride from the sequel. The others are two purpose written songs, Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel, a waltzing MDC number about an illicit affair that ends in tears, and show closer As Precious As The Flame, written by Billingham about the love that lasts when the romance fades and how “the embers are as precious as the flame”.
By its very nature, it’s something to be listened to at one sitting (though you can always return to the songs separately), but it’s well worth setting aside an hour to share the bruised, broken and eventually redeemed lives the words and music so engagingly evoke. Now for the mini-series.
Review by: Mike Davies
Details of shows here: http://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/shows/