|Caitlin Rose - photo efsb|
"Hi Dad, so, where is this place we're going to?"
"It's called the Slaughtered Lamb"
"so, is it a pub?"
"Well, it's sort of, kind of a pub thing, yes, I suppose it is"
"Well, I hope it's not over 18 only!"
"Just look inconspicuous."
"hmm, no - look grown up and, um, inconspicuous"
We were headed to see Caitlin Rose, an exciting alt. country singer from Nashville, so new she is unknown to wikipedia, barely out of her teens herself, and currently on tour in the UK. She played last week in Clerkenwell the kind of show that I sometimes imagine travelling 3000 miles to hear in Austin, TX1
Sigh, I am not cool, we arrived at exactly the wrong time for a gig: too early for the main act (an hour and a half to wait!) but too late to secure one of the leather sofas directly in front of the stage (curses) . Unwilling to stand up we lounged on an uncomfortable bench behind a pillar and waited until the friends and family of the (quite dreadful) first support act got up and left; and then craftily nabbed the empty seats.
When the support2 was finished, a group of fresh faced kids invaded the stage to get it ready for Caitlin and her band. Then, to our astonishment, they picked up their guitars and stood ready at the mics. It was Caitlin's band: lead guitar Jeremy Fetzer, in particular looking like he had just obtained 11 A* at GCSE, and feeling excited about wearing his own clothes in the sixth form. He turned out to be a smooth guitarist, but he didn't like to sing, and shifted uneasily if a mic came too close.
Caitlin Rose, on the other hand was assured and effortless. Her voice and delivery reminded me of Iris Dement, she handled the crowd with aplomb, only momentarily disconcerted by losing her special pick. Caitlin is heralded as alt. Country, but to me her songs are slap-bang in the country tradition: funny, heartfelt, simple in lyric and telling story.
Now, I wouldn't say Caitlin Rose was obscure exactly, its just that precious few in the Uk have heard of her, and to tell the truth I had heard her only once on Bob Harris country, and just before she came on MD shamed me by asking for my favourite Caitlin Rose track and - when I was forced to prevaricate, astonished me by naming three of hers. She had done her research. (And a week later is still listening: a teenage country music fan in London. Thus do parents influence the lives of their daughters.
At the gig, MD and everyone else in the audience were able to recognise and welcome the highlight songs Learnin to Ride, Own Side, Things Change and a sing-a-long Answer in one of these Bottles. Only I was mouthing the words.
Here's a song she did earlier
On her recordings Caitlin's voice is mellowed and softened, and the arrangements sometimes slightly lush. At the Slaughtered Lamb her songs benefited from the stripped down band (lead, bass, pedal steel) and unrestrained vocals, emotion allowed to bleed in to the melody. "Are you having a good time?" she asked, at one point, "because you're all very quiet" "We're English" came the apologetic response, and to make up for our poise of apparent indifference we clapped, dutifully, all the way through to the Gorilla Man.
There were about 150 or so people there I suppose, a small gig, but her support is is growing. Her UK tour includes a dozen dates, and where she is top of the bill she is selling them out.
She comes from Nashville (of course she does) and I wondered what it takes to get the breaks in that competitive town, to get listened to in the first place. How do aspiring young singer-songwriters get noticed? Is it luck, or is talent so plain that even the dimmest A&R can recognise it when he browses myspace? Or is it something else? Cynically I googled, and whaddyknow? her father is mainstream country singer, and her mother an award winning co-writer for Taylor Swift. Contacts, then. Thus do people achieve lift off in a competitive world, and thus do parents influence the lives of their daughters.
1I have a plan, myself and two mates. Well perhaps more of a whim: a six week journey through the southern states every night listening to country music bands playing live. Moving from town to town, from bar to bar we'd hear the old and broken, the new and hopeful, the tired and the bittersweet artists that I imagine are the country music scene, travellin' light, hittin' the road, staying in motels with screen-doors slammin', always going where luck and the music took us, a journey partly spontaneous, partly planned. Oh yes, and one of the friends used to work for the BBC, so surely we could meet famous bands and interview them in the comfortof five-star hotel rooms, recording sycophantic interviews and, each morning, making a video diary in which we mocked, in a very British way, the unsophisticated acts we'd seen the night before. I'll write blog and book, my exBBC mucker a podcast and hour-long reflective programme for channel four and my other friend, a sober lawyer, would drive the RV and keep us out of trouble. And write poems. (Yes, I am practicing my pitch). It will be called The Judge the Journalist and Jerk, in search of real Country, it would start in the Smokey mountains and end at the Grand Ole Opry for CMA Awards. Would you like to sponsor us? Just £100 will buy a Budweiser a day for one person for the whole trip. Our just giving page will open soon.
2The first support was bearded Eyore from the Isle of Wight ("You are the most amazing people - you have actually come to watch a support band! Oh, my guitar player isn't here, sorry, he's at a funeral"). He wailed, dismally, for half an hour, then left. The second support band (and some might say two support bands is one support band too many) were the Lost Brothers a pair of earnest young Irishmen, one sweating in pork pie hat and overcoat, who sang tightly worded simple songs in close Everley Brothers harmony, in between murmuring at the audience as if they were the Shy Brothers (get some patter, boys)