The set up for the first half of the show’s an interesting concept, with Billingham reading the story (inspired by My Darling Clementine’s music) on one side of the stage pausing from time to time for My Darling Clementine to deliver a suitable song from their back catalogue, making this part gig/part play/part Jackanory (albeit a Jackanory influenced by Jim Jarmusch).
Billingham did a fine job of evoking the atmosphere of the bar and sketching out its inhabitants, positioning a washed up showgirl turned waitress called Marsha at the centre of the piece and you can tell he is/was an actor as he’s perfectly capable of tossing off a fairly authentic southern accent. Not sure that the occasional faded archive photos projected onto the screen added much to proceedings.
Part of the joy of fiction is that the reader (or in this case the listener) can use their own imagination to ‘see’ the characters (it’s a minor quibble but it has to be said that the Marsha image looked considerably older than the 50 something woman that was being described too.). Given that the story was based on the band’s music the chopping and changing from spoken to sung word worked particularly smoothly though and the only gripe was that there could have been more of it. Who knows, could there be a movie in there somewhere? Hmmm...not ‘alf.
The second part of the evening was a more traditional gig from My Darling Clementine (real life ‘other half’s’ Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King of course) featuring a dozen or so tracks including a spirited cover of a Ray Price song called Heartaches By The Number which saw Mark B return to the stage for a little warbling. He can sing as well as write, act and...no doubt...make a pretty decent Victoria Sponge too. Damn him.
Happily some of The Clementine’s self penned material’s every bit as strong as the classic artists they’re influenced by, with both I Bought Some Roses and 100,000 Words in particular capturing one of Country’s favourite themes...specifically relationships going down the tubes. Dalgleish and Weston King did their best to reflect this in some suitably bitchy in between song banter, the likes of which you can generally only get away with when you’re either totally comfortable with your other half or on the verge of a messy divorce (I’m fairly sure it’s the former!).
All in all it’s an interesting mash up between two worlds that ends up being more than the sum of its two halves.
The Other Half is on at The Islington in London tonight (11th November) and Crossing Border Festival in The Hague on Friday 14th November.