Country music clubbing
Honky tonker Tina Ogle wants you to embrace your inner cowboy or cowgirl. Just don‘t mention Garth Brooks or line dancing
Does Dolly Parton’s voice do strange things to you but you’re afraid to admit it? Does your ‘Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits’ disappear into a cupboard when your friends come round? If you’re a closet country music fan, there couldn’t be a better time to get out there and embrace your inner cowboy or cowgirl. Time was when admitting that you thrilled to the sound of a pedal steel guitar or cried over a Willie Nelson tune was social suicide, but now London is awash with country music nights populated by an eclectic bunch of people who aren’t afraid to admit that their heart belongs to Texas.
An interest has to be declared here. I run one of those nights – Honky Tonkin’ Sunday – with the motto, ‘A little piece of Texas in NW1’. For years I travelled to Austin to get my country music fix, haunting the honky tonks and dive bars and wishing to hell that London could offer something similar. I found something very close: Alan Tyler’s Come Down and Meet The Folks, a twice-monthly Sunday session that hosts country bands and DJs but also dabbles successfully with folk, blues and pub rock.
‘…Folks’ inspired me to set up my night, keeping it along similar lines but focusing solely on country music in all its myriad glory. Featuring a house band in the form of British honky tonkers Too Country, a live headline act, and myself DJing with the help of a different guest spinner each month, it immediately struck a chord. It seemed that there were a lot of people out there who felt exactly the same as I did. And our clientele range from gaggles of Japanese teens through to mature couples, tipsy hipsters who seem to have lost their way to Shoreditch, hell-raising country legendary Phil Kaufman and my regular crowd of hardcore country music fans who like to knock back tequila and pretend for a few hours that they really are ‘walking the line’.
Lest there be any mistake, what we’re not about is line dancing. The misconceptions about country music are legion and one is that we all prance about in time to Garth Brooks records. For the love of god, no! Garth has been dubbed by a wit far greater than mine ‘the anti-Hank’, given that his music bears no relation whatsoever to the fine traditions pioneered by true country star Hank Williams. So, you won’t be hearing anything from Garth, Shania or anyone currently being peddled by Nashville because that ain’t country, it’s pop.
As with all musical styles, debates rage as to what exactly constitutes the genre. What I discovered, to my delight, is that there are other people out there who love this music and are putting their own individual spin on things.
One such person is Martyn Myers, who has been running club nights under his Bonanza umbrella for some five years now. He currently hosts Tripping In The Country at Bardens Boudoir in Dalston, From Dolly to Lemmy every Saturday at the Marquis of Lansdowne in Stoke Newington and Countrier Than Thou, which rolls up to New Cross’ Amersham Arms this Sunday with bands The See See and Dennis Hoppers Choppers, plus DJs, all for zero pennies.
While having a huge respect for the traditional, he takes the genre further. As he puts it: ‘Bonanza club nights tend to showcase the more innovative, rough-and-ready or obscure side of country and roots music. But you’re as likely to hear Dolly as you are some weird avant-country from Scandinavia.’ If you’re interested in learning more, you could do worse than check out his Sunday lunchtime radio show on Resonance FM.
Over in Leytonstone there’s the flower-bedecked loveliness of What’s Cookin’, a friendly, bustling twice-weekly club that showcases many touring American acts. Hosted by Stephen Ferguson, whose MCing is an expletive-laden joy to behold, it does do other music but it certainly does country proud. As he explains: ‘We put on a country-fried mixture of raucous roots-based music – bluegrass, western swing, country rock, hillbilly and whatever-billy. We get a great crowd and the demand for country music is definitely there and growing.’
Tempted but don’t want to venture further out than Islington? Check out Nashville-On-Thames at the Buffalo Bar every third Sunday of the month. Run by American enthusiast Rob Burrow and former Time Out columnist Andrew Mueller aka The Wagga Wagga Kid, they do the records justice around sets from live bands. For Rob, the beauty of this genre is all in the words: ‘The joy of a good country song is the lyrics themselves. Too many people think country music is awful because the lyrics are laughable but it’s one of its strengths. It’s often very black humour made more poignant by an earnest delivery.’
Moving into the centre of town, The Social might seem an unlikely place to find country music, but Health & Happiness reckon they’ve turned it into ‘the Haçienda of bluegrass’. Guests of the calibre of Jackie DeShannon, The Coal Porters and banjo-toting New Cross upstarts Indigo Moss have all played there, and look out for psych-country newcomer Miranda Lee Richards on November 20.
And if you just want to dance your cowboy boots right off your feet, head along to monthly Sin City in central London where their heroes are the gods of country rock. If your tastes lean toward the more cosmic side of country, this is a great place to get your fix. Wear boots, wear a hat, wear whatever you damn well please. Just keep it country.
Where to, cowboy?Come Down And Meet The Folks is every second and last Sunday of the month at The Apple Tree, WC1. www.comedownandmeetthefolks.co.ukCountrier Than Thou is on Sunday 4 at the Amersham Arms, SE14. www.myspace.com/trippinginthecountryFrom Dolly to Lemmy is every Saturday at The Marquis of Landowne in N16. www.myspace.com/bonanzabluesHealth & Happiness is the third Tuesday of every month at The Social, Little Portland St, W1. www.healthandhappiness.co.ukHonky Tonkin’ Sunday is on Sunday 4 at the Golden Lion, NW1, and every first Sunday of the month. www.myspace.com/honkytonkinsunday
Nashville on Thames is every third Sunday of the month at the Buffalo Bar, N1. www.myspace.com/takethisclubandshoveitTripping In The Country is every third Sunday of the month at Bardens Boudoir, N16. www.myspace.com/trippinginthecountryWhat’s Cookin’ is every Wednesday at Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s Club, E11, and every Saturday at Sheep Walk, E11.www.whatscookin.co.ukSin City is every second Saturday of the month, downstairs at The Phoenix, W1. www.thesincityclub.com
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Boy oh boy do we need more country music. This is a forgotten generation. Every type of music is played on radio and also on the T.V. radio channels. Come on people give country a chance you might even like it.
A noteworthy addition to the London country scene is the Spooky Lady's Sideshow at The Old Kings Head on Holloway Road every 2nd and 4th Sunday evening of the month (with a late licence). It's not afraid to play the very best of modern country along side the old. A live music policy that gives up and coming bands to play to a responsive audience. It's real truckin' country with no plastic cowboy hats allowed. I've always had a good time there and seen some good bands and heard proper whiskey drinking music.