GARETH OWEN – I’m Out Of This Place (own label)

I'm Out Of This PlaceSix months or so after the release of his Rolling By CD, Gareth Owen’s new album I’m Out Of This Place is released on November 23rd 2018. Again, it’s a collection of story songs, all written by Gareth, very much in the Americana/country idiom. Gareth takes lead vocals, ably supported by Matt Park (pedal steel, bass, banjo, percussion, backing vocals), Lincoln Grounds (acoustic and baritone guitars, backing vocals), Rob Kelly (bass guitar), Paddy Milner (piano) and SJ Mortimer (backing vocals).

Here’s the track list:

  1. ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 1’
  2. ‘Ribbon Of Sky-Blue Lace’
  3. ‘Julie’
  4. ‘The Preacher’
  5. ‘Marie’
  6. ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 2’
  7. ‘Rosalita’
  8. ‘Out Of This Place’
  9. ‘Waltzing Kid’/’Raise A Glass’
  10. ‘Happy With That’

The prevailing tone on this album is of quintessentially country laidback melancholia, but there are moments here that hint at something more adventurous: for instance, the brief introduction to ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 1’, the dissonant piano linking the last verse of ‘Waltzing Kid’ and ‘Raise A Glass’, and even the biting wordplay in ‘Happy With That’.

Gareth Owen brings the same writing skills to his songs that he does to his verse and prose. His world-weary vocals are exquisitely suited to this material, and the supporting vocals and instrumental backing are always sympathetic: the pedal steel intro to ‘Marie’ is particularly attractive. SJ Mortimer’s vocals are more restrained than the backing vocals on the earlier album, and to my ear more suited to these songs.

The gunfighter ballad ‘Waltzing Kid Pt 1′ is spread across three tracks in a manner that might remind you of the Eagles’ variations on ‘Doolin-Dalton’ and ‘Desperado’ on the underrated Desperado album. This does allow the listener to focus on different elements of the story, with enough changes in instrumentation and delivery to hold interest, especially with the segue into ‘Raise A Glass’ in track 9. I applaud Gareth’s decision to sing this expanded version of the song straight: if you’ve previously heard it as performed by Gareth’s OTT alter ego Virg Clenthills, you might be surprised at how affecting it is.

‘The Preacher’ picks up the pace a little with a story song that might have appealed to Frankie Laine or Marty Robbins, benefiting from a full production dominated by pedal steel (nicely played), and deep-throated guitar somewhat reminiscent of Duane Eddy. ‘Rosalita’ benefits from a tinge of 60s/70s country rock.

While most of the songs here will be familiar to fans of Gareth’s alter ego, ‘Happy With That’ is the only track where Virg manages to make his presence felt, both in the spoken introduction and in the sardonic lyrics that characterize this insight into a seriously dysfunctional family. It makes a nice upbeat (in a black sort of way) ending to a fairly low-key selection of songs. If I have a reservation about this set, it’s that – in the absence of Virg’s onstage patter – it might have benefited from the insertion of one or two of Gareth’s more lyrically and/or rhythmically upbeat songs. However, it’s still a good snapshot of his songwriting skills, and any one of these songs represent a creditable performance.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.garethowen.com

‘Marie’ – the Virg Clenthills’ version:

GARETH OWEN – Rolling By (own label)

Rollng ByWhen I first moved to South Shropshire a few years ago, I found myself living just a couple of doors away from writer and broadcaster Gareth Owen. And then I realized that I was also living by country legend-in-his-own-mind Virg Clenthills, Gareth’s country-singing alter ego. I even played guitar for Virg occasionally, and even acting as body double – well, picking-hand double –on a Virg video. So when Gareth’s CD Rolling By rolled by my mailbox, I was expecting at the very least a collection of excellent songs, and I wasn’t disappointed.

All the songs and lead vocals here are Gareth’s, ably backed by producer Ed Begley on keyboards and backing vocals, Ruby Turner on backing vocals, James Kitchman on guitars, Matt Park on pedal steel, Ruth Goller on basses and backing vocals, and Tony Bianco on drums and percussion.

  1. ‘Lady Whiskey’ is a desperate story of a man in the process of losing everything to alcoholism.
  2. ‘Ashes And Diamonds’ is a quintessential country and western ballad. Nicely done.
  3. Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently reviewed Forever Words that ‘Nowhere’ reminds me a little of Johnny Cash, both the song and the delivery. But it’s an excellent song and performance in its own right.
  4. ‘Walk Out The Door’ has some of the feel of early country/rock and roll crossover songs like Hank Williams’s ‘Move It On Over’. I particularly like the pedal steel here.
  5. ‘Jesse James And The Barber’ is very much in the Virg Clenthills mould, quirky and facetious, much of it spoken rather than sung. Thematically it might remind you of ‘I’ve Danced With A Man Who’s Danced With A Girl, Who’s Danced With The Prince Of Wales’, yet it has a serious undertone that Farjeon’s 1927 song never aspired to.
  6. ‘Nothing Better To Do’ is one of those femme fatale/Jezebel/devil-woman songs, performed effectively enough.
  7. ‘Dream River’ is another heart-tugging country ballad.
  8. ‘Telling Lies Like This’ is a little rockier, a little reminiscent of Dylan on recent albums like Together Through Life.
  9. ‘Before I Get To Heaven’ is, for me, the best song on the CD, telling the story of the last hours of Hank Williams set against sparse keyboards and acoustic bass.
  10. ‘Rolling By’ is a song of reminiscence with a catchy chorus. A good end to the album.

It’s no surprise that one of Gareth’s influences was Tom T. Hall, a country singer noted for his storytelling in song. That said, some of his lighter material – such as ‘Jesse James And The Barber’ here – is also somewhat reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, though Gareth’s vocals are nearer to a lighter-toned Johnny Cash than Silverstein’s off-the-wall vocalizing.

While the CD is issued under Gareth’s real name, there’s a lot of Virg here, in both the repertoire and the vocal delivery. Without Virg’s patter, the darkness behind some of these stories has more of the impact they deserve. Perhaps the slightly OTT vocal delivery here and there hints at the parodic drama that makes Gareth’s alter ego’s stagecraft so entertaining, though. Which makes me wonder whether Virg should get a CD of his own, rather than selfie-bombing Gareth’s. Nevertheless, this would be a worthy souvenir of a Virg/Gareth gig. And a wider range of country lovers might be enthralled to hear what sometimes comes out of the hills of South Shropshire.

David Harley

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It’s hard to find videos of Gareth so here’s Virg Clenthills with ‘A Song For Hank Williams’:

Gareth Owen releases debut album at 81

At 81 years of age, prize-winning poet, novelist, BBC broadcaster and playwright, Gareth Owen released an album of his own country songs last month.

Gareth Owen

Gareth Owen has published some seven volumes of poetry, of which over a hundred have appeared in various anthologies. For a number of years he was the popular presenter of the BBC’s long-running Poetry Please! He was playing Othello in Birmingham when he met the 16 year-old Ruby Turner in the theatre and for a time managed her career. Reading The New Musical Express one day, looking for angles to help her career, he came across an article about the country singer, Tom T. Hall and was sufficiently intrigued to buy his album; became a convert to country music and began writing songs, mostly until now unheard except by close friends. Many years later, Ed Begley, the M.D. of Shakespeare miscellany he was part of, heard the songs and was impressed enough to put together a band and get Gareth into a studio to record them and Rolling By is the happy result. It’s pure Americana, with Owen’s poetic talents and his gift for a catchy tune, lifting the varied story-songs in a novel and beguiling fashion. Musicians on the album include the afore mentioned Ruby Turner, esteemed pedal-steel player Matt Park, bassist Ruth Goller, James Kitchman on guitars and percussionist Tony Bianco. Keyboards are provided by Ed Begley who also producer the album which was recorded at Giant Wafer studios in Wales.

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Trailer:

The Jeremiah Brothers announce debut album

Jeremiah

Kevin and Ciaran Jeremiah have musicality in their blood. Growing up in a family band the brothers played 60s and Irish folk music, finger picking acoustic guitars and singing harmonies with their parents and uncles. Now after years dedicating their time to other projects they are finally releasing their debut album as a duo – The Jeremiah Brothers. Inspired by the folk music sound they grew up with, they’ve created a touching Bob Dylan-esque debut album that brings the 60s troubadour vibe back into the present.

For the Jeremiah Brothers the album was influenced by a “mild sense of panic at all the responsibility” in their settled down lifestyle – both married, one with a child. As siblings their musical chemistry has always been strong, but writing together without any input from a record company they have reached a new level of contentment. They “never had a moment of disagreement over how anything should go”.

The brothers are no strangers to the music industry. As children they were playing with their family in The Jeremiahs, heavily influenced by the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and The Dubliners. Entering their teens, the brothers now in a band with school friend Paul Stewart (The Feeling, drums) discovered more alternative artists like Guns n Roses and were regularly appearing on Brighton Pier. Eventually they formed The Feeling after Ciaran attended the legendary BRIT School in Croydon, and from their debut album onwards the band were a huge success – going 3x platinum and selling over 1.5 million copies of their debut record, earning an Ivor Novello Award as well as a BRIT Award nomination. But after settling down with their families and embracing adult responsibilities, Kevin and Ciaran have found time to return to their roots with a more folk inspired project.

The writing is extremely personal, ‘London Angel’ is inspired by Ciaran’s wife and the strong, positive force she has had on his life; ‘Not That Easy’ is a tribute to their father who passed away a few years ago. ‘Never Let Me Go’ delves into how, when you have to start letting go of the boundless dreams of youth, as the brothers explain, “you can find a different purpose in living for someone you love”. Fellow The Feeling member Dan Gillespie co-wrote ‘Lie With You’, a song inspired by Oscar Wilde’s famous quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

The production was entirely their responsibility, a refreshing challenge for the duo. While they describe the progress as much harder and time consuming than working with a team, as they have done before, they were glad that they could bring to life their own vision of what they wanted the record to be – it was a personal endeavour. The creative freedom they enjoyed on this project contributed to a unique sound that is so different from their previous commercial successes. The Jeremiah Brothers also enlisted the expertise of Paul Stewart and Matt Park (The Mystery Jets, pedal steel) to bring some variety to the record.

The Jeremiah Brothers will be touring the UK in June, and are playing various festivals throughout the summer.

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