Thursday, 26 November 2015

How to...Appreciate Country and Western

    As I often have need to remind people: It Wasn't God who Made the Honky-Tonk Angels!

 Terry Edwards, Country singer, rough edit...

  I made my Country debut with a troupe of all-singing, all dancing animal puppets, featuring an emu that belted out "Anything You can do I can do Better" while a giraffe behind it took its knickers off...

  The night I made my debut as dad's gimmick, he didn't forewarn, he simply took me down to the Ponderosa in Portsmouth and brought me onstage. 
  'I thought you'd get nervous beforehand and wouldn't be able to go through with it,' he explained. 
  I had one caveat: being carried centre stage on his shoulders.  I was four and felt that this was undignified. Yes, for ten months I had carefully hidden from him and mum that I could walk, I said, but I was openly walking now and could get myself onstage, thanks. 
  Oh, but it looked cute my being carried, apparently.  
  At the next two shows he put me on his shoulders and carried me onstage. I almost couldn't yodel for seething. Then back by popular demand at the Ponderosa I pissed down the back of his neck.
  That larned him.

  Dad had made his own debut last minute. He was in a concert party in Bargoed called the Magnificent Seven.  One, not very imaginative; two, there were nine of them.  He sang tenor in the opening and closing numbers until the night in Merthyr. He told me,
  'Florrie Evans, the soprano. was no Isobel Baillie to begin with. She was doing the "Miserere" from Il Trovatore with Bernard, the tenor from Ystrad, straight after Neddy the comic. "Shared a single bed with my eight brothers and sisters. Four of them wet the bed. My mother would ask which end I wanted for top and tailing. I'd ask for the shallow end." Bernard was singing his opening lines coming from the back of the club, all for effect. Through the people sitting at tables with candles stuck in bottles - keeping a close eye on those, of course. Not the fire risk or anything, just because there was a couple of bob to be had back on them down the shop. And Bernard was singing: Roseate morn on mountain/Love through me like a fountain. And Florrie, flatter than the testicle caught in the mangle, sang back to him: I am assailed/By a horrible voice.  That started them off, shouting: "You're not to only one being assailed by a horrible voice, love, how about you bugger off back to Bargoed?" Florrie had to be helped hyperventilating from the stage by her sister Gwen at the piano.  I was nearest to be pushed on instead. My couple of songs went down tidy. Was asked to do a spot in my own right at the next tour date. RAF St Athens.  Cancelled, as it turned out, because the camp mascot, a billy goat called Bryn, was refusing to get out of the bath again.'

  You'd want not to be forewarned about any of this sort of thing, wouldn't you?
  Aged four, at my debut I was backstage in the Ponderosa, a Portsmouth municipal hall rechristened for the night.  There may or may not have been swinging cafe saloon doors set up in the entrance lobby; that would have depended on the amount of accident coverage insurance taken out for the event. 

  Enjoy a full range of swinging cafe saloon doors

  In a spangly suit, stetson and shoelace tie I was watching the audience through a chink in the curtains. 
  Kelvin, in time and motion studies at the Ford Dagenham plant, got up as a hussar-jacketed, ringleted General Custer; Pam from the typing pool in buckskin, moccasins, beads and moulting feather headdress as Chief Squaw Pretty Plume
  Kelvin was saying that he 'came in the covered wagon'. AKA his Ford Escort.  Pam on 'the stage coach'. The X9 bus. If either or both of them had come by rail that would be the 'mule train', shouted loudly on an upward inflection followed by a smack over the head with a decorative drinks tray.  
  Kelvin goes to the bar in peace to buy liquor. 
  'Howdy, saloon keeper,' he says. 
  The saloon keeper is Ben, nineteen, at uni, clearly wishing he'd got that job at Argos. 
  'How do.'
  'I'd like me some of that there liquor, my boy,' says Kelvin, prodding the Carlsberg tap.  'And my little lady would like her some of that liquor yonder,' pointing behind Ben at the Gordon's Gin optic. 
  He adds that the little lady would like her liquor festooned with fragments of the High Mountain God's counterpane and fruit the colour of corn ripened in the Sun Goddess's smile.  
  It takes Ben a squint, pout and aborted face palm to translate this as ice and a slice. 
  'And some of those there pork n' beans, saloon keeper, will do mighty fine.'
  'Cheese and onion, plain or prawn cocktail?'
  When the Carlsberg is poured Kelvin goes to stand a few feet down the bar and indicates that Ben should slide the glass down to him. Ben demurs, but is finally persuaded. The lager snags on a gap between trestle tables and tips onto the floor. 
  'Darned varmint!' Kelvin shouts. 'I'm about to have my last stand at any time!'
  And who wants to die with their Carlsberg-stained socks on?

  Dad is behind me playing with the confederate pistol and holster he got mail order from Kansas. it's time. He goes onstage and opens his set with 'Casting my Lasso.' 
  He delivers his patter in a deep south drawl. South of the Mississippi State Line, rather than south of the Cardiff dockyards facelift, just to be clear.
  The repertoire he sings was analysed in 1997 by New York music journalist, John Davies. 
  'Country and Western is the music of the people.  Each song is a three-minute soap opera. The subject matter is work on the ranch, across the prairies and down the mines. Then there's the drink; failed crops, failed marriages; and the supernatural.'
  He was forgetting the one about an attempted murder by your son, who you walked out on in the cradle, having helpfully christened Susan so he would grow up tough through having to fight all the time. Only girls bite, mate, I always want to heckle the father character in A Boy Named Sue... 

Go on, fill your snakeskin boots!

  'The music is a fusion of Dixie land jazz, blues and hymn tunes.  Welsh hymn tunes, specifically. The Welsh moved into the Southern States in great numbers after the civil war and took their hymns with them.'
  Try this experiment: in your cleanest winceyette nightie, with a photograph of Brando up on your screen, get the deep southern accent going with: I have often had to rely upon the kindness of strangers:

  Arr hev ah-fn haired ter rer-lah er-porn tha car-ernd-nurse ahv stre-een-jurz

  Now belt out "Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah!" at quarter speed. 
  See?  Patsy Cline's blue eyes will never stop crying in the rain all the way to the altar now... 

  'The purely vocal effect of the yodelling is to the cowboy what "Come by!" is to the Yorkshire farmer with attendant sheepdog. A vital working tool.  That it was seriously misappropriated by Rodgers and Hammerstein as a novelty song about a randy goatherd should not detract from its historical and cultural relevance.'

  Oh, and you lest we forget, it Wasn't God Who Made the Honky-Tonk Angels. 
  At a strategic point in his set, dad collects me from the wings, carries me centre stage on his shoulders and sets me down to sing. 
  My song, by Hank Locklin, is "Please, Help me!"







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