Give an AUK writer an inch and they’ll take a mile – certainly this one has in the interpretation of ‘A Night to Remember’ as it covers 3 nights and 3 different artists, but they all have one thing in common and that that’s the wonderfully intimate atmosphere of McGonigel’s Mucky Duck in Houston. Even though I reside in the dreich (It’s a Scot’s word so feel free to look it up on the search engine of your choice) North East of Scotland, I have spent a lot of time in the US, and I was fortunate to be able to call it home for almost 12 years and although I never actually lived in Houston, I spent enough time there that I got to know it’s music venues pretty well – and got to know the “Duck” really well – and would head there whenever I got the chance.
Opened in the early 1990’s, The Duck is theoretically an Irish Bar/Supper Club (the unpretentious food is an added bonus) but the real attraction for patrons is the music, focusing as it does mainly on americana and roots and despite the relatively limited physical size it has a stature among artists that draws some of the biggest names in the industry.
On to the music though. The first gig I attended there was Hayes Carll back when he had not long released his second album ‘Little Rock’ which really started to get him some broader attention, and given I’d been listening to that and his first album ‘Flowers & Liquor’ extensively and had fallen in love with his gravelly voice and remarkably deft lyrics, I just had to go see him at The Duck. I still recall that night, seated as I was at the bar (the gig was almost sold out and I got one of the last tickets) and it still brings a smile to face my face thinking back on that appearance as Hayes, who is an excellent raconteur with a dry, laconic sense of humour, entertained the audience with his stories but mostly just captivating the patrons with simple heartfelt music like ‘Richey Lee’.
Next up was the man who got me into americana in the first place – although no one called it americana then – and I suppose it largely fell into the folk/rock category but his second album ‘Jackrabbit Slim’ struck a chord with me and started to move me away from my usual fare of bands like Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash and (whisper it) Pink Floyd. Luckily that night at The Duck, Forbert was on excellent form and played a lot of his early music and I still recall sitting there smiling as he weaved his way through his extensive back catalogue. If I had to take one album to a desert island with me, it would be ‘Jackrabbit Slim‘ and if I was forced to take one single track it would be ‘Sadly Sorta Like a Soap Opera’.
Finally on this journey through my musical history at The Duck was a brilliant Mary Gauthier gig that is still so intensely etched in my memory that the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I recall the emotions of that marvellous evening. This time I had managed to book ahead in plenty of time and I had snaffled one of the prime seats right at the front, next to the stage, and I was in for a treat as Mary played all the classics from ‘Mercy Now’ and ‘Daylight and the Dark’ but more importantly, as she talked to the audience in the soft southern drawl that she uses to such great effect in her singing, she vividly brought the backstories to the songs alive and within the intimate confines of the musical oasis that is McGonigel’s Mucky Duck I sat there transfixed and I’m not ashamed to admit that tears ran down my cheeks on a few occasions during the magical 90 minutes she spent on stage. This version of ‘Mercy Now‘ is simply stunning. Enjoy.