Tonight was not only a celebration of great music but was also a testament to two artists who’ve triumphed in the face of adversity. For Jaime Wyatt, any suggestion she might want to put the eight months she was incarcerated in jail for ripping off her drug dealer behind her are swiftly assuaged, her reflections on this period of her life put front and centre stage during her performance tonight – tackled with both candour and humour. Her 7 song ‘Felony Blues’ EP made a major impact when it was released in 2017 and demonstrated a great knack for catchy tunes with memorable song lyrics. This performance also showed her no less capable as a singer and raconteur.
Kicking off with ‘Wishing Well’, its chiming riff and Bakersfield-inspired sound has an immediacy that seems to have people rooting for her from the word go. In her preamble to ‘Stone Hotel’, she recounts how the song was inspired by some of the resilient people she met in prison who responded with the attitude of, “The cops work for me” – which she found liberating. The tune itself has a pulsating rhythm and gorgeous melody. As well as a run through of most of the ‘Felony Blues’ record, she airs some newer numbers this evening such as ‘Whiskey and Cocaine’ – which she self-mockingly says wasn’t based on first-hand experience so she had to read about it – along with ‘Hurts So Bad’ and ‘By Your Side’.
Wyatt switches to a more laid back folk and country style for ‘Giving Back the Best of Me’ somewhat upstaged by her spellbinding cover of the Merle Haggard song ‘Misery and Gin’, but both demonstrate her versatility and ability to sustain a long note. She’s ably supported by her English backing band brought in to assist on the European leg of this tour, her guitar player from Yeovil ringing out some particularly expressive solos. Wyatt’s emotionally expressive voice is a great conveyor of heartache and allied to the songs’ trebly lead guitar licks and lonesome pedal steel, makes for a potent updating of the country rock and roots template. Her description of her muse as being about “love, youth, rebellion and convicts” is a perfect summation of where she’s at right now and the newer material suggests she’s worthy of headliner status in her own right.
Charley Crockett has more pedigree in these parts, including a performance on the Andrew Marr show during his first tour of the UK last July. Crockett is someone who’s recently come through a major health scare when he was advised by his cardiologist that he was only about a year away from heart failure. The result was open-heart surgery to fit a bioprosthetic valve created from cow tissue, making him literally part man, part cowboy.
On his last tour the ‘Lonesome As A Shadow’ album, featured heavily, while his latest record, ‘The Valley’, is set for release later this month. Recorded just a week before he went under the knife for life changing surgery, it charts the challenging nature of his upbringing with a single mother in San Benito, Texas. Heading out across the country aged 17 exposed Crockett to street life from a young age, his itinerant existence also including a period of train hopping across the country, singing on the streets for change in New Orleans’ French Quarter, before he chanced his arm on the streets of Paris and around north Africa.
The result of the last 18 years he’s put into the music business is clear for all to see. It would be tempting to describe Crockett as a born entertainer if you didn’t appreciate the extent to which his total dedication and hard scrabble existence have helped hone his talent into one of consummate showmanship. Crockett is a picture tonight, bedecked in a custom made, bright red suit adorned with flowers which also features a map of the state of Texas on each cuff to demonstrate the pride he has in his origins. With a curfew in place this evening, the band still manage to rattle through a staggering 27 song cycle, barely pausing for breath. The set comprises a bouillabaisse of country, rock, roots, blues, honky tonk and Tejano – the one constant being the great music on offer. Charley Crockett may be something of a stylistic chameleon but it’s an effortless blend of musical styles. It’s also a measure of the confidence the band has in the new material that seven songs from ‘The Valley’ feature tonight, highlights of which are ‘The Way I’m Livin’ (Santa Rosa)’, ‘Big Gold Mine’, ‘Borrowed Time’ (his co-write with Turnpike Troubadours frontman Evan Felker), ‘River of Sorrow’ (his attempt at a redemption song) and the title track.
To the uninitiated, his backing band, the Blue Drifters, are a revelation and with Crockett as front man, it makes for a totally winning formula. During a hasty mid set changeover, the band return to crowd around a single microphone for some low key, old time sounding renditions of songs, including ‘Round This World’ and ‘Single Girl Again’. Crockett then gets the chance to perform solo on ‘Diamond Joe’ before departing the stage and letting the band show their chops during an extended instrumental. By the time of the encores he has the audience in the palm of his hand singing along to ‘Jamestown Ferry’ and the band depart to rapturous applause after ‘Baby Let’s Rock’.
Towards the end of his performance, Crockett stopped to say: “Sometimes I set out to set the world on fire but I forgot the dang matches.” Tonight he turned up with a whole packet of them and put a fire under Oslo. Contender for gig of the year – no question.
With special thanks to David Handley for use of his photos