For nigh on thirty years UK singer-songwriter Michael Weston King has been forging himself a well-respected lofty position on the roots scene with his solo work, the now defunct country rockers The Good Sons, and most recently alongside his musical and life partner Lou Dalgleish in My Darling Clementine. Drawing inspiration from the classic Texan songwriters of the 70’s alongside the honky-tonk bravado of the likes of George and Tammy, King has managed to fuse a love of country music, both idealogical and conceptual, with a deep sense of political angst to produce albums that always deserve full attention. Most recently My Darling Clementine have teamed up with Steve Nieve to produce a number of four-track EP’s dedicated to the work of Elvis Costello called ‘Country Darkness‘ the second of which is released on June 5th. Americana-UK spoke to the midlands based songwriter and asked how things are panning out right now for usually noticeably active performer.
Michael, so a very different scenario than what you were probably expecting for 2020, right?
Very much. Spring 2020 was shaping up to be one our busiest touring periods for a while. Over 50 shows in USA, Scandinavia and Europe, and now getting news that some of our Autumn shows have gone too.
I have never been very good at sitting still, I live for touring and travelling, so it is a strange thing to spend so much time at home. I do miss having a ‘keep-me-awake’ coffee at 2 o clock in the morning on some lonely motorway service station or that lovely post-gig feeling when you get back to the hotel bar.
As well as the tours, we should also have been back in the studio to complete the Country Darkness project. Lou and I had got together with Steve (Nieve) in Manchester in March, on a day off during the recent Elvis Costello tour, to fine tune the next batch of sings. We were due to go into the studio a few days later, but that turned out to be the week lockdown came into effect. It should have all been done by now. We have five more Costello songs to record, plus a new My Darling Clementine song. Very frustrating.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, these are small problems compared with what so many people are having to go through. And within our own music community, whatever role we play in it (musicians, studio owners promoters, booking agent, crew, technicians, drivers, record labels… and record store owners, the uncertainty and lack of income is very worrying. And not helped by the fact the self-employed have been the last to be helped by this government.
Long term though I do think it will get back to how it was. People like to commune, come together for things and there is nothing better than coming together for music. The fear is how many venues, promoters and even musicians will be out of business when things are ready to go back? Even though it is proving a useful stop-gap for musicians and music fans alike, the on-line concerts have proved one thing, that you cannot, and never will beat the real thing!
What have you been doing during lockdown? Have you written any new songs?
I have written a few bits and pieces but only completed one new song, called No One Come Close. It’s about the way the NHS staff has been treated by the Tory government for the past 10 years, and how the likes of Johnson and Gove are now fawning all over the health workers. It was not long ago they were cheering in the House of Commons having won a vote NOT to increases nurses wages. It is hypocrisy on the grandest of scales. I feel sick every time I see them clapping on a Thursday night.
The song is up on youtube as part of the Artists4NHS campaign, and I hope, is raising a few quid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Wg3EfOK7NA
Have done a few on-line things, one MDC “concert” and a couple of solo efforts, but not too many. This has become the great acoustic guitar pandemic of 2020
When guitar is not in hand have been reading a lot, avoiding TV but watching movies. Going to the cinema is a passion so I really am missing that. Have also been having a much needed clear out of crap accumulated over the years. Lou been more proactive at this than me I must say!
I’m sure you have been listening to a lot of music so let us know some albums or tracks that are necessities to help ease the stresses, boredom and general uncertainty you might be feeling?
I have mainly been listening to our daughter Mabel practising here piano, recorder, drums and singing at full volume! But when that subsides it has been a mix of old and new;
Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Gill Scott Heron, early 70′ Springsteen, Jessie Winchester, Crazy Horse (without Neil), and my forever go-to-guy Jim Ford.
I have also revisited Levon Helms’ Dirt Farmer albums after seeing an old episode of Costello’s US tv show, Spectacle on which he, along with Allan Toussaint, Richard Thompson, and Nick Lowe appear (That is a very enjoyable hour of songs, stories and fine musicianship )
And of course, after the terribly sad news about John Prine. I revisited his whole back catalogue. I have been lucky over the years to meet and work with many of that iconic band of Americana songwriting brothers (Townes, Guy, Rodney Crowell, Steve Young, Eric Taylor, Steve Earle) but I never met Prine, let along play with him. I never even saw him live which is shocking but I always loved his music…. and his outlook. God, I wish I had that same world view.
One of my favourite artists and songwriters is Roddy Frame yet somehow I had missed out on his Northern Star album from 1998. There was a thread on Facebook pondering his best work and I said something along the lines that the Aztec Camera debut High Land Hard Rain had never been bettered. Danny reminded me of Northern Star, saying it was his favourite Roddy album. So, I immediately got a copy, and that has been a fabulous (re)discovery. God, that album should have made him huge. Some of his best songs, and most melodic, and that is saying something.
As for some new releases – I have been enjoying the new Laura Marling album Song For Our Daughter. She is a marvel, not many contemporary artists are getting close to her right now. The new album is very good, yet still to reach the heights of its predecessor Semper Femina. Maybe in a few more plays
Also digging the new A Girl Called Eddy album Been Around. Soulful Bacharach pop, great retro production, some country soul in there too. One song reminded me of The Delines. Her 2004 debut was coincidentally co-produced by Colin Elliot (and Richard Hawley) who I have been working with for the past few years with My Darling Clementine. I recall Erin and I did a joint show around 2005 / 2006, along with Peter Bruntnell and Thea Gilmore, for Mojo magazine. We were the musical turns at their Christmas quiz! All royally ignored by the assembled revellers, though we did all get free guitars for our pains.
I also checked out new albums from Logan Ledger (produced by T. Bone Burnett) and Pokey La Farge while I was out for a walk recently. The jury’s still out on both of those for me, though Logan has covered what I consider something of a lost country classic, Skip a rope, originally recorded by Henson Cargill in the late 60’. A kind of a country protest song, a bit Joe South. Great stuff.
‘Country Darkness Vol. 2’ is out June 5th