The intimate backroom of the Glad Cafe was the fullest I’d seen since we were allowed out to play again. The Fallen Angels’ regulars were out in force with the numbers swelled by many who would normally be paying big bucks to see Country stars at the likes of C2C. The Country star tonight was Joshua Hedley, not playing arenas but seemingly more than happy to entertain the packed crowd who had turned out to see him, just as he does most weeks at Robert’s Western World in Nashville.
Touring on the back of his second album ‘Neon Blue’, Hedley was accompanied by pedal steel player Leo Grassl, and he kept to acoustic guitar throughout with no recourse to his acclaimed fiddle playing. No matter really as the duo gelled quite brilliantly with Grassl’s honeyed steel playing perfectly attuned to Hedley’s, in the main, tearstained numbers. Steeped in the country tradition of hurtin’ songs, there was only one occasion when the pair broke out with ‘Broke Again’ delivered as a fast tempo boogie with Hedley admitting that he’d just figured out how to vamp up his guitar part. Declaring that he wasn’t a fan of set lists, much of the show found Hedley and Grassl briefly discussing what to play next with a plentiful selection from both ‘Neon Blue’ and his debut album, ‘Mr. Jukebox’ on show along with a judicious range of classic country songs. Early in the set ‘Weird Thought Thinker’ and ‘Let’s Take A Vacation’ were loudly applauded, the latter in particular although it’s worthy to note that Hedley’s spoken interlude was listened to in rapt silence by the crowd. ‘Down To My Last Lie’ meanwhile showed that the new album has its fair share of tears on a brilliant cheating song but it was a surprise to hear him sing Jimmy Buffet’s ‘A Pirate Looks At 40′, explained away by Hedley as his growing up in Florida catching up with him. It was a fine version.
Throughout the set Hedley engaged in some riotous banter with the audience asking, for example, what on earth was Buckfast and wondering why his hair sprouted everywhere aside from his scalp. However, it was when he launched into his Mr. Jukebox persona, with Grassl departing the stage that saw the hoots really begin. Asking us to shout out our favourite country singers and then playing a pertinent song Hedley was in great form. A shout out for Gram Parsons received the withering response, “Really?” He was only joking however and launched into a chilling version of ‘Miller’s Cave’, a song which featured on the International Submarine Band’s album. He actually started this section of the show with one of his own songs, ‘Found In A Bar’, a request by a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary. Then, selecting from the audience shout outs we heard ‘Pancho And Lefty’, ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’, Waylon’s ‘Amanda’ and Cash’s ‘Walk The Line’ (with Hedley having great fun with Cash’s humming). As Grassl returned to the stage Hedley spoke about the time Roger Miller appeared on the Johnny cash show before the pair of them played a short version of Miller’s ‘Robin Hood’ song from the Disney cartoon and then another Miller song, ‘River In the Rain’, which was quite spellbinding.
The end was fast approaching when Hedley sang the title songs of his two albums, both excellent with the duo managing to sum up the energy of the recorded version of ‘Neon Blue’ with ease. Having already told us to just “pretend” at the end that he’d left the stage he then said goodbye, bowed, and launched into his “pretend” encore. It was, he said, a song from his favourite songwriter Mickey Newbury before singing a powerful and very moving ‘Sweet Memories’. A perfect end to what was an excellent show.
In the support slot was Edinburgh’s Al Shields, no stranger here, but playing his first gig in almost three years. The layoff hasn’t seemed to affect him as he displayed his usual self-deprecatory sense of humour and quickly won over the audience including the country fans who had come to see Hedley. His song about an imagined affair with a regular drinker in a bar he worked in, ‘Friday Night When The Doors Close’, was just perfect for the occasion. With some excellent songs in his set such as ‘Kick Your Feet Up’, ‘Counting The Hours’ and, in particular, ‘The Boys In The Band’, Shields’ return to the stage was much appreciated by all.