Suddenly the Summer was behind us, a chill in the air and the streets of London were already getting dark, but not dark yet. There’s a chill wind around Hampstead Road Lock 1’s double-double lock. Dingwalls beckons – it’s a night of doubling up, with two Kentucky bands. And even as the opener, Wayne Graham, are preparing to take the stage it’s already getting crowded in Dingwalls, which is a strong indication that Tyler Childers will come out to a fully rammed venue. Wayne Graham is a four piece band, and no-one in the band is called Wayne Graham; it’s an amalgamation of the surnames of the grandfathers of brothers Hayden and Kenny Miles who are the lead singer and drummer in the band respectively.
Wayne Graham could be loosely described as operating in the territory of the New Outlaw Country Revival – country sounding rock with an interest in topics outside of the acceptable mainstream. You get the idea from ‘Mexico‘ which has with the ominous opening line “it was in your blood stream on the day you died / ’til they replaced it with formaldehyde“. Hayden Miles is an intriguing frontman, appearing to be about to bolt from the stage whilst singing his dark tales with steady assurance. About halfway through their set Wayne Graham took a stumble – Hayden Miles may be a confident lead singer, but Kenny is less so, and with the drumming reduced to a minimum and Kenny’s soft vocal – which probably works fine on record – there’s that moment of crystal clarity when a band loses their connection with the audience and listeners become chatterers. A moment that is redeemed when the song bursts into flame with an explosively imaginative guitar solo coda.
Tyler Childers’ band, by contrast, has a secret weapon from the get-go: a band line-up of five which means that pedal steel is a dramatic presence from the first song ‘Take My Hounds to Heaven‘, which sets up Childer’s rollicking good time credentials as he asks his evangelical gal to answer that most fundamental of doctrinal issues “Now you tell me there are streets of gold and angels in the air / and all that’s fine and dandy and I’m sure it’s nice up there / there’s just one thing that I need to know before I settle down / can I take my hounds to heaven ? Can I hunt upon God’s grounds?“. It’s as toe-tapping a number as you’d imagine, and ensures that Tyler Childers hits the ground running at a hunting pace.
Tyler Childers has the Sturgill Simpson seal of approval, to the extent that the album ‘Purgatory‘, which naturally features heavily in the set, was co-produced by him. And it’s easy to see why that should be – the mix of Outlaw Country sensibilities and outright rock and roll in the Crazy House mode is instantly engaging and Childers himself exudes a garrulous charm, with song introductions and asides in a sometimes impenetrable Kentucky drawl. A frequent theme in his songs is of being overcome and incapacitated by drink or drugs: ‘I swear (to God)‘ takes a swaying honky-tonking approach to the topic with Childers reeling off road-stories ‘I only had a couple of drinks last night and a few good hits from the end of a pipe and I must admit I had a few white lines‘ before a chorus suggesting that there may be some lack of veracity in his dialled in messages home ‘Well there ain’t nobody in my room tonight / goodnight honey honey sleep tight / Ma, I swear I’m doing alright when the evening comes a-round I swear to God‘. The slower and more intimate tale of ‘Feathered Indians‘ takes a different look at living the high life ‘If I’d known she was religious / The I wouldn’t have come stoned / To the house of an angel / Too fucked up to get home‘. It’s a song that’s an audience favourite with a genuine roar of sung-a-long lyrics. Obviously Tyler Childers also sings of love – and there’s mirror examples of his love songs too, with ‘Your ever loving hand‘ describing in just too much detail how a rollicking young musician – despite appearances Tyler Childers is only twenty-seven – survives on the road whilst pledged not to cheat on his wife, and then there’s the love song his wife actually prefers ‘Lady May‘ which is a soft and tender portrait of an angel in human form.
There’s huge energy pouring off the band throughout the set, with the duels between pedal steel and guitar only being challenged for their intensity when the pedal steel is abandoned and the sound is driven by twin lead guitar duels. At these moments the band truly breaks out of the good-time honky-tonking constraints and heads for stellar levels of rock excess. And that’s a good thing – diversity of sound. To say this went down well would be an understatement of stupendous proportions. In Camden, Tyler Childers is already a genuine star.