Once more with feeling
Craig McLean waves his country ﬂag high, eyed rather dubiously by The Rockingbirds’ Alan Tyler.
‘It’s a great untapped source ofenjoyment, country music. It’s a shame that it‘s not embraced by more people.’ Well said, that man. It‘s a great untainted source ofenjoyment too. Pottering about in the back of the collective pop consciousness, country retains its base echoes. ones that have resonated free-wheelingly in and out of the rock‘n‘roll vocabulary ever since some sweethearts of the rodeo first gave us ‘country rock’. Country has remained cool and aloof, able to withstand the convecting forces that would otherwise sweep it up and cloud it with all those other hydrid musical forms. Country music remains pure, clear-sighted, and true to its and your soul.
There ends today‘s Up Its Bum Thesis On The Magicness Of Country Music And The Vitality Thereof. Country music speaks volumes, inspires passions, and is all-too-often greeted with unblinking distaste. But you have to fight the cause. and at last reinforcements have arrived, in the shape ofThe Rockingbirds. Fight the cause!
‘Other people think we‘re fighting a cause, but we don‘t.‘ Rockingbirds vocalist and songwriter Alan Tyler shoots down the rallying call. Oh well. disagreement is debate, which is the strength of any movement. ‘We‘re just fighting our own cause. which is trying to be heard. It‘s just a matter of knowing what you want to do and fighting to be able to do that.‘
What The Rockingbirds want to do is to play music that for them is as much sourced in parched old Texas as it is in the watering holes of their
native Camden. The novelty twist with The ’Birds 3
is their not-American-ness, non-pedigree
rootsiness. Bits of them used to be in The Weather ’
Prophets and Milk. All of them are big city
Londoners. And all of their self-titled debut album.
rings true with authentic country textures by the twangful.
Stuff the censures of pigeonholability, says an adamant Tyler. ‘You can‘t be too worried about what are supposed to be the realities of what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not. It’s more exciting if you‘re doing something that’s unlikely. That’s what makes the group exciting, not what we intrinsically are, but who we are - the fact that we are people from London who‘ve never played country music before, who are trying to grapple with it and make something of it, in our own way, that makes it . . . distinctive and good.’
Undoubtedly aiding The Rockingbirds in their mission is the hip splendidness of their record label. Heavenly is home to Flowered Up and St Etienne, and one-time home of Manic Street Preachers. Heavenly farmed out some of its cred to the emergent Rockingbirds. allowing them to hurdle the country-phobic disdain which might otherwise have blocked their way.
‘Oh yeah. Heavenly is not a label that specialises in niche marketing, it doesn’t just cordon off its own area and target a certain group of people. It‘s basically a pop label that believes in pop music and believes that great music can get across to people, no matter what barriers exist.‘
In comparison, consider The Liberties. Straight outta Edinburgh in 1990, they had pedal steel and mandolins, and country songs of depth and vision. The Rockingbirds‘ similarity is frightening at times. Ahead of their time, on a run-of—the-mill major label, bereft of the crucial Cool Quotient, The Liberties were rent asunder.
Alan remembers. ‘The vibe I got off The Liberties was that it looked very serious and adult-orientated, which is what we get pushed into quite a lot. Bands get very compartmentalised. It‘s very difficult to break through that. Every
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I The Rockingbirds backup mom Said Fred's ﬂlchanl Falrhnm
sub-section of the nation has got its own music mapped out for them that they‘re supposed to listen to. And most people just go along with that.‘
And so The Rockingbirds saunter off into the
sunset, wending their barrier-trashing way. Hear their stuff, and that ofThe Jayhawks (whose recently release Def American album Hollywood Town Hall is brilliant, wiry country with the edge of Neil Young) and hear the baleful canard that country is crap well and truly nailed. Nothing short of unconditional resipiscence (This is a word used only by Craig McLean which means ‘recognition of error‘ — Ed) will do. The Rockingbirds do their thing with passion and humour, equally able to pay heroic respect to Jonathon Richman and Right Said Fred (check out their cover of ‘Deeply Dippy’ on the charity Fred EP).
The Rockingbirds play country music. ‘I like the element of storytelling in it,’ Tyler enthuses. ‘I like the lyrical side to it. the way it talks in a different way. I like the lucidness of it. the simplicity of it. You can get up and bang three chords on a guitar and you‘re making music that stands up. With feeling.‘
The Rockingbirds play The Venue, Edinburgh on Sat 24 and King Tut’s, Glasgow on Sun 25.
The List 23 October- 5 November 1992 28