The Other Half
Mark Billingham & My Darling Clementine
13th February 2016
I’d been trying to see this concert for the best part of the last 12 months, as the concept really intrigued me; as you know if you’ve read my album review.
Esteemed Crime Writer Mark Billingham has joined forces with My Darling Clementine, to perform a short story based in a Memphis bar (at some time in the last 15 years) with intermittent musical accompaniment from the husband and wife duo Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish.
The evening began with Billingham coming out to explain the format and as the lights dimmed; was followed by My Darling Clementine, with Michael sporting a large Fedora and Lou a vision in pink and black; but looking more like a Modette than a Country singer.
To get us ‘in the mood’ they performed a few songs so we could ‘get our Country on;’ with the first, Departure Lounge being a personal favourite.
Eventually Billingham rose from the shadows to begin the story at his lace covered lectern. As The Other Half is an actual story with a beginning, a middle and an end; I won’t spoil it for you except for saying everything revolves around ex-showgirl Marcia; who is now tending bar in the rundown part of town and likes to hear her patrons ‘stories’ and sometimes imagine them for them, if she hasn’t got the facts.
Every five or six minutes the story links, coincidentally to a song from MDC’s back catalogue of heartbreakers and tearjerkers; and they inhabit their characters in a very theatrical manner.
In Billingham’s favour this is a very good story; told well; although I did wish he could have stopped for breath to allow some of the funnier lines to get the chuckles that they deserved; but no; he carried on as if he was on the radio.
Speaking of ‘chuckles’ Mrs. Magpie nudged me at one stage and ran her fingers across her cheeks; which puzzled me until I realised she was mimicking the way the light was reflecting through the storytellers glasses; leaving Adam Ant like stripes across his face. Perhaps you had to be there.
The story; as on the CD/LP was split into two halves with Part I closing with MDC singing No Matter What Tammy Said; with the chorus “I’m seeing black and blue and purple/
‘cause he keeps seeing red.” Which tells you all you need to know where the story was at.
It was interesting in the bar; as opinions about what had gone before were quite polarised, with a few people I know at loggerheads as to whether they were enjoying it; and when we returned there were a few notable gaps in the seats in front of me.
Personally; I’d enjoyed it and proceeded to enjoy the second half; if the story did rush along at a frantic pace as Billingham pulled all the loose threads together; while Michael and Lou got to perform; and ‘perform’ is the perfect description as they seamlessly slid Back to Memphis and the sensational The Half of It, with it’s blind-siding punchline into the story.
All too quickly it was over; only it wasn’t. The story came to a close of course then My Darling Clementine regaled us with ‘some songs that would have been on Marcia’s Juke box.’
The first, Good Year For The Roses raised the first cheer of the evening and highlighted Weston Kings rich baritone voice. This was followed by a rare Gram and Emmylou duet and Your Cheatin’ Heart, before the evening finally ended with Ray Price’s Heartaches by the Number.
While I enjoyed the evening (I’m a huge fan of both acts) Mrs. Magpie and some friends we met near the exit were less complimentary. For what it’s worth I did agree with a couple of their criticisms :-
1) The four songs at the end should have been included earlier and throughout the performance.
2) Occasionally MWK would strum his guitar when Mark read his story; this should have enhanced more exerts as occasionally it sounded like a school assembly.
3) More could have been made of the slide show on the big screen; the photos were good at ‘scene setting’ but there weren’t enough of them.
That’s it; a pleasant evening for some of us; but it did sound and feel like a Pulp Fiction story on the radio.