The Other Half
My Darling Clementine and Mark Billingham
A Tale of Bar-room Minutiae in Words and Music.
Since first hearing about this intriguing concept between Crime Writer Mark Billingham and Britain’s Premier Country and Western Duo My Darling Clementine I”ve been desperately trying to get my hands on a copy; but all requests fell on deaf ears.
Then totally out of the blue; my friends in Swedish Scandinavia, Hemifran sent me a copy in a package with 6 other albums. Hurrah!
As it’s a narrated story; a mystery of sorts, set in a backstreet bar in Memphis and set to music I kept it until I was in the car and could concentrate. The wait was well worth it.
‘The Other Half’ isn’t the most exciting of stories; as most of the characters are actually dull and boring; ‘nothing like the fat guy in Cheers.’ Their reasons for sitting there are told through the eyes of barmaid Marcia; an ex-Vegas Showgirl with more stories in her own closet than is good for her. All of the customers have previously untold stories and secrets too; and slowly but surely, they ooze out, little by little; occasionally in the music of My Darling Clementine. But doesn’t everyone who sits in a back street bar on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening have secrets and stories too? Why else would they be there?
Mark Billingham makes all of the characters ‘believable,’ but leaving just enough out for the listener to colour in the blank parts themselves; and the judicious use of MDC songs is marvelous; and existing fans will love the way Billinghams’ words twist and wind until the perfect song from their back catalogue comes in at just the right moment; to punctuate and move the story along.
Spread over an undefined period of time; in an unnamed Memphis bar, there is a theatrical/radio feel to the production; and because I’d not heard a short story in this format before (words AND songs) I sat enthralled the first time I heard it; and even during the next twice (when I filled in the gaps) I felt like I too was sat in the corner of the bar, eaves dropping on the conversations and creating my own stories for the strangers surrounding me.
Marcia befriends some characters; others stories are just told in passing; but you feel engaged with everyone; always imagining what will become of them. Some we do find out about; others disappear like stars in the night; just like in real life.
There are guest appearances from Graham Parker and actor David Morrissey as various characters; but that’s just a smokescreen; as, alongside the classic C&W observational love songs of My Darling Clementine. this is very much Mark Billingham’s ‘vehicle.’
Eventually all of the loose threads do manage to get pulled together in an ending that pleased me; but may or may not be satisfying for you. Mrs. Magpie had enough questions to fill an other hour!
The trio are touring this album in the same format; which is just as intriguing and I already have tickets booked for a presentation; so ‘watch this space.’
Released May 2015