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State Of The Union

State Of The Union at Tarc Gallery & Cafe, Stanford Bridge,Worcestershire. 03/07/2012.

by Ian Mann

July 05, 2012


Ian Mann enjoys the music of the Anglo/American duo of songsmiths Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams.

State Of The Union (Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams), Tarc Gallery & Café, Stanford Bridge, Worcestershire, 03/07/2012.

State Of The Union is a new Anglo/American collaboration between the British singer/songwriter/guitarist Boo Hewerdine and his US counterpart Brooks Williams. Both are successful solo artists in their own right with extensive discographies but this new duo has developed a life of its own and has proved to be highly popular with UK audiences. Although both musicians have their own busy performance schedules State Of The Union seems to be becoming an increasingly important commitment for both of them.

Tonight’s performance in the intimate environs of the Tarc Gallery & Café in rural Worcestershire was one of a series of gigs the duo are playing across the UK during 2012, others have included a successful appearance at The Big Session festival at Catton Hall, South Derbyshire.

This was my second visit to Tarc ( the acronym stands for Teme Arts & Rural Crafts) following the enjoyable evening in the company of the Tom Hill Blues Trio at the end of May. Unfortunately things didn’t get off to an auspicious due to what Reggie Perrin’s brother in law Jimmy might have called a “bit of a cock up on the catering front”. I’d arranged a reservation for our party of three with promoter Deborah Rose but somewhere along the line a breakdown in communications with café proprietor Rosemary Kirby meant that our names weren’t registered and there wasn’t a table reserved for us. Rosemary wasn’t sure whether she could make the food stretch to supplying a further three unexpected guests. We agreed that it might be best if we decided to forego the meal and instead nip off to a nearby pub for something to eat and return later for the music-it was now 7.30 and the duo weren’t due on stage until nine. They say every cloud has a silver lining and on Rosemary’s recommendation we decamped to the Lion at Clifton on Teme where we enjoyed honest, value for money pub grub and top quality beer at eye wateringly cheap prices-£2.00 a pint for Otter Bitter, £2.15 for Hobson’s Mild and the most expensive cask beer was still only £2.50. I can just sense the incredulity amongst our London based followers as they read this. Those who know me are aware that I love my beer so this unscheduled visit to a pub that I last visited some twenty five years ago actually turned out to be a very enjoyable bonus.

When we got back to Tarc the music had already started but Rosemary had managed to clear a table for us and even managed to save us some of the sweet, she also gave us a complimentary coffee.  She didn’t charge any of us an admission fee and although the mix up had been unfortunate everything was dealt with to our satisfaction. Both Deborah and Rosemary were extremely contrite but basically it was just “one of those things” and certainly didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the evening or of the music. There’s certainly no hard feelings on my part so don’t worry ladies we’re all looking forward to coming to the next Tarc event in September. 

By the time we got back from the Lion Hewerdine and Williams had already taken to the stage and we missed the first couple of numbers. I’m indebted to my friend Andy Cole who was also in the audience for informing me that they began by singing a solo song each. Hewerdine opened with “Patience Of Angels”, the hit song he wrote for Eddi Reader with whom he still works regularly. As well as his work as a solo performer Hewerdine is also a prolific writer of songs for others and also has a busy career as an in demand record producer. Williams’ solo number was the outlaw ballad “Frank Delandry”, the stand out track from his 2010 “Baby O”, a recording reviewed elsewhere on this site. Besides speaking highly of the music Andy also expressed his enjoyment of the salmon meal that he and the rest of the audience had enjoyed earlier.

As a duo Hewerdine and Williams complemented each other well with the laconic,very English Hewerdine a good balance for the more effusive Williams. The American now lives a “Trans Atalantic existence” and spends time between the US, UK and Europe. In contrast to Hewerdine’s functional, economic guitar playing Williams offered virtuosic finger picking and imaginative use of the slide, he’s a highly accomplished player across a variety of American music styles from folk to country to blues to jazz. In the main he seems to blend blues and country in a wholly convincing manner and his lead guitar work was a treat. Williams may have threatened to steal the show but it was Hewerdine who most of the audience seemed to have come to see. With a recording career dating back to his work with the 1980’s indie group The Bible he’s an artist with a strong cult following and many of the people I spoke to had seen him before, some had been at the excellent solo performance that I once attended at St. Michael’s Village Hall near neighbouring Tenbury Wells.

The remainder first set saw the two men performing together, alternating the lead vocals but with the other frequently providing harmonies on material such as Williams’ “Haunted” and Hewerdine’s “Carry On”. They shared the vocals on “Land Of The Hammer”, a song written for BBC Radio 2’s “Ballads Of The Games” series.

The first half was very well received but it was in the second set that the duo really came into their own as they concentrated on the material from the recently released “State Of The Union” album, a recording that was completed in just three days thanks to the instant rapport established between the two players. First up was Williams’ “Darkness” followed by Herwerdine’s humorous and absurdly catchy “23 Skidoo”. The title track proved to be a dazzling instrumental which allowed the pair, and Williams in particular, to demonstrate their formidable guitar playing skills.

The jointly written “Distant Memory” with the duo alternating on lead vocals was full of rootsy playing and ironic but poignant lyrics from the “I’m Not In Love” school of lyric writing.

Sung by Williams the rollicking “Union Jack” delighted in the irony of an American singing a song about London’s landmarks and images while Hewerdine’s “Blue Honeymoon” benefited from the drily humorous delivery of its singer and composer.

One of the most remarkable tracks on the “State Of The Union” album is their transformation of the old Pet Shop Boys hit “Rent”, performed here as a roots anthem featuring Williams incisive slide guitar.

Although not scheduled last here Williams’ “Three Little Words” closes the album and is a good representation of the country side of his writing and playing, perhaps straying a little bit too close to sentimentality for my personal tastes. I much preferred Hewerdine’s more forceful “Muddy Water” from his 2009 solo album “God Bless The Pretty Things”, his urgent guitar strumming and hard hitting vocals and lyrics subtly embellished by Williams apposite guitar work.

The spiritual “Sweet Honey In The Rock” closed the set with the duo sharing the vocals. Above a backdrop of driving guitars their voices swooped and soared joyously and they encouraged the audience to join in with Williams delivering the coup de grace with yet another blistering slide guitar solo.

The inevitable encore featured Deborah Rose lending backing vocals to the rousing “Rags and Bones”, sung by Hewerdine and with the members of the audience joining in with lusty accompaniment. After the gig the duo took time to talk to an appreciative audience and CD sales were reassuringly brisk. This may have been outside my usual musical zone but I enjoyed it immensely. Hewerdine and Williams are experienced professionals and the standard of singing, songwriting and playing was consistently excellent.

For us the earlier mix up paled into total insignificance when my wife checked her mobile phone after the gig. She had received a text telling us that one of our friends had died suddenly following a short mystery illness. He was only forty four. The cause of death was later revealed to be an aortic aneurysm.

Although not a formal part of the Jazzmann team Andrew Faulkner was my “go to” man for any computer problems that needed fixing and was therefore a vital part of keeping this thing up and running. He was also a close friend and regular drinking companion who will be sorely missed. What a terrible tragedy, it just puts everything, even music, into perspective. R.I.P. Andy. 


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