Hazeldine - How bees fly
mother is watching as she is growing skinny
and losing all the colour in her cheeks
Cherry coke and apple pie won't make her daughter happy
She's chasing dragons in her dreams
and sleeping through the weeks"
My Magdalene © Hazeldine
Back in late July, August time a band called Hazeldine left their hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico behind for a lengthy tour of America and Europe. Tuesday night gigging in Dublin back bar. Tonight winding up the tour in North London.
In the small loft bar adjunct to the Garage the band are struggling against the pecularities of an English sound check. It is a long tiresome business ironing out the wrinkles before band and the desk man call a truce. This is the bit most of us don't see. Two support bands cooling their heels waiting in turn. And me listening to Hazeldine sing bars out of Apothecary for about the sixth time in a row.
The Bitter Springs guitarist is leaning against the bar. We bandy one of those typical off the bar conversations. "Where are you from?" he asks. "The Isle of Wight," says I. "We call it the Isle of Shite," he laughs. "When did Hendrix last come play in your back yard?" I ask him. "Yeah but I come from Twickenham and we got the 'Oooo and the Stones". Sharp boy. Pity about this trio's music though. Time Out reckon that the Bitter Springs "play an intelligent mix of darkly cool, indie-folk, nestling somewhere between The Go-Betweens and Tindersticks." Maybe they sent out their reserve team tonight. Any one of half dozen Isle of Wight bands would have blown them clean to the wall.
Perhaps White Hotel showed more promise. I missed them. Off checking out the Weaver's for gems of gigs like the Penelope Swales farewell to England night last October. The Weavers is dead. Two punters in the side bar not more than that in the main bar. Not a gig in sight to raise the goosebumps either.
Upstairs at The Garage the goosebumps were about to start. I am stood alongside Mark the camerman from the 12 Bar who has been hired to shoot video and snap photos tonight. "Shawn and Tonya sang at the 12 Bar about a couple of weeks ago. They had been to the Borderline to watch a gig and came over. They borrowed some guitars and got up and did some stuff after the performers came off stage. Just sang with acoustic guitars, no amps, no mikes, even the bar closed on them." Sounded like my kind of gig.
North London seems to be the place for farewell nights. When Hazeldine came on stage after ten tonight they noted that this was their last gig. "Well not our last gig, ever," corrected Shawn Barton before Tonya Lamm interjected: "Yeah tomorrow we will die in a plane crash going home . . ." with a sense of Buddy Holly irony.
It's been a solid tour. Finding the best soundmen in Holland, the audiences a bit more reserved than those in Germany who seem to have taken the band to their hearts. There is even a German web site, in German (Hell knows what it says. Only word I understood was Hazeldine). From what Tonya Lamm said about hanging out with the Croatian mafia a tour diary might become a minor classic. The American 'No Depression' tour diary on the band's website is a cracker. Tales laced with Jim Beam and lust as the band magic mark their road map across America. Trailing right in Kerouac's wake.
Tonight Hazeldine have traded the Croatian Mafia for the record biz people. Hard to spot the difference as the smiling men in casual wear and umbilical chords mix and mingle. Most of them, unfortunately, bring their bored girlfriends along. The ones you can hear talking all through Hazeldine's set. Thankfully there is enough kick in the sound tonight to bury most of it. Enough supporters to blot it out. For tonight the band have played hard, fast and high. Like they were half a dozen gigs into a tour rather at the end of a long grind.
The first number was a mess as the band and the soundman got to grips with the mix. Then the rest sent shivers down my spine. The guitar work tonight just shone. The arrangements came like a shot of Perfido tequilla poured between my lips, slaked by salt and lime. Smooth as a baby's bum with a kick like a mule. Twin vocals hung with anguish and despair. Bass and drums exploding like a powder keg. Guitars scorching lightning between my ears.
Magdalene had me fall down drunk in love with the sound. That two step loping intro, the accented drop beats from bass and drums, electric guitars leading the dance and Shawn Barton emptying her soul out across the hall. Stunning. As was Apothecary in all its canyon wide majesty. Anne Tkach's bass intro, the clipped beat of Jeffery Richard's trap set and the gorgeous push of the stroked guitars. Shawn Barton sings one sad cowgirl in the sand lament. Tonya Lamm's supporting vocal floating, perfectly phased across the ether. Magic.
Tonya Lamm sings a marvellous, laconic, whiskey hazed, drifting song called Yer Shoes. She also has the band at full stretch on Postcard. Dynamite riff, probably borrowed from one of those classic 60s English bands but no matter the song has great contrasts. Switching between laconic verses and in yer face power chords.
There were so many creative peaks tonight it is hard to sort them all into some semblance of order. The Ward Bond roll 'em lope of Rosemary Cries, a stonking Tarmac complete with that verse about Batman, a masterful cover called Fuzzy that was all feedback guitars, gorgeous chords and Shawn Barton singing her heart out. The Bastard Son of Medora was etched in feedback with a vocal that rang clear as a bell. Built as solid as an adobe Pueblo. "She lights a blackened candle while whispering your name, contriving to bewilder, your name she craves to claim." They even did a song I didn't recognise at all. It was as stunning as the rest and had "crysanthemums" in the title. Wow.
On a high and Shawn Barton asked for tequillas from the stage for the band. None came. This and the final straw with the sound system, which had been pretty good all night, that turned the set around. It all ended abruptly.
The band were wrongfooted by Anne Tkach's bass blowing out the monitoring trip switch. These devices keep rock'n'roll within limits set by grey men in suits who lunch on council expenses. The kind that wouldn't know rock'n'roll if it bit them up the arse.
The resulting confusion led the band to turn the heat down for two more numbers. "Let's do something really miserable," suggested Tonya. Maybe one was Yer Blues, I wasn't taking count tonight. They left off then when in hindsight they might have just kicked the set to the end with another killer song. I had crossed my fingers all night that they would do Drive. Reading the set list upside down from twenty feet away (It's the carrots, you've never seen a rabbit with glasses have you?) I could make out DRIVE at the bottom of the list. Not tonight. When Shawn Barton did come back she took the microphone to say: "Thanks for the tequilla, you bunch of wankers" before pushing her way through the backstage door.
Failing to get Shawn Barton back onstage Tonya Lamm took the opportunity to sing an accapella song. It was a beautiful. Perfect ending for a set. I immediately made the connection between the Applachian region and Ireland. Tonya Lamm sounded like she had been inspired by the Guinness from the night before. Her rendition would have knocked the punters at the 12 Bar dead.
Hazeldine are labelled 'alternative country' but they ain't alternative to anything. You will hear all kinds of influences in there. English rock bands, wagon trail country and hefty wedges of electric guitar that sound how Neil Young might have ended up if he spent his formative years in the Dingo Bar, Albuquerque instead of Ontario.
For me there is a cinematic quality about the songs. A sense of the dramatic. Some of the arrangements have the sprawl of a movie set amongst the cactus and pines of the wild West, others are just hard and fast rockers. Whatever the influences they delivered the dynamics with the crack of a depth charge. Vocals like peaches. Sometimes they were sparse, sometimes the music soared. Whatever, it was always electric. Something special. Worth the seventy mile trip from the south.
I went home on the last southbound train, with a pile of drunks bound for Woking, insulated by a New Mexico soundtrack playing in my head. Next time they come back I hope they get to play a better venue like the Borderline. Then I'll stand them all the tequilla they want at the 12 Bar over the road.
Hazeldine's first album is called
How Bees Fly (Glitterhouse GRDC 416)
Route 66 rips right through Albuquerque but while the highway whines with cars and trucks the locals live life a tad slower. Such is Hazeldine's sound. Relaxed, full bodied chords uncoiling. Guitars, bass and drums in an unhurried dance step. The twin lead vocals pitching in the Gilded Palace of Sin territory between country and pop.
Last year Postcard and Magdeline had nailed me to the Split Rail. This year Drive conjured up my journey out of Albuquerque through the West Texas tumbleweeds to Austin. It was a song that said so much about the band hauling old amps, drums and guitars in transit all the way from Albuquerque. Tonya Lamm sang lead on Drive with that unmistakable burr of the Appalachian mountains in her voice. It shimmered like a ride out into the flat prairies. As though Kerouac and Cassidy were flying down the freeway to Amarillo with the New Mexico mountains trailing behind their tailpipe. Texas plains dead ahead.
I was hearing new songs like Apothecary and Tarmac for the first time amongst Magdeline and Postcard tonight. Apothecary was a brooding Albuquerque back porch in the sun song. Stunning. Tarmac was Shawn Barton at her Flying Burrito Brothers best. She comes straight outta the cover of the Gilded Palace of Sin. She is Gram Parsons archetype 'grevious angel'. Great songwriter, excellent vocalist. Tarmac is a classic 'motel blues'. A great pop song with a razor sharp alluring couplet that should have Batman pushing out his chest.
The set was short, there were problems with a guitar amp but hey this rock'n'roll not cellophane wrapped MTV and they looked like they enjoyed being back in Awesome, Texas again.
Hazeldine's set was a cracker. Best of three I caught this trip. They were joined by a guy playing country lead on the first two numbers. Shawn Barton plugging in a beautiful black acoustic guitar. Kicked off with 'I'm So Lonesome Without You' from the Bloodshot Compilation Straight Outta Boone County. Sounded like a song for lazing around in a wheatfield to. Turns out it is a standard from some 40s hayride radio show. The twin lead vocals of Shawn Barton and Tonya Lamm were sweet and sure. Think the next song was a standard too before the band returned to a four piece and came shimmering out of New Mexico with their own songs.
Shawn Barton's irrepressible Tarmac and Tonya Lamm's Drive like American travelogues not found in the Thomas Cook brochures. The band clearly enjoyed themselves. Anne, the bass player almost shaking her head off, drummer Jeffery laying down a surefooted beat that lifted the guitars up and all over the place. Vocals were a peach. Cock on.