As the crowd filtered into Mad Hatters they were greeted by opener James Mackenzie, billed under the guise of Verona acoustic. James has been broadening his horizons of late and tonight was an opportunity to find out if his brand of music would cross over to a country, albeit contemporary, audience.
Playing in the main songs from his earlier EPs he also brought in ‘the best song that he never wrote’’, ‘To Love Somebody’. It was a heartfelt interpretation of the classic that, being early in the set, found favour with the audience. His humour also drew a connection, one which the amiable James can can do with most audiences.
The set flowed well, even if his guitar needed constant retuning, and ‘Something I’m Not Telling You’ gave him an opportunity to display his vocal range. All in all it turned out to be a good night for James with a few CDs sold, a few photos taken with new fans, and further spreading of the word on Verona.
The name Raintown may give you that feeling that you are were going to see a Deacon Blue tribute act but, as with Ricky Ross’s radio show, this is another country. This, as the night progressed, was to be a night of the kind of country you associate with Lady Antebellum.
Essentially Claire McArthur and Paul Bain are a vocal duo who are backed up by a very tight band who deserved a lot of praise for the part which they played in the evening. They also came with a reputation as the current BCMA ‘Duo of the Year’ and an act that can command high profile slots at major venues such as London’s O2 Arena and those further afield in Nashville. They arrived with this fine pedigree and, as the night wore on, their fans were not disappointed.
With their band lighting the touchpaper Claire and Paul took to the stage for opener ‘Light The Fuse Up’. With Claire more in the style of Manga than a Tennessee gal, it is clear that with her flame hair and sparkly blue top, country has moved on from stetsons and cowboy boots. Although placing emphasis on their original material they had time to engage in a couple of covers including Keith Urban’s ‘Somebody Like You’ and Avicii’s ‘Wake Me Up’.
The balance in vocals, and chemistry, between Claire and Paul works in each song although Claire outshone her partner when they played ‘Hope In Troubled Times’ in their short acoustic interlude. The pacy numbers, especially after the acoustic interval, played to the audiences preferences, and with the tail end of the set ramped up with the introduction of the aforementioned ‘Wake Me Up’, and ‘Beautiful Life’, ‘What Matters Most’ and their encore song ‘Just One Kiss’.
The level of musicianship within the band is high, and clever use of the bouzouki and tin whistle by Stevie Lawrence lifted many songs to a different level, and lively guitar solos by Connor Smith could have had an even greater presence within the set.
Essentially Raintown know their audience and their audience know them. They interact well throughout their set, not just through their songs but through their stories. A closeness between country acts and and their audiences and families is not new, but it is real, and such a connection is a strength that Raintown play well, especially in slower numbers such as ‘I Won’t Dance Alone’.
I may not be a dedicated country fan but Raintown had an extensive set which held me throughout the night, even if the delivery was, for me, a little on the holiday camp side at times. Country music, and by that I mean at the commercial end of the spectrum, may not be so obvious up north as it was in years gone by, but it is hardly an underground scene either.
The audience age range suggested that there is a market for more of this genre in the north, especially with fans willing to pay to see a band of the calibre of Raintown. So hopefully this will be the first in a number of similar nights.