Charley Crockett + Theo Lawrence, The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 31st October 2022 – Americana UK

Charley Crockett + Theo Lawrence, The Deaf Institute, Manchester, 31st October 2022 – Americana UK
Photo: Leslie Shimmin

Charley Crockett’s show at Manchester’s iconic Deaf Institute venue was sold out some way in advance of the gig. At a time when many americana shows are struggling to recover their audience in this post-pandemic period, this was perhaps the first indication that something was afoot here. The usual crowd of middle-aged balding men in steel-rimmed glasses and Nashville t-shirts were of course there, but alongside them and outnumbering them were a much younger and more gender mixed crowd of Crockett fans, who rather than watch reverentially, sang along heartily to many of his songs.

What turned out to be a very special evening was provided with a wonderful start by the hugely impressive Theo Lawrence. Playing solo and acoustic Lawrence informed a very receptive audience that he usually performs with “a rock and roll band”. Working solo does have its advantages though, allowing Lawrence to showcase his rich and melodious voice as he worked his way through a varied set of folk, country, western ballads and yes, a bit of rock and roll. A new name to most in the audience, a post-gig delve into his catalogue provided some rich rewards.

Photo: Leslie Shimmin

Strutting purposefully onstage with his five-piece band The Blue Drifters, Charley Crockett looks like and has the demeanour of the star that he is surely set to become. Opening up with ‘Cowboy Candy’ from his recent outstanding ‘The Man from Waco’ album, Crockett charged through a set running to 28 songs including encores. Stopping only to deliver the obligatory “Hello Manchester” and to briefly pay tribute to James Hand, the pace never slowed until Crockett paused to introduce Jerry Reed’s ‘I Feel for You’. Clearly Crockett like to let his music do the talking and tonight’s audience heard him loud and clear. Having demonstrated his ability to utilise almost the full range of classic country styles including traditional, honky-tonk, Bakersfield and you name it, he can do it, the last quarter of the show demonstrated that Crockett could go beyond country music too. A very soulful interpretation of T-Bone Walker’s ‘Travellin’ Blues’ was a delight, as were ’Lily My Dear’ and ‘Round this World’ two original banjo tunes whilst Crockett’s transformation into a blue-eyed soul singer for ‘Trinity River’ and the funky ‘I’m Just a Clown’ was breathtaking. He then finished by returning to the pure country music that is more closely associated with via ‘I’m Going Back to Texas’ before leaving the stage to a rapturous reception.

Photo: Leslie Shimmin

The two encores that followed further demonstrated Crockett’s mastery of the great American musical palette. Firstly, he reappeared solo to deliver ‘July, Texas’, a classic murder ballad and then followed it by bringing the band back on for a generous slab of southern soul via ‘In the Night’. It was a tumultuous ending to a breathtaking show. The younger than usual audience lapped it up, which brings us back to our starting point. Something is definitely happening. Crockett is one of a number of artists that seem to be breaking out of the traditional americana fanbase and attracting a new generation of fans. My live review of Sierra Ferrell for AUK earlier this year was making much the same point. At times, with his onstage moves and poses, I was reminded of Dwight Yoakam who in the 1980’s redefined and rebooted country music, opening it up a to a new generation of fans. Charley Crockett and his contemporaries seem to be less dramatically, but quite surely, doing a similar thing in the 2020’s – and all power to him.

Photo: Leslie Shimmin

 

 

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