Gen 14 2010, 22:05
There's a reason why Country Music isn't "big" or "mainstream" in the UK. "What is that reason?" you ask. Well, i'll tell you.
For years I have been telling anyone who will listen that the main barrier to Country breaking through in the UK is that radio and tv refuse to promote the music. Aside from a few ‘token’ interviews with such Country stars as Taylor Swift, Alison Krauss, etc and now and then a station throwing it’s weight behind a new artists latest single, we really don’t get a lot of coverage in the UK media. Oh you could point out the many “articles” written about Taylor in the past year, but too often these totally ignore the music and focus on her private life, or the incident with Kanye West. Her massive achievements (multiple #1 hits, countless awards, a successful worldwide tour) are ignored.
But this isn’t what I wanted to write about here (I may write another article on the subject in the future). What I want to address here is the group that wants to keep Country music firmly in the past, connected to things that have nothing at all to do with the music.
I of course refer to the Cowboy Clubs. Groups of mostly older people gather on a regular basis, dressed as extras from a John Wayne film (cowboy gear, spurs, hat, plastic cap gun in a holster, American Indian dresses, complete with papoose dolls – you get the idea).
Most of the “artists” who “perform” (i’m going to use quotes a LOT in this) at these venues are karaoke superstars, singing to a karaoke cd. And there’s the unique phenomenon of people from these shores taking on an American accent when they sing Country songs. Why? You’re not American. Some of these people do actually have an instrument, but have little idea on how to play it, and certainly cannot tune whatever they’re playing.
After a few “45 minute sets” (apparently you can’t just do a full concert with no breaks, or maybe just one), the entire club will gather round the dance floor (i’m not even going to get started on that!), all in their Cowboys & Indians getups, and proceed to re-enact the American Civil War. They shoot each other with their toy cap guns, rolling around on the floor feigning pain. And then, inevitably, they make peace. They walk towards each other crying genuine real tears, and hug each other. A Confederate flag (most often the one that’s been hanging at the back of the stage all night) is then folded in the style of the American military funeral, while a cd recording of An American Trilogy is played.
I ask you, what does any of that have to do with Country music? Americans are completely baffled at us Brits playing dress up and taking it all seriously – and are further bemused at how we connect it to the music we love.
Getting back to the issue of the “bands”. These people think very highly of themselves, despite being what any good music fan will tell you is an extremely third rate performance. They talk of having written songs with real Country legends from the USA, of being their bestest buddies after having met them in an autograph line after the show.....oh and by the way, these UK boys are the BEST ever. Bar none. They pass off classic Hank Wiliams songs as their own. And for some reason, despite how popular they say they are, how happy people that come to see them are, they absolutely refuse to tour properly. That is to say, they do not perform outside of these little clubs.
I know I said I wouldn’t get into the line dancing thing, but I have to in order to discuss this next point.
These people are less loony than the John Wayne brigade, but a touch odd nonetheless. They go to these clubs solely to dance in front of the stage, “staring at their feet” as someone once put it, totally ignoring the band. They aren’t there for the music at all.
They also play a vital role in holding Country back from going mainstream in the UK. When the average Joe thinks of Country, line dancing is one of the first things that springs to their minds. I don’t pretend to understand the history of the movement, but it is another thing which I feel has little connection to Country. It was a fad of the 90’s as far as i’m concerned. If you want to dance to Country music, just get down to it. Or learn square dancing or somesuch, which does have a connection to the music.
The sort of people who attend the Cowboy clubs are desperate to stop the music progressing, seemingly hating 99% of modern Country. They much prefer to hear amateur, poor quality karaoke Cowboys belting out the same songs they’ve been listening to for 50-odd years.
Now i’ve nothing against older Country. I am a MASSIVE fan of Bill Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, and hundreds more I don’t have space to list. But for God’s sake, stop holding back the music we love from having a chance at being accepted into the mainstream in our country. Throw your weight behind new artists who are touring here like Taylor Swift, as well as more established artists such as Suzy Bogguss, and of course the legends like Willie & Dolly.
Don’t restrict yourselves to these Cowboy clubs, get out there and go to a few concerts. Buy the cds (or mp3s). And to the bands – write more of your own songs, drop the American accents and go on tour. Hell, maybe try going to a record label and see what happens?