Album launch, iconic pedal steel, top class support act. An exciting night was in prospect. But I nearly walked past the venue because I didn’t see the sign, however, the security staff are obviously used to first-timers making the same mistake and steered me in the right direction.
Once inside we were treated to an excellent selection of records played by Crispy Cowboy to whet our appetite for the support act, Ags Connolly. Ags is well known to many AMAUK readers, and it was very pleasing to have a support act of such quality. He performed a few songs from his last album ‘Wrong Again’ plus his classic ‘I Hope You’re Unhappy’ and the memorable ode to one of his influences ‘I Saw James Hand’. We were also treated to three songs from his planned new album (due next year), which is being funded from a successful Kickstarter bid.
A big crowd had turned out for this Morton Valence album launch gig. They ranged from the super-fans who scrambled to get their hands on a set-list, to the friends of friends of the promoter (and their dog), who were along for the craic. Many were no doubt long-standing fans of Robert Jessett and Anne Gilpin, who have been recording as Morton Valence since 2009. But it is likely that a good chunk of people had come to see the legendary pedal steel player, BJ Cole, who produced and played on their new album.
They kicked off with ‘Sailors’ an oldie from the second album, before launching into a new song ‘Brand New Morning’ – an untypical rock number. You normally expect to gently sway to their songs, and they didn’t disappoint in this respect with the rest of the set, which was mostly drawn from the new album. Robert took lead vocal on a lot of the songs with Anne providing backing vocals, as on the new single ‘Summertime in London’, a song full longing for “the good times we had”. Anne led on a few such as ‘Like a Face’. On others they alternated, like on ‘A Town Called Home’.
They covered Iris DeMent’s ‘Our Town’. The lyrics fitted nicely with the themes of nostalgia of their own songs, which include lines like “And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts”. It was less jaunty than the original to fit in with their style, and weirdly the pedal steel played the melody of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, but it worked. As you would expect, many of the songs are given a considerable boost from the excellent pedal steel of BJ Cole. Robert’s guitar and the bass provided a solid rhythmic foundation, and the drums were impressive in giving heft where needed and a light and shimmering drive on the songs that featured the pedal steel and Robert’s harmonica. They encored with a couple of songs from earlier albums “Black-Eyed Susan” and “Chandelier”, played with accompaniment from just Robert’s guitar, highlighting the strength of their songwriting.
This event was promoted by Cow Pie Records, a label formed by Hank Wangford and BJ Cole back in the late 1970s, and given a new lease of life through the involvement of NTS Radio’s Crispy Cowboy.