REVIEW: Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – Live At RNCM Theatre, Manchester

Bringing our ‘Country Music Week’ entertainment to a close (‘2 country music weeks’ would be more accurate!) was the legendary Marty Stuart at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. An unusual venue and one we hadn’t visited before – a theatre hidden inside a college building; you have to make your way through the students at the bar to get where you need to be! Not where you’d typically expect to see a country music icon. A very nice, intimate theatre however, and Marty certainly gave us a night to remember.

New British country-folk foursome The Wandering Hearts kicked off the show with a wonderful 30-minute support slot. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to these guys – they will be awarded the Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award at the UK Americana Awards next year, and they’ve impressed audiences at some huge events this year, including Country2Country and BST Hyde Park. And they certainly won’t be a flash in the pan either; simply gorgeous harmonies, wonderfully intricate song writing and a charismatic stage presence – all the ingredients required to be our next big stars. They treated us to performances of their 2 singles to date, ‘Wish I Could’ and ‘Devil’, as well as tracks from their upcoming ‘Burning Bridges’ EP and eventual full album. If you haven’t seen Tim, AJ, Tara and Chess live yet, stick them at the top of your list.

Soon after, it was time for Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives. His C2C set was fascinating to watch earlier this year – I would imagine 90% of that audience at the O2 were there to see Zac Brown Band. ‘Let’s just get through this and we can see Zac’…come on, admit it, that’s what you were thinking! But after about 15 minutes of Marty’s show, the whole crowd were up on their feet, evidently astonished by the man’s quality. You won’t find many bigger ZBB die-hards than me, but even I would have been happy to continue watching Marty and the guys for much longer. And it’s certainly had a lasting impact; would Marty have been able to headline a UK tour previously? I highly doubt it.

There’s a certain sense of royalty when Marty walks into a room – this was evident when I interviewed him beforehand and when he stepped on stage. A lovely fella, nothing egotistical about him, but you just know it’s Marty Stuart – he’s got a certain presence about him. The man oozes class and confidence from nearly 50 years of experience, and boy does he know how to work a crowd. “Ok y’all let’s have some fun” – and they ploughed on with the show.

You won’t find a more talented bunch of guys than The Fabulous Superlatives. It wouldn’t be quite the same show without Handsome Harry, Cousin Kenny and ‘Professor’ Chris Scruggs purely for the whole Superlatives image that the crowds absolutely love. They combine years of road experience resulting in a totally seamless 90-minute set which, in all honesty, they could do with their eyes closed. It’s just so natural and flawless. Marty gave each of them their own moments to shine – Chris with ‘Never Gonna Do It Again’, Kenny with ‘Country Music Got A Hold On Me’ and Harry with ‘The Ballad Of Pretty Boy Floyd’. It feels like you’re watching a bunch of guys just having a jam and loving life, and that energy always translates to the crowd.

They powered through fan favourites and Marty classics like ‘Hillbilly Rock’, ‘Tempted’ and ‘Country Boy Rock & Roll’, but it was the tracks from the latest album ‘Way Out West’ that provided the personal highlights. One of this year’s most iconic albums for us, it takes you on a unique journey through the Mojave Desert with sublime instrumentation and wonderful storytelling. The instrumental sections are a joy to behold, especially live, like ‘Mojave’ where you just have to sit back, close your eyes, and soak it in. ‘Time Don’t Wait’ seems to have become a firm favourite for Marty as well as the fans – he performed this on Later With Jools Holland and it now forms his encore. He had the whole crowd singing along to the infectious chorus and it provided a powerful, euphoric conclusion to an unforgettable night of music.

Come back soon Marty!

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan