We get to hear so much these days about the “special relationship”, that so-called enhanced affinity that we have with the folks from the USA. It’s pure conjecture to suggest that this has any connection with the desire of our US country artists to venture across the pond to play for us. It’s rather more certain to suggest that our reputation as ‘good listeners’ is helping to overcome the commercial stumbling block that exists when tours are considered.
We might love our country music and we certainly know how to respect our heroes. There just isn’t enough of us doing so. Brent Cobb is on everyone’s ‘ones to watch’ lists back home. He has the connections, the talent and the backing that could propel him to the forefront of US country music. He is the overnight success story that has actually taken the best part of ten years as he readily concedes. He is still finding his way and is due to begin an extensive tour with Nikki Lane this year. However, before doing so he came across to play three dates in the UK beginning in London and ending with a gig at the 02 in Glasgow as part of Celtic Connections. The meat in the sandwich was an appearance at The Castle Hotel in Manchester.
The mini tour was a “toes in the water” venture. Two small gigs and an appearance as part of an annual roots festival. As a way of introducing an artist to the country music fans here in the UK, it was the perfect beginning. All three gigs sold out. The fact that the Manchester gig was held at one of the cities smallest venues didn’t matter. It’s all about first impressions and Brent Cobb will be back. He will also play to a bigger crowd next time. Word of mouth will sell tickets.
The Castle Hotel has been a part of Manchester’s night life and musical heritage for generations. Its back room with the famous leaky roof and low stage served as the setting for Cobb’s northern debut.
Jade Bird, a young, upcoming London based country singer opened. The only way onto the stage was to force a way through the crowd and it’s hugely intimidating for an unknown artist to step onto the stage and perform. She expressed relief when her first song was warmly received but her personality soon won over the crowd. Her music is a mixture of folk and pop-country. She is a talented songwriter and is preparing to release her first EP. We were chatting to Brent and his US manager pre-show and they were hugely impressed with Jade Bird. It was great exposure for her.
Brent Cobb’s music is acoustically based. Many artists who appear here from the USA are forced to tour without their bands for commercial reasons. The experience is diluted as a result. Cobb’s performance wasn’t affected to this extent, due mainly to the presence of Mike Harris who played lead guitar and sang backing vocals. Mike’s a guy who now regularly works with Brent Cobb but was a former member of Apache Relay. It would be entirely fair to say that our enjoyment of experiencing Brent Cobb in concert was enhanced greatly by the support and backing of Mike Harris.
The set list was almost exclusively tracks from the recent ‘Shine On Rainy Day’ album that was released in October last year. He released an album 10 years ago but told us pre-show that he doesn’t include his older material in his live sets and prefers to promote his newer material, which is entirely understandable.
Apart from the lack of drums, Cobb’s live performance mirrored the studio recordings. There is a special buzz that a small intimate gig generates. The crowd were feet away from the performer and for an artist like Brent Cobb this is the perfect way to embrace his music.
The crowd were very familiar with the music. He isn’t a clap-along, stamp your feet type of live performer and his songs are meant to be savoured in the respectful silence that UK crowds are known for. Cobb himself remarked how impressed he was that his audience remained attentive throughout. He said at one stage that he was going to ‘test us out’ before beginning ‘The World’. I think we passed that test.
Many of his songs have their unique guitar riff introductions and it was a joy to experience songs such as ‘South Of Atlanta’ in a live intimate setting. He is a confident and humorous raconteur and recounted the story that inspired ‘Down In The Gulley’. A tale of moonshine and illegal stills.
His song writing has inspired other country artists to record his music and he performed a song that was included on a Miranda Lambert album, ‘Old Shit’, together with the song that re-introduced us to Brent Cobb after a long layoff, ‘Down Home’ from cousin Dave’s ‘Southern Family’ compilation album.
The hour-long set culminated with an Eagles cover as a encore, although Cobb said that it was impossible to walk “coolly off stage” before coming back to perform the encore as there was “nowhere for us to go”. Such is the attraction of a country gig here in the UK. However, before beginning their final song, Harris remarked that he was continuing to dodge the rain drops that were falling from the roof onto his head. It’s a glamorous life on the road! It certainly gives new meaning to ‘Let The Rain Come Down’.
It would be fair to say that Brent Cobb’s toe-dipping venture has been a resounding success. He will leave with a warm heart for his UK experience and we know that he is planning to return our way again soon. There might be a time when we won’t have him all to ourselves.
This was a rainy night in Manchester that we might just remember for some time.