Williams tribute gigs are rapturously received

Easter Sunday afternoon saw the final concert of a trilogy of variety gigs celebrating the life and love of country star Hank Williams.

Performing in the style of Hank Williams are (from left) Dean Owens, Brian Nicholson and Arthur Nicholson. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Performing in the style of Hank Williams are (from left) Dean Owens, Brian Nicholson and Arthur Nicholson. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Settin’ The Woods on Fire, no easy task in Shetland, was hosted by Dean Owens, well known from his band The Felsons and as a singer songwriter in his own right.

The themed performances were the brainchild of local impresario Davie Gardner, otherwise known as local “fixer” for the Shetland television series.

The concert in the Mareel auditorium on Sunday was tagged on, to cope with unprecedented demand for the concerts featuring the iconic songs of the tragic “Hillbilly Shakespeare”.

There can be few households in Shetland that at one time didn’t possess at least a few of the discs of this unique interpreter of country blues.

I first encountered him through a record of my sister’s Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams Jnr. It was years later that I took to Hank Williams senior, in a big way, struck by his big bluesy treatment of the affairs of the heart.

Hank’s grandson Hank Williams the III sounds eerily like the original Hank, even though I’m not generally a big fan of tribute-type acts. This year sees in Grangemouth Scotland’s first Elvis festival … worth a look?

Gardner got his love of Hank and his music after being introduced to him by his father and cousin Harold. It was excellent party music for the morning after the night before, when random party goers found themselves in a more contemplative mood, at some croft house far out of town.

The music resonates strangely and somewhat inextricably with Shetland life, tapping into an underlining melancholy? There’s an association with Williams’ emotional and drink-fuelled rollercoaster of lifestyle that led to an early grave.

I have a friend who has sat in the back seat of the car that Hank Williams died in. It’s fair to say that he has more than a passing interest in the the man, the myth and the music.

The over-riding impression from Sunday’s two-hour concert was the wealth of local talent that had been assembled for the show, it was a veritable country showcase. Gardner’s wishlist had been largely answered apart from local hero Dodo Elphinstone, who was conspicuous by his absence.

The “A-list house band” (forget Hank’s backing band the Drifting Cowboys, these were the Driftwood variety) assembled, and saw Bryan Gear stray from the normal confines of Scottish and dance music to reveal his virtuoso talents as a bluegrass buddy.

His accompaniment, solo slots and instrumental contributions, especially on Foolin’ Around, were a great hit with audience. In addition we had Jackie Robertson gliding with the greatest of ease on slide guitar and Norman “Girsie” Goudie plucking a sweet double bass.

The father and son team of the inconspicuous Brian and more reserved Arthur Nicholson, saw the pair’s groovy guitar work ably doubled up with vocal prowess, Arthur going for a more underwhelming vocal style.

Arthur’s version of Take these Chains from my Heart was a fresh and laidback interpretation in a style almost comparable with veteran Robbie Cumming’s take later in the show of the classic Your Cheatin’ Heart.

Owens, rather than go for the lookalike route or sounding like the original, although he had a good attempt at the “Hank howl”, thankfully had his own heartfelt interpretations, Tear in My Beer going down especially with the crowd.

Local female singers Alison Ramsay and Sheila Henderson gave a female perspective on the man’s songs in contrasting styles. Henderson’s duet You Win Again with Owens was another highlight of the afternoon, with many of the acts receiving cheers from the audience.

Most of the classic numbers were here, even some of Hank’s lighter numbers like Jambalaya and Move it on Over.

Younger guests Kanza contributed two songs, House of Gold and Kawlija. The latter showed Hank’s spiritual side which he often sang under the pseudonym of “Luke the Drifter”, and the former verges at times on being a cheery number.

Owens was the catalyst for these concerts but was equalled by the quality of the local musical talent. And let’s not forget Gardner’s organisational capabilities.

Nostalgia is not a thing of the past, if these shows are anything to go by, but sometimes you wonder where are the folk breaking the boundaries coming with new songs and insights into the human condition to compare with likes of the late and great Hank.


Add Your Comment
  • Morag Neil

    • March 29th, 2016 1:36

    Thanks for lovely review of a great night. Only quibble – you ask about where all the talented new songwriters are – look no further than the night’s MD Dean Owens (who has 6 amazing solo albums under his belt, including last year’s 5 star rated Into the Sea). Audience were shouting requests for his own songs at the Hank gig. Or the equally talented Blue Rose Code, who’s got a new album out, and a couple of Shetland gigs coming up next month. Or Shetland regular Adam Holmes. All very different, all stunningly good writers and extraordinary singers! Seek them out and buy their albums.


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