With their often blackly humorous take on male-female relations and their beautiful harmonies, My Darling Clementine have proved an unique force in the British Americana movement during the last decade.

The group, which is centered around Manchester-based husband and wife Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgliesh, have now recorded four albums, 'How do You Plead?' (2011),
'The Reconciliation' (2013), 'The Other Half' (2015) and 'Still Testifying' (2017).

'Country Darkness', their latest project, however, finds them evolving in a new direction, and across a succession of EPs reworking tracks from Elvis Costello's songbook as duets. There have been two volumes of these vinyl and streaming only four song EPs to date, and a third is on its way in October. My Darling Clementine will also be releasing a CD version of 'Country Darkness' in November, which will combine together all the tracks off each of the three EPs. The project has been given extra weight by involving Steve Nieve, Costello's long-term pianist and keyboardist in his backing band the Imposters, as well a trio of Sheffield musicians, bassist Colin Elliott, guitarist Shez Sheridan and drummer Dean Beresford, all of whom work regularly with Richard Hawley.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Michael Weston King about the 'Country Darkness' project.


PB: What is the appeal to you of Elvis Costello’s songwriting?

MWK: Both Lou and I have been huge fans of Elvis Costello forever, long before we even knew each other. For a lot of people of our generation hearing ‘Almost Blue’ was our introduction to what we define as country music.

Lou has covered Elvis's songs before, not so much on record but live and she had a show called ‘They Call Her Natasha’ which she took to the Edinburgh Festival in which she sung Elvis songs from a female perspective. It had quite a thin storyline but it was something to hang the songs on, and Lou performed a selection of Elvis songs set against the backdrop of the story.

Neither of us are strangers to his catalogue, but how this came about was because I was bored one day and I made up a list of Elvis country and country soul songs, a Spotify list for my pleasure, and I thought, “This would be a really good album.” I was not really happy with the stuff that I was writing at the time and I had writers’ block, so it just seemed like this could be a really great idea. Then when Steve came on board as well it took on a further momentum, and what we thought might be just an EP has become three EPs and an album and hopefully we will be doing some shows together next year with Steve as well.

PB: You apparently had a short list of over twenty-five songs to choose from. What was your main criteria for choosing the songs that you did and getting it down to a short-list of twelve?

MWK: Initially i went through the list and picked songs that could be deemed as country or country soul, that fitted the My Darling Clementine ethos, and after that it was what worked as a duet and what lyrics could be amended slightly to fit these songs conversationally from a man to a woman.

There were some songs that I particularly liked - ‘Country Darkness’, for example, which isn’t on any of the EPs or the album (Laughs) - that didn’t lend themselves to that. ‘Motel Matches’ is another great Elvis country song, but that is only a song which could work in only one voice. Songs like ‘I Felt a Chill Before the Winter Came’ and ‘Either Side of the Same Town’, however, really worked as conversational pieces. It was the lyrics which made up our mind really.

PB: You cover a nearly 35 year period in Elvis's career with songs from ‘My Aim is True’ in 1977 up until ‘National Ransom’ in 2010. Was that also a factor, to cover as broad a range as possible in Elvis’s catalogue, or was that entirely coincidental
?

MWK: It was entirely coincidental. What we didn’t want to do were the songs which were very familiar to people, and a lot of these songs are album tracks and fairly obscure. I don’t think any of them have been singles other than ‘Stranger in the House’. Two key albums that Elvis released that were deemed as country were ‘King of America’ and ‘Secret, Profane & Sugarcane’. You could draw a lot of songs from both those records, but I didn’t want to overdo it from one album too much. I wanted to spread it around. There was no plan, however, to try and do a career plan of Elvis.

PB: Each of these covers does something different from the original. It could be argued that the only good cover is something that builds upon and does something different from the original. Was that one of your main criteria for doing this as well?

MWK: Yeah, very much. Obviously Steve played on some of the originals as well. We all wanted not so much to reinvent them but to do something different with them. Both ‘A Stranger in the House’ and ‘Different Finger’ were probably the most overtly country songs. We probably made them less country by giving them a Tex Mex feel. We really did try and take them in a different direction. On the forthcoming third volume we did a version of ‘I’ll Wear it Proudly’ at Steve’s suggestion. I was going to approach it in a Johnny Cash style, and then Steve suggested doing it as a Bruce Springsteen/‘Streets of Philadelphia’ number and that worked beautifully. We tried not so much to reinvent the songs but to add our personality to them.

PB: How well did you know him beforehand and did he take much persuasion to become involved?

MWK: We have got a lot of mutual friends, and I had already met Steve a couple of times at gigs. We didn’t really know each other particularly well. I just approached him and said that I had this idea. He had actually put something on Facebook that he and the Imposters were looking for other projects to be involved with, so I contacted him about that. He really liked the idea. We got chatting and it evolved pretty quickly after that.

We were originally going to do the first EP with all of the Imposters. Pete (Thomas-Ed) and Davey Faragher-Ed) live in LA. Steve lives in Paris. It could have been a great thing to do but it was the logistics and finance really. There would have been a lot of music sent back and forward through the Internet, and we had to do some of that anyway, but I am someone very much who likes to get in and play and see the whites of the other musicians' eyes. Maybe if we do another EP we will involve them, but I would only like to do it if we were all in the room at the same time.

PB: Why did you settle on the band of Shez Sheridan, Colin Elliot and Dean Beresford who play on all three EPs?

MWK: We did our second album ‘The Reconciliation’ with Shez, Colin and Dean over in Sheffield in 2013, and have continued to work with them all since then. Dean is pretty much our regular drummer in our live band anyway. Colin, who co-produced the EP with me as well as played bass, and I have a really good working relationship. We are very much cut from the same cloth, and Shez is just a fantastic guitar player. We have a good way of working, so they have been our go to guys for a while now.

PB: The EPs were recorded in an unusual way for My Darling Clementine with Steve laying down the foundations of the tracks at his home in Paris and then you and Lou completing them with the group in Sheffield. You apparently had some doubts initially about doing it that way.

MWK: Yes, I did have reservations. Usually with Clementine we approach recording in an old-fashioned way, and we rehearse the songs and try to cut them as live as possible. This was, however, a logistical thing. We had to do it that way. At first we did just four songs to see if it worked and it did, so we just carried on with the process.

We got together with Steve, worked out the songs, worked out the keys, the general arrangement and he put them down for the click track, either a piano or a Wurlitzer, and sent it out to Colin and ourselves. We then built the track around that, and then sent them back to Steve to have a second stab on keyboards which he did, whether it would be replacing the original with a Hammond as he often did or another type of keyboard.

It made the process a bit longer than doing it in one room and getting it down in the old-fashioned sense, but it was a really interesting way of doing things, and the fact that Steve had set the template meant that this was where we were going with it and made it quite black and white. It was really good.

PB: What is going to be on the third EP?

MWK: There will be once again four songs. These will include ‘I’ll Wear It Proudly’ and 'Indoor Fireworks', both of which which are on ‘King of America’, ‘Indoor Fireworks’ is when we look at it as a whole probably the most well known song. It is maybe the song that has been covered the most by other artists. Two or three of the songs I don’t think have been covered by anybody.

‘The Crooked Line’ is a song that he wrote with T-Bone Burnett and is on ‘National Ransom’. It wasn’t on the original list of twenty-five and that was a song that Steve suggested, so we tried it and it worked really well. There are a few songs which Elvis had recorded originally as a duet and we didn’t really want to do duets. ‘Crooked Line’ was originally recorded as a duet with Emmylou Harris, so we have broken our rule there but it has turned out great and so we are quite happy with that.

The fourth song is ‘Why Can’t a Man Stand Alone?’ which is from ‘All This Useless Beauty'. It is a strange track for us to do because it is certainly not a country song. It has a kind of country soul, but by the end it goes almost musical theatre. There is an absolutely fantastic version of that which Elvis and the Attractions did on ‘Later...’. It is a very tricky song to do. I started out having a lot of misgivings doing it but it turned out to be one of my favourite tracks. It was just a hard road getting there.

So, there are these four songs added to the other eight and all of those will go onto an album, and there will also be a couple of extra tracks, a new Clementine song called ‘Powerless’ and another mix of 'That Day is Done', which is quite different from the version on the first EP, and features added extra horns from former Van Morrison and Nick Lowe horn players Matt Holland and Martín Winning.
.
PB: When is the LP due out?

MWK: The album is out in the first week in November and the third EP, the vinyl and the streaming, will come out in the middle of October.

PB: Why did you decide to release the three EPs on vinyl and streams only?

MWK: It was because the first four songs were a kind of trial and error, and then we had the idea of doing an EP, and it evolved from there. By the time the third one is out and complete there will be a slipcase and if people haven’t bought any they will be able to buy all three as a triple EP collection. It was just one of those quirky record collector type things, but the album will be coming out on CD for those who want it and don't have record players.

PB: The cover art on the EPs is amazing. The photos you have picked are very atmospheric. Where is the delipidated wooden house on the first EP?

MWK: I don’t know. We use a guy called Jared Swafford. He has been designing our sleeves since the first Clementine album, and we have gone back to him ever since. This time we wanted something that reflected the front cover really, that was rural but a bit Gothic, and he found that photo.

The photo on the second EP, which is of a tree with names carved on it, is a photo by an American photographer called Jim Herrington. Jim has taken some incredible photographs of everybody from Willie Nelson to Merle Haggard to Keith Richards. He is a fantastic photographer.

PB: What is going to be on the cover of the third EP?

MWK: In Jared’s mind, we are moving around the ground of this rundown house, and the tree was on the property, and then then there is on cover of the third EP this rundown garage and you can see a bit of a car that has clearly seen better days rusting in there. It is metaphorical for this once grand place that has also seen better days really.

PB: What are your plans after the release of the third EP and album?

MWK: This line-up which recorded the EPs is different from our regular line-up, and even if we don’t tour like we normally do our plan is to go out and do a few selective dates in this line-up and with Steve, just doing this album essentially but a few other songs as well. This would have been booked and in the pipeline for early next year or maybe even sooner if the Covid situation hadn’t arisen, but it is definitely in all our minds if we ever get back on the boards.

PB: Thank you.















Related Links:

http://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/
https://en-gb.facebook.com/mydarlingclementine.music/
https://twitter.com/my_darling_clem


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