A welcome return to Glasgow for the Leith man with his fine band in tow, tonight’s show was an intimate affair despite the airy (and cool, temperature wise) bare girder barn like room in Tenants’ Drygate brewery. Set out cabaret style the tables were all taken by what seemed to be diehard supporters (as evidenced by requests for some deep cuts from Owens’ recording history); his own fault as he announced early on that they weren’t playing from a set list as such tonight. As such this was a show that was dramatically different from the last time Blabber’n’Smoke encountered The Whisky Hearts when they turned in a performance that leaned heavily on a country rock sound.
With drummer Jim McDermott absent tonight there was less rock but a whole lot more roll with Brian McAlpine’s accordion featured heavily throughout the show along with Amy Geddes’ fiddle playing. As a result guitarist Craig Ross only had a couple of opportunities to let loose on the strings instead adding some delicate touches and a steady rhythmic flow to a set that had a very folky touch.
They slid gently into their set with a gently swinging Valentine’s Day In New York with accordion and fiddle lending the song a sweet rambling vibe which, and not for the first time, reminded us of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. This was the first of a brace of songs from Owens’s latest album Into The Sea with Virginia Street, Dora and Kids all following, the last allowing Ross a chance to solo as the song gradually built up from its sombre opening into a classic rock sound. 10 Miles From Saturday Night was a new song which was classic Owens with its mix of Celtic Americana and memorable chorus and it was followed by a rare live outing for the title song from his album Whisky Hearts which was given a rollicking folky delivery which transported the audience into the taverns of Leith. Another blast from the past was a pair of songs from his My Town album, Northern Lights which again was given a fine folk lilt with Geddes’ fiddle well to the fore and Strangers Again with Giddes duetting with Owens.
A grand host for the night, Owens was in fine form explaining the stories behind the songs and cracking some puntastic jokes while admitting that on the older songs the band were somewhat busking it, a task they performed with an admiral aplomb. There was gravitas however as he talked about the loss of his sister to cancer, a shadow that stalked the recording of Into The Sea and he paid tribute to her with an affecting delivery of Evergreen before unveiling a new song dedicated to her memory, Julie’s Moon. There was a similar sense of loss when they played, for the first time live, Sally’s Song (I Dreamed of Michael Marra), a lament for past times and lost Dundonian friends with a kick in its tail with the band conjuring up a couthy accordion led slow time waltz which brought a lump to the throat. A solo rendition at the start of the second set of The Only One was another reminder of Owens’ ability to render heartache clothed in a healing song, a gift he shrugged off as he talked of his reputation as only singing miserable songs. Cottonsnow, inspired by a visit to civil war battlefields in the US was offered as an example of his miserabilism but again here he grabs inspiration from desperation with the song a powerful declaration. While he detoured into Johnny Cash territory with a tongue in cheek rendition of Cash’s Delia’s Gone and a rousing The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin which had a fine Cajun belt to it there was no doubting the power behind the stirring version of Up On The Hill they laid on us while with the fan’s favourite The Man From Leith had the audience singing along. Of course being in the dear green place there was no escaping Owens’ signature tune, the umbilical cord that ties him to his twin city and Raining In Glasgow closed the show proper, the audience on board for a song that is approaching legendary status.
It didn’t end there however as the band came back on for the first unveiling of Owens’ foray into the Christmas market with Home For Christmas, the audience happily joining in (and do have a look at the video here replete with kiddie chorus and jungle bells and a cracking good tune). Thereafter there was only the simple notion of satisfying a song request flung from the front row throughout the night as Owens came back on for a solo flight through Sand In My Shoes, another oldie that again had the audience joining in.
On stage for nearly two hours with every song perfectly crafted and delivered this was an excellent night. There are a couple of opportunities to catch Dean and The Whisky Hearts before they draw 2016 to a close as they play in Stirling and Edinburgh with Dean also playing Dundee and Aberfeldy. All dates here.