As Dean Owens & The Southerners thrashed into a fiery rendition of Last Song at the close of his set on what was a particularly memorable occasion, little did we know that it was to be one of the last songs everyone gathered here was to hear in a live setting for some time. Yes, this was a pre Corona lockdown show, just slipping under the wire before The Dockers club and every other venue in the land put up the shutters. That it was Friday the 13th was unnoticed at the time. The gig was supposed to be the opening slot of a UK tour supporting the release of Owens’ retrospective compilation of his best songs, The Man From Leith, but that rapidly unravelled leaving this night as the sole date on the tour. As they say however, every cloud has a silver lining and at least Owens can take some comfort from the fact that this special night occurred. And it was a special night for several reasons.
This was Owens in his home territory, surrounded by family and friends. The eponymous man from Leith is Owens’ father, once a Leith docker and a long time member of the Leith Dockers Club which was established in 1946, one of the many social clubs established to afford a communal social space with affordable drinks for the industrial working masses. These days the only dockers here are long retired but the club is a vibrant community hub providing affordable entertainment although it, along with similar clubs, doesn’t often feature gigs by the likes of Owens. However, as Owens explained, it was on the very stage he was on tonight that he first performed in public (“Maybe a wedding, or a funeral, I can’t remember”) and so the stage was set for a triumphant return.
The audience was an odd mixture. There were Owens fans, keen to hear the songs and get their hands on the new LP at this official launch gig. They were outnumbered slightly by the usual denizens of the club, stalwarts all, more accustomed to having a dance and some bingo in the interval while there was also a large contingent of Owens’ family, there to see one of their own. To their credit, Owens and the Southerners satisfied all (aside from the bingo players) with glorious en masse dancing as the show ended.
Family featured heavily in the set list. The Man From Leith was of course delivered as was Owens’ song for his mother (with Owens fondly recalling her couthy sayings), a song for his daughter, the rarely performed Baby Fireworks, and his tribute to his late sister on Julie’s Moon. The last was particularly poignant as many in the audience had known Julie and Owens, accompanied by Amy Geddes on fiddle, performed the song bravely. Reaching further back, Owens celebrated his history with a rousing Dora, accompanied by a terribly funny tale of researching the family tree.
The Southerners, Jim Maving on guitars and Tom Collison on keyboards and bass, looked into the maw of The Dockers and survived. In fact, they seemed to thrive on the whole set up with lots of pictures on social media of them imbibing the cheap drink and embracing the regulars after the show ended. Augmented by Amy Geddes for the night, The Southerners played their hearts out with Maving waxing tremendously on slide guitar and having some great fun when he pulled out his mandolin for their delivery of Buffalo Blood’s Reservations. Added to the mix for this night, Geddes’ fiddle gave an extra dimension to The Southerners’ sound and was a fine vocal foil to Owens on Strangers Again.
The crowd lapped up songs such as The Night Johnny Cash Played San Quentin and Up On The Hill and by the time Last Song rolled along there was dancing, led by an intrepid lady who was cajoling all in the front seats to join in. The band returned for an encore which kicked off with a song Owens had just written for the dockers and their love of dancing. The band didn’t know the song but they vamped along bravely as the dancers poured from their seats. There was brief respite as Raining In Glasgow reigned over the audience before Owens bowed to the crowd and sang one of their favourites, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline ! Now, that’s probably an experience which will probably never be repeated and which added to the uniqueness of the night and it did what it was supposed to do as the dance floor filled and everyone joined in on the chorus. It was somewhat surreal but it cemented the band’s link to the audience and for this reviewer it was a moment to remember before the shutters came down. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we can all dance and sing along together again.
Apologies to Dean and all for the wait for this review, stuff happens. See you all on the other side.