Blog, Music

Charlie Worsham @ The Courtyard Theatre: November 11th 2016

On a freezing Friday evening after a week of work and study and a few desolate months of zero live country music in my life, I mustered the energy and courage to break with my new dull routine of being in bed by 9pm and set out in the dark for Old Street to see Charlie Worsham. I stumbled across Charlie accidentally at C2C earlier in the year and the spiderweb of cracks across my iPhone screen would serve as a constant reminder of him, if his songs’ permanent presence on my Spotify playlists weren’t enough already.

At The Courtyard Theatre, I swirled the ice in my glass trying to dilute my ambitiously strong drink as I waited for Frankie Davies to start, and surveyed the audience; not a cowboy boot in sight (not even mine, as I’d finally realised the *stomp click* I’d been hearing when walking was the sound of one heel completely worn away to the wood and splintering into nothingness). When Frankie began to sing, I was filled with Pollyanna levels of gladness; glad that she was even better than I hazily remembered through all that beer, glad that people were listening to someone in a world where listening is an increasingly lost art, glad that someone from our delusional little island has the strength and passion to play music like she does. Frankie’s voice, confident and clear, adds a sheen of glamour to the lyrical simplicity of her songs, and she authoritatively held her own when singing a duet with Charlie Worsham later in the show (if not outshining him).

Charlie had a surprisingly tough job following Frankie, and initially faced the risk of underwhelming, but that risk dissipated almost immediately. There is something ridiculously likeable about the guy; shedloads of charm, genuine talent, and an endearingly open appreciation of those who came before him. Having played a sold out show at the Palladium with Kenny Rogers the previous evening, he shared the story of ‘The Gambler’ with us, and Charlie’s performance of ‘Hallelujah’ aka ‘the most irreverent tribute to Leonard Cohen ever’, was honest and inclusive; who really knows every verse with all the lines in the right order anyway? Definitely not the guy standing near me who sang raucously about the minor fall and the major lift four times, that is for damn sure. A song that usually conjures up tears and emotional teenage memories instead became a celebration of perseverance and the shared enjoyment of music for music’s sake.

On the hunt for dual citizenship as Planet Earth is a weird place to be at the moment (his words), Charlie urged and entreated us to love someone like him. Charlie, I am open to trying. When he asked if we wanted to split a shot in a song with the tipsily poignant line ‘take me drunk I’m home,’ not a single lady in the house would have refused, and as they sang along to ‘Trouble Is’, they were overtly self-identifying as the exact kind of trouble Charlie should be getting into. Having hinted early in the set that there was a ‘naked song’ coming up later, the audience fervently ‘woohooed’ in response to the ‘take it off’ when it was eventually played. Not wanting to make it sound like Charlie Worsham spent a couple of hours seducing the audience, I hasten to add that not only were his parents there, but also that thoughtful songs like ‘How I Learned To Pray’ and ‘Young To See’ provided some of the more special moments of the show, along with the rapturously received guitar solos interspersed throughout. One of my personal favourites is ‘Please People Please’, the message being that you can’t please people all the time, a lesson so many refuse to learn, sacrificing their beliefs and values for the sake of popular opinion. Fortunately it is one of the tracks on the CD copy of Charlie Worsham’s unfinalised next album that he gave to everyone- for free!

So, to top things off, as well as the show being totally worth staying up after my bedtime and battling the hordes of drunk football fans as I passed Wembley on my way home, I got a free CD and get to write this blog today listening to unreleased new material. Thank you Charlie, thank you Frankie, and thank you to all those who inspire talent like theirs and work to bring it to this side of the Atlantic.

Blog, Events, Music

Nashville In Concert @ Hammersmith Apollo: June 18th 2016

Last night I took Dad to see four of the stars of the hit (ish) TV show Nashville for his 60th birthday treat. To clarify, when I say ‘I took’, I mean, ‘He paid and I looked up the tube route’. You may be thinking, ‘Really? You’re sure that’s not just what YOU wanted to do for YOUR birthday?’ You cynics!

Background: My parents are seriously into bingewatching DVD boxsets. Over the past couple of years, they’ve consumed The West Wing, Breaking Bad, Suits, Mad Men, and more. Ever since Nashville first came out, I had been encouraging them to add it to their list, but was firmly ignored, probably because the only DVD boxset I’ve watched is The OC and I therefore don’t have enough experience in the medium to be taken seriously. Eventually, when I was living in Spain and not having the best time, I figured it was the optimum moment to capitalise on their (hopefully) missing me and guilt them into doing what I say, so I Amazon-ed them Seasons 1 and 2 out of the blue. I anticipated that Mum would probably fancy Deacon and Dad would probably fancy Rayna so there was something for everyone on a very basic level, but I also thought they might learn something about me. And they did! They learned that the best way to boost my confidence is to liken my hair to Rayna James’; they understand why it was really, really cool when my friend Maya went to the Opry; and they thank their lucky stars I was a talentless teenager and caused fewer problems than Maddie. I like to think Nashville made my parents love me more.

Anyhow, it turned out Dad was the much bigger Nashville fan than Mum. He was soon ‘Googling up’ information about the actors (‘Did you know they’re really sisters?’) and asking if the Bluebird Café was a real place. He found out that Gunnar (Sam Palladio) was English and ran with it. I sent him the link to a YouTube video in which Sam speaks in his English accent; three hours later, I found Dad still on the computer, trapped in his first experience of clicking on neverending ‘suggested videos’ and clearly much the wiser for it. Last night was enriched by the titbits of information amassed through Dad’s research. On the journey, he made sure we both knew all the actors’ real names:  ‘So Dad, if you meet Scarlett, are you going to call her Clare?’ ‘Of course not! I’ll call her Ms Bowen.’

We arrived at the venue before the doors opened and Dad was intrigued by the other people waiting outside. When I asked him how he would describe the audience demographic, he replied, ‘Mysterious…’ As we took our seats and people-watched, he turned to me, struck by the number of women in the audience, and said, ‘Is the gender balance better at real country concerts?’ Sidenote: Any single men into country music in the UK, hit me up. Dad’s worried about me.

The actual concert was a pretty surreal experience. I couldn’t tell if the performers were TV actors, or musicians, or real people, or something else entirely. Chris Carmack came on stage first and sang a ‘Will Lexington’ song, inspiring a few daring women at the front to start dancing, much to the chagrin of those seated behind them. Throughout the evening, we kept awkwardly bobbing up and down as people decided to dance, and it was ceaselessly distracting when people kept getting up to go to the bar or go to the toilet and requiring everyone in their row to get up to get past them. I would’ve thought it was distracting for those on stage too but I know nothing. It was also peculiar to see people filming or taking photos on their phone in a seated theatre environment. I took one Snapchat and Dad told me off. The knowledge of traditional rules of etiquette in such a venue jarred with the modern day concert experience of a sea of smartphones above heads.

A note about the smartphones: I know I am incapable of taking any kind of quality pictures or videos on my phone, and I also know that there is a wealth of professionally made videos online that I could watch, and in this case, a whole freaking TV series (with an upcoming fifth season, as we were reminded a number of times). People tend to take videos of their favourite songs so they’re usually also singing along; the video must just be a swaying, blurred mess of their own singing voice, and I can’t help feeling that you would be better off enjoying the concert with your own eyes rather than through a camera.  I was also mildly irritated by smartphones in the encore (skipping ahead a bit here) when everyone did that thing where they put the torch on and waved them around in the air. That’s cool when it looks good, when they light up the whole of a darkened O2 and we marvel at the power of the combination of a thousand little lights, but in a relatively small venue where the lights were already pretty bright, it looked bizarre to me. I didn’t see a sea of pretty fireflies, but a whole bunch of screens with low battery warnings.

It took me a few songs to get over the surrealism of the experience. Obviously, it’s a TV show, and people were yelling things in their frenzied excitement over Luke from The OC being in the same room as them; I must be getting old, but I think anyone who yells ‘Take your top off’ at anyone of either sex should get kicked out. Like, if they wanted to take their top off, they would do it without you telling them to, and it would surely detract from the music anyway. But I guess some people DGAF about the music if you’re sexy. #STOPOBJECTIFYINGMUSICIANS

Except that brings me back to the puzzle- are they musicians? Or are they actors? To me, most of the show was clean, polished, TV show music, which makes sense; but the moments that shone through the most for me were when the artists played their original music and I felt some glimmer of genuineness. There was some impressive showmanship; even Busted have given up jumping like Charles Esten (are we close enough for me to call him Chip yet?) and Chris Carmack did. Clare Bowen was a shimmering, sparkling, spinning fairy and Dad’s favourite voice of the show, although he reckons that the venue didn’t do her justice and that she would especially shine in a more intimate venue. But then, he had previously made the comment that he wasn’t expecting the music to be very good because it would be too loud.

In the interval, knowing Dad’s tendency to pretend to read the newspaper while watching The Voice and then comment authoritatively that singers are out of tune when they’re not, I asked him which singers he thought were out of tune. Turns out, he reckons all of them were. He specifically mentioned Sam Palladio, at which point I audibly yelped. I didn’t even know I could yelp. Sam Palladio was the highlight of the show for me. It could be because he’s on home turf, one of our very own who managed to undercover infiltrate Nashville and end up singing some of the best songs on the show; or maybe it was the heartbreaking story behind his song Wake Me Up In Nashville (It’s on YouTube somewhere- Dad: ‘I’d heard that story before. His parents must be sick of it by now.’) It surprised me that my favourite would end up being a boy from Cornwall, but I can tell you honestly that although I’m not into Gunnar as a character, I am brimming with Sam Palladio appreciation.

I’m going to finish this with some Dad quotes because really, this was all about him. I couldn’t get him to wave his hands in the air, or to transform his arms-crossed feet-planted stance into anything resembling dancing, but it was truly a thrilling time for him. When Deacon and Scarlett walked into the audience, his anxiety was palpable- ‘I hate audience participation and I think I hate performer participation in the audience just as much’. When he realised we were standing up and blocking the view of the people behind, he pointed it out to me with a cheeky little grin. And when, after the show, I asked, ‘So Dad, how did this compare to when you saw T Rex?’, he replied… ‘I had longer hair back then.’

Texts at the interval

Dad: This counts as ‘mild peril’. Everyone (except me) seems to want to dance.

Mum: Shake your stuff! No one knows you.

Texts at end of show

Mum: So?!?!?! Xxxxx

Dad: I was stirred, not shaken. Think the four cast members were a bit overwhelmed at the end by the warmth and scale of the applause and there was quite a moving final encore where they let the audience sing: very well in fact. Everyone except me knew the words and as most of the audience was female it was very sonorous.

Overheard on phone to Mum this morning

‘I have some doubts about the quality of their singing which Helen refuses to acknowledge’

Dad- ‘The audience went absolutely wild when Charles Esten came on… That’s Deacon… I suppose he’s mid-40s, ruggedly handsome and so appeals to ladies of a certain age…’

Me, eavesdropping and interrupting- ‘A certain age?’

Dad- ‘That age includes 25 apparently.’


How To Watch Eurovision

New Year’s Eve- meh. My birthday- take it or leave it. Eurovision- hands down, best night of the year. 2016 was the first time that Eurovision was broadcast in the U.S.A (and China), but from what I can tell (from JT’s bewilderment), the Americans don’t seem to really ‘get it’. I figured I’d make a guide for if any of the uninitiated are planning to watch back this year’s contest, or want to prepare for next year….

  1. Be prepared to take it seriously. You’ve got to focus and be ready to absorb a lot of flashing lights and bizarre staging.
  2. Place lots of snacks and water within easy reach. You will need sustenance and hydration.
  3. Have paper and pen poised to give a grade and write a comment about each song so you can remember what it was and whether you liked it or not. If you don’t do this, all the songs will start to blur together and you won’t be able to make an informed decision when it comes to voting time.
  4. Make sure you’ve got Graham Norton’s commentary on. At some point, remember to pay respects to Terry Wogan (may he rest in peace).
  5. When the hosts are trying to be funny, don’t laugh. Laugh when they’re actually funny i.e. literally the rest of the time.
  6. Sing along to the songs without pressing the red button for the subtitles. Trust me, both the tunes and the words are easy to predict. You’ll feel like you’re Jasmine or Aladdin, singing through life like it’s no big deal.
  7. Copy the choreography. You may need to push the furniture back and improvise some of the more novel props.
  8. Whenever Sweden gets mentioned, remind everyone about Abba.
  9. Go to the toilet in the voting break. This is the optimum time to go as you probably won’t miss much….
  10. Unless Justin Timberlake turns up.
  11. Enjoy the interval acts but be very aware that this ain’t no Superbowl.
  12. Try to remember the capital city of each of the 42 countries as they give their results before they tell you. Get out an atlas (or a Google map if you’re in this century) to figure out where the heck some of them even are.
  13. Someone has to say ‘Of course, we know this is all political’. Argue against this. This is one illusion of neutrality that does not need shattering.
  14. Make a joke about how the UK isn’t going to win.
  15. Get very excited when the UK gets any points and then start saying things like, ‘Maybe this year’s the year!’… It’s not.
  16. Google ‘Why is Australia in Eurovision?’ You won’t find a satisfactory answer.
  17. Be confused when terrible songs get ridiculous numbers of points. Seriously question the musical tastes of Europe. Then start to question your own musical tastes… maybe it’s you…
  18. Proclaim that you’re definitely going to go to Eurovision next year wherever it’s hosted.
  19. Change your mind when you see which country wins and don’t really fancy going there.
  20. Turn off the TV before you have to hear the winning song again.

Here’s a taster:

Teaching, Travel

Yes, I Teach EFL, And No, I’m Not Sorry

Here’s how the conversation usually goes:

Person: So what do you do?

Me: I’m a teacher.

Person: What do you teach?

Me: English. But not that kind of English… English as a foreign language.

Their eyes gain a disapproving sheen and I can almost hear their thoughts, ‘Oh, she’s not a real teacher. She’s just one of those people travelling the world to avoid getting a real job like the rest of us.’

Whenever that conversation happens I always feel like I need to explain myself and make excuses for my choices, but I shouldn’t have to do that. People have huge misconceptions about what EFL teachers do when they leave the country, and I’m taking this opportunity to respond to some of the common disparaging attitudes that are directed towards TEFL:

  1. EFL teachers are not qualified.

Incorrect. Sure, it is possible to get work unqualified, but most people at least do some kind of certificate. I took an intensive CELTA course which was a gruelling month of nine to five lessons, some of which I attended and some of which I taught. We were thrown into teaching on the second day of the course. We had to prepare a complete lesson plan almost every night and teach an observed lesson almost every day, often with different students with vastly varying needs, in addition to completing (and repeating) a number of assignments. I learned more in those four weeks than in four years at university.

  1. All they have to do is talk in their own language… Easy!

Speaking for an hour to a class of 35 teenagers without any preparation is a) terrifying and b) a really, really terrible lesson which probably won’t go down well. Students generally want to learn and they will not take kindly to a teacher who thinks they can swan in and use their privilege as a ‘native English speaker’ to make money without working for it. Learning English actually matters to people and they expect you to know your shit. Many British people did not learn any English grammar in school; even if you think you’re good at grammar, when you’re required to teach it and faced with questions that have never occurred to you before, you soon realise you pretty much know nothing.

  1. They get to travel all over the world.

Yes, you get to travel, but people tend to forget that in order to make money you have to stay in one place, at least for a slightly extended length of time. When you find a job in your new city and have great plans to travel all over the continent, those plans may be scuppered by inconvenient things like school term dates, actually having to attend school, and spending time at the weekends marking and lesson planning. When it’s eventually holiday time, you’re lucky if you have the money (or the energy) to go anywhere.

  1. They live such an exciting life.

We do. We go to crazy superclubs for school proms and dance in the DJ booth with rappers. We also wait for over an hour in blizzards for trams to turn up to take us to work. We live by the beach and sunbathe in winter. We also breathe in the stench of noxious sewage as it pumps into the sea. You win some, you lose some. Those are extreme examples, but just because we live abroad, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to do the boring stuff that comes with living. Paying bills, food shopping, general survival, without the same kind of support system that exists at home and with the added factor of negotiating it all in another language. See my post about Pantelimon for an example of what happens when you try to ask for your haircut in Romanian. Sometimes ‘exciting’ is not the look you want to go for.

  1. They forget about us when they leave.

No, that’s you. You literally never talk to us. We always have to make the first move. If we didn’t ask you what you were doing, you probably wouldn’t tell us you got married and are pregnant with octuplets. You know, we do actually miss you and think about you and wish you would come and visit instead of just pretending you will.

  1. They’re avoiding life.

Nope! We’re living it. I’m at the stage where a lot of friends are getting married or getting mortgages and I once expressed some casual incredulity about this. The reply I got was, ‘Well, you chose experience. We chose life.’ Newsflash: THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. Life is one long experience made up lots of experiences and if you are fortunate to have a choice, you can choose to make that experience the most fulfilling you can for you, whether that be working at soulless corporations for obscene amounts of money or dressing up as Mickey Mouse on a Disney cruise ship. No judging. Do you.

  1. It’s not a long term plan.

It may not be a conventional plan but there’s no reason it shouldn’t be long term. What isn’t a long term plan is living with your parents indefinitely because you can’t afford rent or a mortgage in the UK because your degree has not prepared you for any particular vocation likely to pay enough money to do that any time soon. Obviously, teaching is an exception… although teaching in the UK hasn’t exactly been cast in the most positive light in recent times. Teaching English abroad may not enable you to save huge quantities of money but you might at least be able to afford your own place and have beer money left over.

  1. They just pick a country on a whim and go off to live in paradise.

Getting a TEFL job is an absolute minefield, and many people learn that the hard way. Sometimes you get lucky; something looks potentially dodgy but you take a risk and it all works out. Other times, a job is presented to you perfectly, all your questions are answered and you feel secure in your decision; then you get to the school and it’s a sham, you have a nightmare boss, and you’re stuck in another country with no knowledge of your legal rights. EFL teachers are shamelessly taken advantage of, and sunshine does not make up for workplace bullying, withheld pay, or torturous teaching schedules.

So next time your friend decides to go abroad to teach, support them. Send them a message, ask them about their life, go and visit them. Don’t dismiss them for having chosen the easy way out because TEFL is not easy; it’s an incredible job which comes with a plethora of challenges. If you want to judge your friend for having made that choice, judge away, but just make sure you’ve taken the time to get to know what it actually is that they’ve been doing before you do.



Ten Reasons to Love Texas

I love Texas. If you know me, you probably know that, and if you’ve never been there, you’ve probably wondered why I’m such a fan. This is only a small contribution to the possible answers, and I know I still have more to learn and experience.

You can get drinks in novel ways.

A friend once drove me through a beverage barn, which is exactly what it sounds like; a genuine barn which you drive through and stop to buy beverages from a couple of cowboys. There’s also a drive-thru in Houston which sells frozen margaritas of many flavours. They’re strong, tasty, and stayed cold long enough for us to get back to the pool and drink them whilst laying out in the Texas heat. NB: don’t drink and drive. I’d also like to send my heartfelt thanks to whoever invented the beerita a.k.a. the liquid expression of my soul.

This place exists:

teacher heaven

Teacher Heaven was an almost existential experience for me. I picked up the ever-useful icebreaker ball, an inflatable ball covered in questions such as ‘What would you name your yacht?’ It has been invaluable in English lessons, especially with the number of conditional questions it features (and we know I love conditionals). They sell pretty much everything you could ever desire: stickers, stationery, all that big colourful paper for making displays, books for all ages and reasons… I got a loyalty card out of wishful thinking and appreciation rather than the actual possibility of filling it up, which would be done very easily if I lived anywhere closer than here.


I never thought I’d find orange and white stripes so attractive, until I had a late night Whataburger feast and finally learned what Americans mean when they say biscuits. I made the most of free refills, which I know isn’t a big deal for those accustomed, but I got experimental figuring out the difference between sweetened and unsweetened ice tea and it cost me the price of ONE drink instead of TWO (or seven. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d drained that soda machine).


My best friend Bianca tried to explain Chilifest to me as we sat atop our student residence in Barcelona almost five years ago, and I thought it sounded like a fun time, but you really have to experience it to understand. It’s a country music festival on a farm in Snook, Texas, with some of the most iconic country musicians (especially Texas country), a heavy focus on beer and a high probability that one of your friends will end up in jail. It is incredible. I was drenched in Keystone Light, drank blue wine from a bag, and got to yell along to Roger Creager songs with the man himself. I heard there was chilli somewhere but I didn’t see it.

Cavender’s Boot City

So I had to visit one of the Houston branches a solid three times before I could decide which boots to buy. They have so many and for an English girl who’s lucky to find any pair of genuine cowboy boots in the UK, it was overwhelming. I could’ve stayed and tried on every pair. I actually probably did. Luckily I have very patient friends. I think I eventually made a good choice as my boots are still getting complimented by strangers after two years of being a more or less permanent fixture on my feet. Cavender’s also sells jeans with rhinestones and all kinds of stuff that I would fill my wardrobe with if I could legitimately get away with dressing like I’m Dolly Parton. I limited my accessories shopping to a pair of Texas shaped earrings, one of which has since smashed and lost half of Texas because I dropped it on concrete.

The beer….

One day I was waiting for Bianca to get out of work so I wandered down the street (yes, I walked- I realise no one does this in Texas) and came across the West Alabama Icehouse. It had benches to sit on and lots of cold beer, which I needed after that walk (I get it now). I sat and basked in the much-appreciated sunshine as I had a can of Bombshell Blonde, brewed in Conroe, TX, and eavesdropped on other people’s conversations. It was the ideal place to while away the afternoon, and I made friends with some guys who bought me Lone Star and worked at The Chocolate Bar where they sell what I like to call ‘Bruce Bogtrotter cakes’. You could also get the local Saint Arnold beer, which I tried at the brewery when a friend took me to visit. I happened to be wearing wedges that day; not recommended footwear for walking around breweries.

And the bars….

Sixth Street, Austin, is always a great time. One friend danced until her shoe broke. There are so many bars, different genres of music, people to talk to, mechanical bulls… I declared I would never ride a mechanical bull. Fast-forward a couple of days and I’d be signing a waiver and climbing on, although that bar wasn’t on Sixth Street. I couldn’t tell you where it was but there was country karaoke and free jager for girls so pretty much optimal conditions for bull-riding. Other noteable evening bar activities include turtle racing (is it humane? I couldn’t tell but it was definitely different) and trivia night at The Porchswing Pub where their Porchswing Punch made me feel like I knew all the answers to all the questions ever.

Did you know there are beaches?!

I went on a trip to Crystal Beach for a friend’s graduation trip. We stayed at her family friend’s beautiful house on the coast and were spoiled with meals and drinks and renditions of Patsy Cline songs. We had to drive onto a ferry to get over there and somehow managed to skip the long line of cars waiting; I suspect the loud N Sync music we were playing out of the open top Jeep made them want to get rid of us ASAP.

Texas A&M

I like to think of myself as an honorary Aggie. I mentioned earlier that Bianca explained Chilifest to me; she also showed me her ring dunk video and talked me through the layout of Northgate in detail. When I later met another Texan girl in Barcelona and I asked what school she went to, she was tentative as she replied ‘Texas A&M’, not expecting me to know it; I replied with ‘Gig ‘em Aggies!’ and an appropriate hand sign and we’ve been best friends ever since. Setting foot in the Dixie Chicken for the first time was a momentous occasion. Here’s me outside Kyle Field being adorable:

Men know how to dance, or at least do a good job of pretending.

My friends took me to Wild West in Houston to show me real life country dancing. I tried to two-step, although I still assert that it doesn’t go in time with the music whatsoever. Humour me. Amazingly, there were men actually keen to dance and confident enough to ask you. At home, it’s usually me asking men to dance and more often than not, they say no. It was also incredible to see everyone spontaneously starting to line dance. I don’t think I’d believed that it really happened. I learned the Wobble after that, just in case the occasion arose when I’d need to know it, and weirdly enough, the song came on once in a bar in Bucharest. Unfortunately, the DJ changed it as soon as he saw me start dancing. Another Texas dancehall I have visited is Cowboys in San Antonio, although that involved more fist pumping than two-stepping as DJ Pauly D of Jersey Shore fame was providing music that night.

This post only touches on some of the wonderful places and things to do in Texas, and doesn’t begin to express the warmth of the people who have helped me to fall in love with it. Aaron Watson has already declared me an honorary Texan in writing, but if any country boys want to make it even more official and wife me up, there’s a comments section below.

Events, Music

Sam Outlaw @ The Borderline: April 11th 2016

Back in January, my American friend Sarah and I went to see Aaron Watson play at The Borderline. Background on Sarah: She’s from Buffalo, NY, and does not like country music, except that song about the barbecue sauce because it reminds her of being on the school bus. It was risky taking Sarah to see a man whose songs include hits like ‘That’s Why God Loves Cowboys’ , but she ended up having a great time, helped in a substantial part by the performance of Aaron’s opening act, Sam Outlaw.

A couple of months later, Sam Outlaw was back at the Borderline headlining his own show, and we were back there too, drinking Budweiser and Jack Daniels because that’s kinda what you do at country concerts. Whoever was buying gin and tonic and Guinness did not get the memo.

The opening act, Lewis and Leigh, were a duo, one half hailing from North Wales and the other from Mississippi. Sarah turned to me after every song, ‘I like that one! I like that one too!’ It’s funny because she’s always surprised when she likes anything that could be considered country. They described the song ‘Only Fifteen’ as one of those songs that sounds really happy but really isn’t. It made us happy and that is all that matters. ‘Devil’s In The Detail’ was another favourite and I wish I knew how to remix stuff because I was imagining making it into an Avicii-style party track. ‘Heart Don’t Want’ is probably the song that I’ll play over and over again. Basically, listen to Lewis and Leigh.

Sarah and I spent a good three minutes trying to think of something cool to say to them before we met them at the merch table. We considered ‘Do people often ask you if you’re a couple?’ (they’re not). I ended up going with ‘We tried to think of something cool to say.’ Add that to my list of zero-game-moments. Al Lewis defused the potential awkwardness by joking about his stage banter (a skill in its own right) and Alva Leigh (gorgeous and charming) offered to set me up with their American friend who was there. I didn’t meet him so I’m guessing he wasn’t interested in the offer of being my visa husband.

At this point I noticed a mysterious looking man at the bar wearing a hat and a leather jacket. I fought an almost uncontainable urge to sidle over and say ‘You a real cowboy?’ as if I were eying up a young John Travolta in Gilley’s honkytonk and not a random behatted stranger in some bar in London.

Sam Outlaw is an entertainer with a point to prove. From Los Angeles, not Nashville, he reps California. However, I’m now claiming him as one of ours, due to a snippet of information he shared from the stage; apparently his surname is genuine, and he comes from English wolf-slaying ancestry. He makes Sarah laugh with his jokes- ‘If the music doesn’t work out for him he’s got a career in comedy’. Sam is a personable stage presence and it helps that his songs are good too. Sarah remembered ‘I’m Not Jealous’ from last time as one that she’d noted down on her phone because she liked the lyrics (‘I’m not jealous of him, I’m embarrassed for you’- haven’t we all been there?). I’d been singing ‘It Might Kill Me’ all day because there’s a reference to the wind and the weather and there was a LOT of wind and weather yesterday. I didn’t dare complain about it though.

‘Country Love Song’ was one of the songs that people were singing along to; it’s emotional and somehow always seems relevant even if you’re not in a long distance relationship sending country love songs to people. Sam prefaced one song by asking the audience if they believed in Jesus- cue the British tumbleweed. He made a joke about how it’s cool that we’re allowed not to believe in God over here. Sarah chuckled and then got excited because she realised he was about to play ‘Jesus Take The Wheel And Drive Me To A Bar’, another song that had really made an impression on her. Sam changed the lyrics at one point from ‘country songs’ to ‘Merle Haggard songs’, which got some cheers (and made me want to cry). Sarah gave me a knowing look; I’d prepped her beforehand about who Merle Haggard is and why he might get a mention.

Sam introduced ‘Kind To Me’ by saying it went out to anyone trying to pick up girls. I looked around to see if there was anyone in the bar trying to pick up girls amongst the audience of predominantly grey-haired men in sensible fleeces. Even my mysterious man had disappeared.

Apparently people mistake the words to ‘Hole Down In My Heart’ with ‘There’s a hoedown in my heart tonight’. The song is not at all about hoedowns; it’s about some bitch (presumably) who says mean shit.  But it still provoked a hoedown in my heart.  Last time he was here, Sam Outlaw was playing with a guitarist who I really recommend listening to (Reverend Baron, on Spotify too); this time, he brought the fantastic Molly Jenson to sing with him. I love Molly. I want her to be my best friend. I want to drink whiskey and make inappropriate jokes with her while she teaches me to sing like she does.

They came back for an encore and played ‘One Night At A Time’ by George Strait, which was weird because I had been listening to it on my iPod on the tube on my way there, followed by Patty Loveless’ ‘Blame it on Your Heart’ which Sam pointed out was in a ‘really bad’ film called The Thing Called Love.

I’ll take this opportunity to mention that The Thing Called Love is up there in my favourite films, along with Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta, Steel Magnolias and Step Up 4.

Molly and Sam sang the song as a duet, which Sam explained is when two people sing together. The best duets are so much more than that; if it works, like it does for them, it’s when two voices blend together to create an effect as potent as the Chipotle margarita I had before the show. That’s not an easy feat. That margarita was strong AF, and I can’t usually taste tequila.

After the show, an old man turned to me happily and said ‘They were good weren’t they?’ I agreed (duh), and he told me how great it was to see younger people in the audience because usually it’s ‘only all us old folk here for the Americana’.

Young folk, all y’all are missing out.

You can see Sam Outlaw in Oxford tonight, with dates in Nottingham, Glasgow, Newcastle and Madrid and Barcelona over the next few days.

Sidenote: Sam Outlaw read my blog. Someone reads my blog! He lived in Romania for a while and laughed at my post which explains the dangers of open windows.


Observations from Dating in Bucharest

I would like to begin this post with a disclaimer: This is based on my experiences of Romanian men in the initial stages of dating, from the perspective of an English girl who is not skilled at playing the dating game in any culture and tends to attract weirdos. I’m aware that other friends in Bucharest have had similar experiences but I still do not claim these phenomena to be generalisable.

If you arrange to meet, it’s unlikely to happen. Chances are they will disappear for three days and cite a mysterious short-notice work trip involving transporting wood to the border where there is apparently no phone signal.

They talk big. On your second time meeting they may express a wish to take you to meet their parents in Iaşi, or get a tattoo of your name. Don’t get too excited about this. It won’t happen.

A hug is a bold move. If you hug a man, they may take this as a strong indication that you wish to be together romantically, possibly forever. It will lead to…

Phone calls. Who doesn’t want to wake up to 43 missed calls? They’re just checking your phone works. If you pick up they don’t actually have anything to say to you, unless it’s to ask what you’re up to or where you are, in which case…

They will turn up. ‘What are you up to?’ ‘Oh, just having a drink with a friend in Oktoberfest, you? Oh… there you are… walking in the door now…’ The speed with which they materialise leads me to suspect that someone in Bucharest is hiding the secret to teleportation.

Cheating is okay. At least, most guys that I spoke to made this very clear. Supposedly, all girls cheat so guys may as well cheat first. This attitude may explain the intense paranoia and jealousy exuding from couples in bars. Also, ‘I’m married in Focşani’ apparently means you’re not married in Bucharest. Different area codes or something.

They have good intentions. It’s the thought that counts, right? ‘I was going to bring you flowers but I forgot my wallet… can you just pay the taxi driver for me?’ ‘I was going to meet you but then I crashed my bicycle into a police car and had to go to jail’.

Beverages are non-alcoholic. People go on dates to drink ‘juice’ which is ACTUALLY juice and not code for gin and juice a la Snoop Dogg. I guess going for coffee at least provides some caffeinated stimulation but if I’m going on a first date with someone which is going to involve heavy reliance on Google Translate, ideally I’d like my beverage to be brimming with alcohol.

Cross-cultural dating is a minefield and I would very much have appreciated a guide before having these experiences. If anyone knows of such a guide please do inform me; or perhaps some of the many successful Romanian/other nationality couples could leave some tips?

Events, Music

Concert Commandments

  1. Thou shalt not eat cheese and onion crisps (or similar pungent-smelling snacks e.g. Twiglets) in a hot and crowded concert venue.
  2. Thou shalt not sit on the floor in the middle of the crowd unless you want to be stood on.
  3. Thou shalt not pour beer on me unless it’s the kind of concert where I specifically want beer poured on me.
  4. Thou shalt be wary of wearing a large backpack and making sudden movements.
  5. Thou shalt not stand directly in front of people if you are both tall and wide (one or the other is manageable, both is beyond acceptable).
  6. Thou shalt not make out excessively, especially if you have a somewhat slobbery snogging style.
  7. Thou shalt not talk loudly while the opening act is playing, particularly if making negative comments; the act’s friends/family may be right beside you.
  8. Thou shalt not twerk at inappropriate moments.
  9. Thou shalt wear sufficient antiperspirant if you intend to jump or dance in an energetic fashion.
  10. Thou shalt not use the close quarters of the gig venue as an excuse to be all up in someone’s grill without their consent. It’s not cool on the Tube, it’s not cool at a concert, it’s not cool anywhere. #ConsentIsCool
Events, Music

Ashley Monroe @ Bush Hall: March 15th 2016

It feels like I’ve written a lot about country music over the past few days; it was a hectic time with U.S. artists cramming shows into this week whilst they were over for C2C. The last show of my run was Ashley Monroe at Bush Hall. I found Ashley through my love of Pistol Annies, a band that my best friend Bianca introduced me to through the classic ‘Hell on Heels’. I love the way their voices blend and the musicality of their songs, and this musicality defines Ashley’s solo work too.

The audience at this event was the opposite end of the spectrum to the crowd at Old Dominion, although I’m sure some people, like me, had been to both. There were older people, grey-haired, perturbed that there was no seating… More people there by themselves sitting on the floor reading books while they waited… More couples than I’d noticed before. It was the kind of crowd who don’t interrupt when someone is performing in order to ask their friends loudly if they want to go take shots. It was also the most rapturous crowd I’ve experienced so far, and it was made all the more special by the depth of the engagement that comes from a more mature demographic who are not necessarily as clouded by the whole ‘OMG they’re sooooo hot’ as some younger fans are. But I mean, OMG Ashley was sooooo hot. Not just physically but in the fire of her voice combined with the friction of the fast-moving bow on the fiddle strings that one of her two accompanists was playing. It was such a joy to hear the guitar, violin, double bass, and voices, with no flashy effects necessary, all electricity generated by the music. It was a pure performance, and there is so much talent in the truth with which Ashley tells her stories through her songs. She blessed us with a new song, and at times seemed quite emotional- this was nothing compared to how I was feeling in the audience. I was a wreck, lip trembling, telling myself not to be that girl, but it just gives me such absolutely overwhelming pride and relief to see such talented people get the appreciation and love that they deserve.

There was an encore, and Ashley’s BFF Miranda (Lambert, duh) came on to sing a couple of songs with her. I’d never seen Miranda perform, and I know she’s a huge deal and of course I love her and was woo-ing with the rest of them, but the magic of that moment was seeing the strength of a female friendship where they support each other’s passions and careers. There was no sense whatsoever of Miranda outshining Ashley; she didn’t need to, and probably couldn’t if she’d wanted to, considering how we’d all fallen further in love with Ashley throughout that evening.

To add even more sparkle to the night, there was a second encore where Ashley came back and played a final song, alone with her guitar. Despite the 350ish people in the room, it felt like she’d made friends with every one of us, and I know I’ll be one of many people keeping an eye out for whenever she comes back over here. It was a beautiful way to end this oh-so-short country music season. I now have to go and let my heart recover from the heartbreak of it being over L (for now…)

Events, Music

Old Dominion @ Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen: March 14th 2016

This story starts four years ago in a little-known city named Barcelona, where cathedrals take hundreds of years to build and their architects get run over by trams, where tiny children in helmets climb up towers of people, where Christmas is celebrated with a smattering of poop-related characters, and where 21 year old study abroad students get shitfaced on champagne on a Thursday afternoon and ‘sing’ overly expressive karaoke to crowds of perplexed stag parties.

That’s where I met my friend Will, who was the fortunate winner of a ticket to see Old Dominion with me tonight. We got to Hoxton Square early and started our reminiscing session, hoping our outrageous stories were loud enough for people to realise that no, we were not on a date. There were lots of pretty girls there, and the band drinking at the bar only a few feet away. Brad smiled at me. It was dazzling. I didn’t say anything because I’d used up all my lines with the killer ‘I’m going to see you on Monday’ (See Country2Country).

I have zero game.

We headed into the live room and took up a position right in the middle, next to some bros with snapbacks and check shirts and some twerky skinny girls. Most people sang along to every song (#fangirls). Luckily, for people like me (incapable of remembering full lines of lyrics, tend to vaguely mutter syllables along with the harmonies and pick any words that rhyme) and Will (who didn’t know the band and turned to me towards the beginning to say ‘I thought this was going to be a chillaxed evening, sitting around listening to some banjo’) Old Dominion played a song where our job was to sing ‘woah yeah’. We audience-participated hardcore at that point.

But seriously, they played all the favourites, they played ‘Crazy Sexy Beautiful’ and pointed at me (shh let me tell myself that). They managed to hold ‘Break Up With Him’ back and make it the penultimate song despite someone yelling it out before the beginning of pretty much every single song. They kept their composure when people shouted at them to take their t-shirts off, and for the first time I wondered how men feel when they’re objectified. There were a lot of ladies ‘objectifying’ in that room. As Will would put it, ‘They’re gonna get hella laid after this.’

‘Nowhere Fast’ was an unexpected singalong moment and the crowd got pretty passionate about ‘Said Nobody’. I don’t aim to write these posts as reviews because I can’t begin to imagine how to write about music; all I can do is try to inspire you to listen to it for yourselves. Nothing I say about a song means anything. Music is for experiencing for yourself and letting it speak to you for your own personal reasons. I love ‘Til It’s Over’ and surprised myself by feeling emotional at ‘Song For Another Time’, but if you heard them you might be inspired to stand on your head and eat twelve Krispy Kremes. If you do, please let me know how that goes.

An extra highlight was hearing Brad Tursi singing ‘A Guy Walks Into A Bar’, a song he co-wrote for Tyler Farr, and Trevor Rosen’s ‘Sangría’, which was released by Blake Shelton. I find it incredibly sexy and endearing when people write songs and let other people sing them. It proves to me that they’re about the music and not necessarily the stardom that comes with the performing, not that there’s any doubt that every member of this band are stars.

When I saw Brett Eldredge I was struck by how appreciative he was of the audience, and I had that same sensation on this occasion. I have never seen bands as genuinely happy to be on stage and playing for an audience as these huge U.S. country stars who have come over to our quaint country expecting nothing except perhaps some warm beer and wizards. I can’t imagine there being any audience filled with as much love as a room of London country fans. All y’all over there in Nashville who can just walk out the door and find great music around you any time, you don’t know how lucky you are. We savour every second of country like it’s the last sip of whiskey before all the whiskey in the world dries up. It fuels us like renewable energy should really be fuelling all those big ass trucks, and when we get a taste of that momentum we get lifted up until it’s over again and we have to crash down and hold back tears on the Tube listening to George Strait on our way home.