Against most of my instincts I finally decided to go see ‘Wild Rose.’ What had put me off was the trails and (what I’d heard) of the music. It seems there’s more to the film that the soundtrack and there is at least one lovely moment of the soundtrack which we’ll share with you on this week’s show. The film itself? I think there’s a beautiful supporting performance by Julie Walters and a great thread of maternal love throughout the movie. I’m not sure it begins to understand country music or why women, in particular, make brilliant country music. It seemed to me the main character magnified all the cliches of bloke country without ever showing why the songs might have wormed their way into her heart. I enjoyed seeing my dear friends Mark Hagen and Bob Harris because, if there’s one thing that is true, Bob is as gentle and kind as the Bob in that movie and Mark would always rescue from the wrong BBC reception if you were lost. At its core however there is something true at the heart of the film. Rose-Lynn wants to get to Nashville, and for as long as I can remember that urge is something which has tugged at the heart of all troubadours.
I thought of this as Richard Murdoch (my producer) posted up a 1970 poster for a Mervyn Conn country tour to the UK. It was Conn who brought the huge country gathering to Wembley Arena every Easter back in the seventies and was, in truth, the parent to today’s C2C festival. Country seemed a bit like pop music and some of the artists even had long hair and wore jeans. Radio played its part of course. After Radio One stopped at 7pm we were switched to Radio 2 where the folk and country shows drew us in because they too had a few electric guitars and some killer songs.
It was a huge draw for me too. In 1985 I signed my first publishing deal with ATV Music. It was then a small company up for sale and about to be bought by Michael Jackson. My lawyer took me through the deal. ‘It’s not great,’ he warned me, ‘But on the good side.. it’s short and you’ll be out of it by the time any success comes round.’ He was right, and I was grateful for his advice when I signed a more lucrative agreement at the time when my songs were doing a whole lot better.
I couldn’t really claim any professional discernment in the matter however. What had sucked me into the deal was the letterhead on the initial offer. Emblazoned in gold lettering were the main offices of the company. London, New York, Los Angeles and Nashville. ‘There’s a Nashville office?’ I asked them. ‘When can I go?’
Like so many places, Nashville is a dream. I’m sure Hollywood must have had a similar mythology back in the thirties. Imagining a place is usually better than seeing it; with the exception of truly great cities like Paris, London and New York. In ‘Wild Rose’ they capture the buzz of Saturday night on Broadway, but in reality Music City is not one of the worlds grander metropolises. Highways cut up neighbourhoods and the only real external aid to folklore is the sound of freight trains moaning on their long slow snake through the south. Drive through it and you might well wonder what the fuss is all about. The truth is all the magic happens in small rooms where stories are imagined and brought to life. Compared to these jewels the rhinestone charms of Lower Broadway fade into insignificance.
So this week on Another Country we will again try to unpick some of the gems lurking in the backstreets of that old Tennessee town. Our country correspondent, Bill DeMain will bring us up to date on what’s been happening and what we should be listening to if our dream is to, one day, alight in Nashvegas.
Listen out too for a tribute to the late Earl Thomas Conley, some new music from Tenile Townes, Caroline Spence, The Long Ryders and Reba.….sometimes in Nashville (if you’re very good) you get to lose your surname. Bill will explain everything but in case you’re still not sure join us from five past nine this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland.