Happy New Year folks.
A long time ago in my hometown a friend suggested to my then girlfriend and myself that we should go to the pictures together. In Dundee they had just opened their first arthouse movie theatre in The Wellgate and we made plans to see a film featuring Sissy Spacek and featuring the great Levon Helm called ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter.’ Our friend’s pitch had intrigued us. ‘It’s about a country singer called Loretta Lynn,’ she enthused, ‘who is Crystal Gayle’s sister.’ In 1981 when we saw the movie, Crystal Gayle was more familiar to me and most of my friends than the coal miner’s daughter of the title.
Seeing that film confirmed something about which I’d always had a sneaking hunch: I really loved country music. I loved the simplicity, the honesty, the culture and I loved the songs and the stories. It also helped pull together some of the disparate strands of my country knowledge which flew around in bits and pieces of my slender record collection. When Loretta, played by Sissy, stepped out of her house and sang ‘In The Pines’ to herself I realised this song I’d heard covered by Gene Clark a couple of years earlier was a song which went way back. These days there is streaming and Google to answer your questions but back then there was only the radio, your friends records or happenstance. If you hadn’t managed to come across a song via your own albums or those of your siblings’ or pals’ collections the chances were that huge swathes or genres could pass you by. In some ways, there was a rawer honesty to these encounters than the open, free library we currently experience. For me, Coal Miner’s Daughter brought me into Loretta, Patsy Cline and The Grand Old Opry and planted the seeds of the deep love of country music I’d always knew was there. I just needed to find out a little more.
So it was that another twenty six years or so would pass and I would find myself deputising for a radio show called Brand New Country and, by coincidence, about to make my first visit to Music City. As I made my way in and around Nashville in 2007 I often reflected on how many of the country nudges I’d experienced had come from great movies containing timeless classic songs. Oh Brother, Walk The Line, Nashville, Midnight Cowboy, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, Sweet Dreams and the aforementioned Coal Miner’s Daughter. Putting theses songs together with the clues I’d been given by Gram, Emmylou, Wiilie and Johnny seemed to be the foundation of a country education.
On that visit and subsequent times there I’d listened to my favourite DJ, the great Eddie Stubbs and realise I would never have a deep enough knowledge of a genre that will always surprise and delight. What it confirmed however, was that I truly loved country music.
So it is that the first radio show of The AC’s in 2023 is a chance for you to rejoice in some of the great country moments from the wide and glorious country movie catalogue. From all of the above plus many more you’ll hear Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Allison Moorer, Townes Van Zandt and many more over the course of Another Country at The Movies.
It all starts at 8 p.m. this Tuesday on BBC Radio Scotland or at a time and place of your own choosing on BBC Sounds. It will be the perfect start to the new year, so join me if you can.