After playing solo in and around the O2 Arena in March at this year’s C2C festival it was great to see Texan powerhouse Randall King return with his full band to play again for the UK crowd in the same year. Bush Hall in London was a perfect venue to see, hear and feel a slice of Texas on what was a hot and sweaty honky tonk night!
Opener Reid Haughton took the stage just after 8pm. Reid is a young whippersnapper with an old soul. All fresh faced and full of wide eyed enthusiasm but when he opens his mouth a rich, raw voice comes out that transports you right back to the 70s. He played songs like ‘Day You Don’t,’ ‘Can’t Please ‘Em All’ and ‘Should’ve Thought About That’ from his recent EP alongside covers of tracks like Charlie Daniels’ ‘Long Haired Country Boy’ and the Band of Heathens’ ‘Hurricane.’ Both covers suited Haughtons’ voice being raw, powerful statement songs perfectly suited to a hot, sweaty night infront of a honky tonk crowd. Haughton’s ‘signature song’, ‘She Is’ was played early and delivered with some aplomb whilst new song, ‘Man Made Money’ has a little funk to it and packs a good punch live too. Overall, Haughton made a great London debut and won over the crowd with his talent and vocal strength. It’ll be good to see him back on this side of the Atlantic with a full band next time.
Talking of full bands, the UK has now enjoyed the ‘Randall King experience’ in both acoustic (at the C2C festival) and electric format. After initially thinking this would be another acoustic show King and his team found a way to bring the band over with him and, boy, wasn’t that a great decision! Opening with ‘Tonk Til I Die’ and ‘Baby Do,’ King and his guys played with an energy and muscle that was a pure delight to watch. Any Country music show is made better by the presence of a pedal steel player and King brought his with him so songs like ‘Mirror Mirror’ could be enjoyed in the way that King would have wanted us to hear, drenched in plaintive steel guitar and 90s heartbreak.
To front a honky tonk Country band you need to have some charisma and King wasn’t afraid to throw some shapes and some attitude out into the crowd either. Before playing ‘Roger, Miller Lite and Me’ he asked the crowd if anyone had heard of Roger Miller and, after a smattering of affirmations, told us all that it was time to ‘hedge-a-macate’ us all and ‘bring us some learning’ then. We got the story of the origin of ‘Mirror Mirror’ back in Lubbock, Texas in 2017 and a whole bunch of good-natured, frontman machismo too. During the elongated 90s medley towards the end of the set, King’s guitarist burst into the riff for Shania Twain’s ‘Man, I Feel like a Woman,’ to which King laughed and said, ‘We ain’t playing any of that shit!’
Songs like ‘Hard Way to Make it Rain,’ Tugging on My Heartstrings’ and ‘When My Baby’s in Boots’ were played with gusto and if you closed your eyes you could almost take yourself off to some honky tonk dive deep in the heart of Texas somewhere. The ballads, like ‘The One You’re Waiting On’, ‘In the Picture’ and ‘Mirror Mirror’ were as heartfelt and as evocative as their recorded versions. Special mention must go to ‘Can’t You Feel How That Sounds’, which seemed to have an extra back end of anthemic power in its live format and to ‘Another Bullet,’ one of King’s oldest but most powerful and mesmeric songs. Both were set highlights for sure.
An instrumental interlude during which King’s band rocked out to songs like ‘Detroit Rock City’ from Kiss gave King a chance for a breather and a towel down and the elongated 90s medley which came right at the end of the main set gave the chance for the crowd to engage in a bit of call-and-response singing to a multitude of famous songs like ‘I Like it, I Love it’, ‘Check Yes or No,’ ‘Should’ve Been a Cowboy’ and ‘Strawberry Wine’. Reid Haughton joined the band onstage for a run through of Brooks and Dunn’s ‘Neon Moon’ and the whole segment was finished off with an awesome singalong to ‘Friends in Low Places’.
On what was a hot, sticky night in Bush Hall, an evening of top-notch Texan honky tonk seemed like the most appropriate use of both the venue and my time! King came, he sang and he conquered the hearts and minds of the London crowd. There was two stepping and line dancing occurring down on the floor although the cramped conditions precluded both from really being much more than little individual pockets but the vibe and the feelings were there. London got a little bit of Lubbock last night and they loved it!
Setlist: 1. Tonk Til I Die 2. Baby Do 3. Dent in It 4. When My Baby’s in Boots 5. Roger, Miller Lite and Me 6. Hard Way to Make it Rain 7. In the Picture 8. Mirror Mirror 9. Hard to be Humble 10. Tugging on my Heartstrings 11. The One You’re Waiting On 12. Another Bullet 13. Rock Medley (instrumental) 14. Can’t You Feel How That Sounds 15. You in a Honky Tonk 16. 90s Medley 17. Hey Cowgirl 18. I’ll Fly Away Venue: Bush Hall, London Date: 13th September 2023.