Doug Walker is being groomed for stardom, that much is clear. The story goes that he spent a morning handing out demos to Radio 1 staff one morning and Chris Moyles took one and ended up giving him 30 minutes of airtime that very morning. A major label deal followed.
The thing is, would you take an endorsement from Moyles? Quite. Doug’s a very likeable character but his songs, with names like ‘Shine’, ‘Shed A Little Light’ and ‘Stay With You’ are blandly aspirational MOR. The cynic in me says that he’d appeal to the core Radio 2/Radio 6 market of slightly older listeners who, crucially, still pay for CDs.
His frequent banter with the crowd seemed to be fueled by nervousness but there was also the puppyish enthusiasm of someone who isn’t yet used to their growing status. Unfortunately, his attempts to rope his band into the fun were met with dead-eyed disdain from his charmless bassist.
So Doug Walker wasn’t quite my cuppa. Even so I certainly don’t begrudge him his likely success, it’s just no coincidence that the better songwriters carry a few scars. Doug’s smoothed-out sound gave me no edges to get any purchase on.
I knew little of Sarabeth Tucek before this show. All I was aware of was that she sang on a Brian Jonestown Massacre album (she was in the documentary Dig!) and she was slated by Bob Dylan fans after having the temerity to accept an invitation to open for him. I took both to be good endorsements (seriously, have you ever met a die-hard Dylan fan you didn’t want to punch?).
She was a very different proposition to her support act. Whereas Doug took advantage of the intimate confines of the venue to fill it with lively sound, Sarabeth reined things in, almost making you lean forward a little to listen. Whereas Doug chatted effusively between songs, Sarabeth gave the odd sharp smile.
Her songs were slow-paced, with the consistent elements of her soft, smokey yet precise voice and the excellent riffing of the tall, bearded guitarist with salon-fresh hair by her side. She also seemed to act the songs out in her head if the changing look in her eyes was anything to go by – in fact there was something very compelling about those eyes.
Truth be told, I’d had a long day, I was tired and if I’d had the choice I wouldn’t have chosen to go and catch some live music. As it happens, Sarabeth provided an excellent soundtrack to feeling a little weary. She ran through most of her self-titled debut album with the better songs such as ‘Holy Smoke’ and ‘Something For You’ translating best to the stage. For an encore she performed a Neil Young cover – his country-rock material providing a good comparison to her own material.
Mainstream success doesn’t seem as likely for Sarabeth as it does for Doug. Both performers have a traditional and unadventurous style but I much preferred Sarabeth’s ability to conjure an atmosphere, even if it’s mostly downbeat, over Doug’s greeting card sentiments. Sarabeth Tuck won’t change your life but I found an evening in her company very pleasant indeed.