The Other Half @The Black Box, Belfast Sat 9th May 2015

As a part of the wide ranging Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival The Other Half, a combination of Words and music, brought author Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine to Belfast for the first performance of their joint venture before an Northern Irish audience.

The show started with Billingham telling us that his fictional detective DI Tom Thorne liked country music because he (Billingham) liked country music and how, on the recommendation of a friend, he had become aware of the music of My Darling Clementine. He loved the records and had caught them live several times. After which a friendship had been stuck which resulted in them working together. The Other Half is the result. 

Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King the husband and wife duo who are My Darling Clementine in essence then came onstage through the audience to open the show. They opened with the song Departure Lounge before Dalgleish  commented “it’s very nice to be here with my husband” before adding “for now” to which Weston King replied that she shouldn’t go for the sympathy vote to early in the show. “Oh, I had it from when I walked onstage” was her tongue in check reply. This is the kind of banter that is part and parcel of a My Darling Clementine show but was less prevalent here because after a couple more songs the show The Other Half started with the opening section of Billingham’s  story of a showgirl turned waitress and her lost dreams. A country song in itself expanded to a short story.

With background slides to set the mood the trio alternated between songs and the spoken word. It was very effective and having the author read some the narration in a mock American accent brought humour and heart to the tale. The story is essentially about Marcia, a Las Vegas showgirl in her younger days, who now works in a run down bar and the people she meets there including Jimmy who she realises has something of what they were both looking for. Not some distant dream but an understanding of each others basic but real needs. Bellingham had told us that it was a inspired by “dark, depressing country music” he loved. A notional description that outsiders often apply to the music and although both the songs and the stories deal with marital discord and life’s little up and downs the end result, like all good country music, raises the spirit and is, ultimately, life affirming.

Both singers again confirmed their prowess as accomplished vocalists adding some theatricality appropriate to the delivery of the songs in this setting. Weston King is also a fine guitar player and at times played behind Billingham words. Dalgleish as well as playing the tambourine to add some percussive texture also played the electric piano for some songs to add further tonal variety.

The songs included No Heart in This Heartache and No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him) and I No Longer Take Pride as well as Friday Night At TheTulip Hotel and As Precious As The Flame songs which related to the story itself. The majority of the songs are ones that My Darling Clementine have released on their two albums - but that doesn’t detracted from their ability to work on the context of the story. When the reading was over My Darling Clementine closed the show with a trio of covers of the sort of song that would have been playing on the jukebox in the bar. These included Good Year For The Roses and Cold, Cold Heart. Then Billingham joined the duo to close the afternoon and he took the lead vocal on an forceful rendition of Heartaches By The Number, which was a fitting way to bring the proceedings to a close.

On this showing it is a process, that while not unique, that is worth exploring further. At some point in the future we may see songs specifically written as part of an integrated overall narrative. For now though The Other Half works as it does for in this live presentation setting. The CD of the project features others guests on both the spoken and music side which makes it an entity in it’s own right that should please fans of both parties.

Review by Stephen Rapid. Photography by Ronnie Norton