REDLANDS PALOMINO COMPANY: THE YOUNG TURKS OF ENGLISH COUNTRY
by Nick West
“We’re doin’ it for the country, we’re doin’ it for GP,
We’re doin’ it for Neil Young and Crazy Horse ‘cos God knows they do it for me!”
In these rousing, crowd-pleasing lines from “Doin’ It For The Country” the English country rockers the Redlands Palomino Company enshrine the curious affinity that UK fans, all the way back to the Zigzag kids in the 70s with their import copies of The Gilded Palace Of Sin, have with American country tunes. That the Redlands can sing this in complete earnest yet with tongue firmly in cheek goes much of the way to explaining their current pre-eminence in English alt-country circles.
This remains a relatively small world centred on a network of clubs and venues run by faithful promoters and fans. It’s a world that doesn’t always appreciate its homegrown jewels, especially when the opportunity arises to genuflect before an American, even of middling talent. It speaks volumes that the Redlands’ record label is based in Sydney rather than Acton. Yet they thrive precisely by working in the genre they love while not trying to be what they’re not.
“It would be daft for us with our backgrounds and our nationality to write straight country songs,” says Redlands’ Alex Elton-Wall, “so we just write about personal experiences. We love the instrumentation, the sounds, of classic country-rock music, but we’ve got to be serious about who we are and where we’re from. If we suddenly start writing songs about American highways and Tennessee we might look like buffoons. You can’t sing about what goes on in Portsmouth ‘cos it would sound silly. If you drove for three days straight here you’d be in the Irish Sea.”
Thus Alex Elton-Wall tells it like it is; frontman Alex, his wife Hannah, pedal-steel player David Rothon, and bassist Rain have been Redlands from the start. Last year they lost drummer Jamie Langham, replaced by the subtle and nuanced Dan Tilbury, and added another guitarist in the multitalented Tom Bowen. Bowen, who back in the day played in lost Camden band Goldwing, had been searching for a home since the ‘Wing crashed and burned. Everyone knew it was the Redlands but it took a long time for him to get there.
“In hindsight we should have asked him to join the band years ago,” says Elton-Wall. “It was pretty stupid that we didn’t. We were doing a gig at the 100 Club and we asked him along to the rehearsal to play a few songs and he came and played along to everything. He was able to play all the bits from both of the albums that we couldn’t play live. It took about one rehearsal for us to say ‘come and play the rest of the tour.’ I think we’ve never sounded better. We’re so used to hearing him play his Telecaster and fantastic lead guitar but he’s a really great acoustic guitarist as well. He’s recently been playing a bit of dobro and when we did some recording, though he’d never picked one up before, he’s playing the banjo parts.”
The Redlands came together nearly eight years ago, though they’d really begun as indie kids in the mid-90s: “I started playing with a guitarist called Mike Gant and Rain came on board and then Jamie. I was listening to a lot of bog-standard indie music, shoegazing stuff, then Mike started introducing me to Gram, the Byrds, Big Star. He played me record after record. We weren’t really a country band, but we played jingly-jangly music and then Rain mentioned he knew a pedal-steel player and Mike and I got very excited. Dave came down and played ‘Teach Your Children’ and we were hooked. Dave and we played a few gigs as a five piece and then a four piece and then I met Hannah in 2000 and she came along and did some backing vocals on a couple of tracks live. We quickly realized that she was actually the star of the show and should be asked to join the band on a permanent basis.”
Mike Gant had gone by then, having played his pivotal role. But in Hannah they’d found a voice, a songwriter, and a foil to Alex. Like him she had the instinct to write about what she knew, and the songs that they, separately and together, provided for 2004’ s By The Time You Hear This… spoke of real life. Songs about a girl wanting a horse, and a favourite car breaking down, and the joys and pains of love.
That record was recorded as and when in 2002 and 2003, the 2002 sessions with ex-Rockingbird Alan Tyler producing. They stuck with Rockingbirds, this time Chris Clarke and Sean Read, for 2007’s Take Me Home, and took the view that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, though, noticeably, Alex has grown into an accommodation with the roughness in his voice, allowing a natural contrast with his wife’s vocal purity.
Always an excellent live band, the Redlands have the knack of pulling a crowd that probably doesn’t think it likes country music, and then getting them to come back again and again. Now they stand on the point of starting their third record: “It’s going to be the same kind of songs, though we’ll probably do some more acoustic and live sounding material. We won’t necessarily think every song has to be guitar, bass, drums, pedal steel. If a song doesn’t need drums, it won’t have drums. Before Tom, it had been the same for so long; it was, ‘I do this. You do that.’ I think we’ll be a bit more open about what a particular song needs. Whether it needs to be a full-on country song or a more mellow traditional sounding song, though I say this,” he laughs, “and it’ll probably all sound the same with screaming guitar solos.”