Randall King Brings The Honky-Tonk To Bush Hall

Tonight, Bush Hall’s ambiance transforms. The vintage West London theatre could easily look like a museum or a Georgian living room. However, as wrestling style intro music complete with truck noises transitions into electric guitar, the space becomes alive with the Texas of our imagination. An old lady sitting by the stage frantically waves a small American flag as the dashing figure of Randall King sweeps in front of the bordello-scarlet velvet backdrop.

Randall King at Bush Hall (© Pauline Di Silvestro)

Randall King at Bush Hall (© Pauline Di Silvestro)
Randall King at Bush Hall (© Pauline Di Silvestro)

King’s stage presence alone fills the room. He’s vitally aware that he’s here as an entertainer. His mission is to put on a show that the few hundred folk crammed in will remember for a long time. “This is a whole new world for us out here,” he exclaims while striking poses and high-fiving the front row during Dent In It. King’s latest single, When My Baby’s In Boots, has a timeless loveliness when performed live, the pedal steel guitar lending a touch of boy-next-closeness to a slower, easier tempo. It’s very much a set that demonstrates where the West Texas native is at this point in time before his dark upcoming album drops in January. “We’re gonna learn you some things today,” warns King before launching into Roger, Miller Lite And Me, a bass-heavy, road-country innovation that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The 32-year-old is more than happy to add twists and turns to this earlier work, like Hard Way To Make It Rain’s sinking atmospheric guitar bridge with a dramatic homecoming rise.

However, when the Texas man switches to a smoother, slower tone, there’s something magical in the air. It’s all about the waves of sweet bluesy emotion, his bass voice blending with fuzz to build a foundation under the rolling plains of guitar. “Will anybody miss me when I’m gone?” he sings with his heart shining from his chest, back feet planted for a ‘stand your ground’ howl. There is an understated elegance when You In A Honky Tonk, King’s biggest single to date, is cut down to minimal instrumental backing. It’s poignant with longing in a modern, misty way, with a slow, slinky musical touch like a furtive glance across a saloon.

Suddenly he switches gears again to an upbeat, bursting rodeo number, taking us back into the sun. “We were only gonna play for like seventy five minutes, but fuck that! We’re gonna play for as long as we want,”the frontman  shouts to a rapturous crowd. He namechecks tractor brand John Deere while the guitar clatters and his voice rises above the dust. We shout along to ‘save my soul’, unprompted then grow louder. King, ever a gentleman, nods in approval. He ends with a hillbilly breakdown lacking a fiddle. There’s no room to dance but our phones are aloft to record every nuanced strum before the big sentimental swirls of ballad as he covers  Deana Carter’s hit 1996 tune Strawberry Wine. He pauses briefly to maximise our singing room.

“Got any cowgirls out here in London?” the band-lead asks rhetorically. He must have already noted the number of ladies in cowboy hats and boots in the audience. He connects to a specific mood, a niche where you need to feel the steel wind in your hair and sweep away into the horizon. Slow beating buildups demonstrate his devotion to his sound despite time and distance from its source, undiluted by nostalgia. There’s a note of celebration in his final wail.

If this set is a sampler of where Randall King stands at this moment in time, he has a lot to be proud of. His upcoming new album can only up the ante. If he returns to the UK to showcase it, he will receive a warm welcome in London.

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Review of Randall King live at Bush HallLondon on 12th September 2023 by Kate Allvey. Photography by Pauline Di Silvestro.

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