If you are fortunate enough to catch this Kentuckian singer songwriter during his pass through the UK, you are ahead of the curve. As is typical of this brilliant South East London venue Omeara are championing new talent on verge of a big break. Tyler Childers is a much talked about artist who has been promoted thanks to plenty of air play on the essential Americana podcast W.B. Walkers Old Soul Radio Show.
Childers is a tall, broad almost imposing figure when he arrives on stage. His flame red hair betrays his ancestry and hints at a long-held question, what draws British people to American country and roots music? Is it the deep connection folk music of the UK and thinly veiled evolution of these traditional songs into genres like blue grass and ‘60s and ‘70s country-rock?
Settling on a seat to comfortably position his guitar, the tightly packed crowd explain to Childers that they can no longer see him. This disappearing act is quite a feat for such a tall man. They are quickly pacified by his opening number, his charming cover of the late great Utah Phillips’s Rock, Salt and Nails. This mildly comical, song may seem a touch out of place and time in a world dominated by the #metoo movement.
I certainly doubt any current songwriters would dare to write a song with the lyrics, ‘If the ladies were squirrels yeah with a big bushy tail / I’d fill up my shotgun with a rock salt and nails.’ Here is the part of the attraction of Tyler Childers, the America he evokes is nostalgic. With his writing and singing style and even his appearance, he could have stepped straight out of the 1970s South or South West.
Between songs he talks with the crowd in a dry tone amusing everyone with the colloquial language differences between booger and bogey, and proceeds to sing a song which includes the UK vernacular. Everyone delights in the cultural outreach!
Being a relatively new recording artist Childers is presenting a limited songbook this evening and opts for another cover from an obvious influence with his version of Willie Nelson’s historical epic Time of the Preacher. This gives Childers a chance to exercise a much rougher edge to his voice, abandoning his melting timbre for a moment to impart almost pained emotion into the song.
In the midst of his set he announces a song that he refers to as a “Red neck commentary on reincarnation” which makes me wonder if he is comfortable appropriating the term red neck? He is from Kentucky after all, where folks don’t joke about it. It might be hipster chic to wear plaid and trucker caps, as many guys in the crowd do, but it’s a whole other thing imply you represent the common labourer when it is so clearly a commercial device.
That said, he gives everything he does a gentle hint of humour. In contrast many of his songs include a talent for finger picking and thoughtful lyrics that speak of the long history of the singer songwriter.
The intros to his songs help to set the stage each time and invite the audience into his charming American life, either real or imagined. With prefaces like; “Here’s a song about the time I fell head over heels in love with a Catholic girl from Ohio” (long story short), “I heard about this thing called Purgatory, I could get behind that because it gave me a fighting chance.” or, “This song is about the first time I got snowed in with my in-laws” to, “This is a song about tattoos, it’s called Tattoos.”
Childers is also happy to spin a yarn about being a musician on the road. He tells of how a bag of drugs undid a plan to kill time before a show and about getting to a gig at Tootle Pumpkin Inn in Circleville Ohio in a camper van. As he tells the story, he could have stepped straight out of the 1970s South or even South West. His songs speak of a when people dreamed of freedom of travelling the US, untethered, of falling in love a little with every woman they meet and of a rustic world of bar rooms and open country.
A new song Lost Address is a pacier, guitar driven ditty which offers a brief glimpse of what he might sound like with a full band behind him. It only takes his next song a sultry, bluesy number to realise how much intimacy would be lost by that. Once more he nods to those who came before with a heavenly version of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through the Night.
Before offering up a generous extension of songs to the crowd he thanks us all, musing, “There are one hundred and one things y’all could’ve done with your time tonight in a city with one hundred and one things to do and you came here.” I feel safe to say that not one of us regretted it.
Photography by Paul Lyme and Live Review by Sarah Sievers live @ Omeara 30th January 2018