Charley Pride, Little Ginny

First published in Country Music People, May 1981

The growing popularity of country music n the UK could be gauged  by the number of people who turned out for Charley Pride’s first visit to Eastbourne. Both the early evening and the late show were sold out, and the audience was the expected well-dressed suburban crowd that a star like Pride commands. Compared to other country shows I’ve been to recently, there was a marked absence of cowboy hats; is this a new sign, or is it that Charley has an ‘up-market’ following?

This tour featured Little Ginny and her band Room Service, who opened the show, Although her spot was relatively brief and allowed her time to sing only four numbers, Ginny performed with confidence and vitality. The western favourite I’m An Old Cowhand featured delightfully old-fashioned harmonies, in contrast Jimmie Rodgers’ classic Miss The Mississippi And You showed that Ginny could handle a sensitive ballad, and she could not have come up with a better closing number than Ed Bruce’s When I Die (Just Let Me Go To Texas).  A great hand-clapping version that won the entire audience over, and should have won Ginny and Room Service a well-deserved encore.

Then we saw a trio called Bittersweet sliding through a well-oiled routine which fitted as snugly as a key sliding into a lock. The comparison to Dave & Sugar were obvious when they opened with The Door Is Always Open. Without stopping to take a breath they continued with Trying To Love Two Women, Never Fall In Love With A Dreamer and I Can See Forever In Your Eyes. 
Whatever ones musical tastes, and I for one was repelled by Bittersweet’s musical menu, you can’t help but admire their professionalism. They were as slick as the discharge from the Torrey Canyon, as smoothly polished as Kojak’s bald pate—perfect fodder for a top-of-the-ratings TV show. Middle-of-the-road family fare, Bittersweet were easy to consume, as digestible as soufflé.

It is his knack for great on-stage performing that has made Charley Pride the first black man to reach stardom in country music. On this show, though, there were only the occasional glimpse of that greatness. It was partly a case of the legend preceding the human being and all his inherent frailties, partly a case of a sloppy backing band, and principally a case of the man being unable to sustain his excitement of the night.

He mixed old and new songs with only a ha’p’orth of difference between them. The performance was markedly free of excess, with textures clear enough to delight the masses. Such restraint might easily equal blandness were it not for Pride’s expressive vocals and powerful stage presence. Just Between You And Me, Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone and All I Have To Offer You Is Me drew warm applause from the packed auditorium, but it was the stunning version of Kaw Liga and the Cajun-styled Louisiana Man which showed the Pride talent off to best advantage.

The medley of his old hits seemed under-rehearsed, the band and poor old Charley coming in on different beats. Possibly these were knocked up for this tour, and as time goes on they might have become tighter, but medleys which utilise a couple of lines from a dozen different songs are never really satisfying. Charley’s new Czechoslovakian fiddle player chipped in with a fast-paced, devil-may-care Orange Blossom Special but his part otherwise was much more subtle and the thoughtful way he was used in arrangements (on percussion as well as fiddle) was one of the successes.

The inevitable Crystal Chandeliers came near the end of the concert with Charley sitting atop a stool and effective lighting helping to create the right atmosphere. The song was so well-received  that Charley obliged with the chorus encore. The show closed with Wings Of A Dove, with Charley commenting on his near mid-air collision of last year. Unfortunately, Pride at Eastbourne was a slight disappointment, and the more I think about it, the more disappointed I feel.