The Mercey Brothers Live

First published in Country Music People, July 1979

Hazlitt Theatre, Maidstone 

The Mercey Brothers completed their first British tour with two shows at Maidstone’s small municipal theatre, and have now returned to Canada with the firm knowledge that they have made that all important initial breakthrough this side of the Atlantic. 

Although this was their third visit to these shores, a guest spot on a TV series seven years ago, and a three-song spot at Wembley four years later, hardly enabled them to build up much of a following. They should now be able to return to undertake a full theatre tour, perhaps a guest spot on a major American star’s tour should be in order. 

This show was opened by White Line Fever, a young band from Morecambe, who expectedly began with Merle Haggard’s White Line Fever. On reflection it turned out to be their weakest number, but gradually they built their confidence, shining on vocal harmonies and creating a friendly rapport with the audience. The young lead guitarist was itching to do more involved things with his instrument, but the two brothers, Gary and Kevin Thistlewaite have organised a good little band that can only grow in stature quite rapidly. 

They closed their entertaining act with an ambitious version of Mickey Newbury’s American Trilogy before bringing on Keith Manifold. He opened on a high note Casting My Lasso Toward The Sky, and though he kept the yodelling to a minimum, he tried a little too hard to please, but at least he left the audience happy. 

Working with White Line Fever, there were some strong vocal harmonies in evidence, especially on Larry Gaitlin’s If Practice Makes Perfect. He turned in a fine version of Don Gibson’s I’d Be A Legend In My Time, powerful stuff, then let things right down with a gabbled, insensitive reading of Golden Guitar. Keith’s rapport with the audience showed that he has matured greatly over the last couple of years, but he still needs to build an act more sensibly than he did on this occasion. 

After the interval, The Mercey Brothers took to the stage, and within seconds they won the audience over. They carefully structured their set, intermingling their Canadian hits with country standards that the audience could associate with. This worked well on Lucille, Stranger (the highspot of their act) and A Whole Lotta Things To Sing About. 

They took the audience back in time to how the Mercey’s started, with Larry beginning as a soloist some twenty years ago and singing Crazy Arms, Singing The Blues and Take A Message To Mary, Ray joining in the act a few years later with Bye Bye Love and then drummer Lloyd began with Uncle Tom and Hello Mom. 

It was a polished show, the vocal work ringing out clear and cleanly and the instrumental work being fuller than you might expect for a trio. When a few of our British acts reach this level of entertaining an audience, then I believe we can boast about British country music, but for most of them, it’s a long hard climb, and at times the commitment seems sadly lacking.