Rock: George & Tammy: edited highlights

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The Independent Culture
AFTER George Jones and Tammy Wynette had each performed a solo set at the Hammersmith Apollo on Monday, and before they duetted, we were treated to a tape/slide presentation of their history as President and First Lady of Country Music. The voice of a Nashville DJ told us of their marriage ("like a country- music fairytale"), the albums they made together, their separation, and their solo hits.

It did not mention the events that made even the current, real-life President and First Lady's relationship seem tranquil: George's attempts to gun down Tammy's friends; his phenomenal drinking (Tammy should have known that the initials G&T were ominous); the years when he was nicknamed "No Show Jones" because he preferred to empty whisky bottles and do Donald Duck impressions than attend his own concerts; Tammy's subsequent marriage which lasted 44 days.

Not that it was really necessary. If the DJ won't tell it like it is, the songs do. Wynette took the stage in a white trousersuit and glittering earrings to an introductory snippet of "Stand By Your Man", followed by "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" and "D.I.V.O.R.C.E": the G&T story in miniature.

You have to laugh - especially as the new reunion album, One (MCA), their first joint record since Two Storey House 15 years ago, is full of songs about building a forever and love being as solid as a rock. Luckily, Wynette was willing to laugh, too. She prefaced one song recorded 30 years ago with the qualification: "This does not make me old, it makes me a veteran artist."

Her set was a greatest-hits cabaret selection. Her voice started clipped and quiet, but soon expanded until it filled the Apollo and probably several streets around it. As she says: "I'm not the best, but I'm the loudest." But the backing tended to be as cloying and Nashville as you'd expect from a band of Kenny Rogers clones with beards and blow-dried hair. And while I could stand the stories about her six children and seven grandchildren, I don't think we needed to know how much they all weighed when they were born.

Shortly after Jones's entrance it became clear that this was a man who neither knew nor cared how many grandchildren he had. It wasn't just his bemusing comments about the mountains he saw in Amsterdam that did it, more his general air of unpredictability.

His voice would dip suddenly to an almost subsonic grumble, then emerge half-mocking, half-mysterious, with echoes of Roy Orbison. Although Jones has barely visited the US pop charts, let alone those in the UK, Frank Sinatra has called him "the second-best male singer in America".

The final duets tended to smoothe the edges off both voices, but the chemistry was undeniable, and the schmaltz was deflated by George's constant, mischievous chatter. He welcomed on stage his and Tammy's current spouses as "my latest wife, Nancy, and my husband-in-law, whatsisname". It's no wonder that George and Tammy divorced. The wonder is that Tammy didn't commit H.O.M.I.C.I.D.E.

Since Fish and Marillion divorced, both he and his old cronies have sunk almost without trace. Now, with the band's latest album, Afraid of Sunlight (EMI), they promise a new direction: ie upwards. No more humourless prog rock, they declare. Now we have a track entitled "Cannibal Surf Babe". From Fish to Surf Babe! See how far we've moved on?

After seeing them at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, I'm not sure if they've moved in the right direction. Even "CSB" is abstract and vague, and the other new songs are stultifying epics weighed down by lyrics that are portentous and banal. Still, the fans seem to enjoy Mark Kelly's flutey keyboard twiddles, so maybe we should leave them in peace.

And yet ... their old hit, "Kayleigh", didn't sound bad at all. It had only a dozen different segments - a dozen fewer than the new material - and benefited from a definite trajectory and superior lyrics. Marillion would do well to try more songwriting like that: to explore the muddy depths of personal experience instead of paddling around in search of a novelty subject.

The B-side of Squeeze's recent single, "This Summer" (A&M, released, with typical Squeeze planning, just in time for autumn), was a Blur song. Their show in Croydon on Thursday was preceded by a tape of Suede, the Boo Radleys and Supergrass. The message was clear. Squeeze have decided that Britpop owes its existence to "Up the Junction" and "Cool for Cats" and that song that's used in the advert for apple drink (all played tonight), and they'd like their share of the young uns' sales.

Being realistic, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook look too much like dads to appeal to the lads. Likewise, their songs are too well-groomed, well-crafted, and thirtysomething (fortysomething in Difford's case) to shout at a football match. You'd call them "perfect pop" if that didn't do a disservice to their understatement and archness.

But that's no need for them to despair of chart success. "Electric Trains", their next single, is a cross between the Beautiful South and the Lightning Seeds, both enjoying their most successful-ever year. The cats may yet get the cream, even if they remain uncool.

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