Carbon/Silicon, Hard Fi and BMRC rock the JD Set Legendary Mash
I can't recall whether it was the battered catfish or the deep fried okra that did it, but it was in that moment I knew how necessary it was that the confederate states lost the American Civil War. I'm sitting in a room with strangers, enjoying some Tennessee southern hospitality. I'm at Miss Mary Bobo's, a white postbellum frame, porch and picket fence boarding house about 100 yards from the Jack Daniel's Lynchburg distillery. How and why I come to be here on a sunny weekend in April is a story of music, merriment and sour mash.
Which brings me to the JD Set Legendary Mash, a yearly event to which competition winners (and a few cheeky press types like myself) are invited to enjoy rock music, hospitality and all else that Lynchburg has to offer. Jack Daniel's the brand and the man has long been associated with music. Rumour has it that this celebrated bachelor enjoyed nothing more than putting on bands and sometimes even playing in them at his sprawling mansion. He formed the Silver Cornet Band in 1892, a group of distillery workers and towns folk who made music together. And of course, musicians from Frank Sinatra to Slash have long believed in the power of No7 to improve their performance, or even get them anyway near the stage in the first place, building on the pioneer image that both rock music and the JD brand often seem to epitomise.
This year's line-up is headed up by Carbon/Silicon, the newest reinvention of The Clash's Mick Jones and Generation X's Tony James, whose free MP3 singles and latest hard copy album The Last Post has built up a considerable following online. They are supported by popular West London four piece Hard-Fi, the band that put some indie rock kitchen sink fatalism back in to Ali G's Staines. Finally there is rock'n'roll three piece Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a band whose Byronic stance and psychotic rawness constantly forces re-evaluation of psychedelic/garage rock sound.
And so it is that I find myself on a large coach with the cream of Britain's music journalists quoting lines from Alan Partridge to each other. Also on board are some well organised PR people, tour guides and a JD historian, just in case this bunch of reprobates need to check any facts on the life and times of Gentleman Jack. One of the first stops is a press conference at the Cannery Ballroom at the legendary Mercy Lounge club in Nashville with all three bands. Mildly bewildered Canadian music journalist and radio DJ Jian Ghomeshi stumbles through an awkward, sulky chat with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC) as they dismantle their microphones and get elemental about the purity of the lives they live in the shadow of Bacchus. Next up are mad uncles Mick Jones and Tony James. Jones talks nonsense about his favourite films and the potential of setting up a storage company while James laughs and interjects to sketch out some details of their long association. Hard-Fi then join them on stage and look on admiringly as their one time producer Jones carries on with the comedic shtick in the silence exhumed by the curiously uncurious press delegates. It's entertaining if not particularly elucidating, yet somehow fitting for a junket that is really about just two things - the music and America's only sour mash whiskey.
Before we get to the music, however, there is an interesting distillery tour and whiskey tasting session in which one becomes aware just how closely the JD story is guarded. After hearing about the distillery process and Jack Daniel's inspiring story of commerce against all odds, I ask the local historian why there has been no film made about this most iconic of US entrepreneurs. Their answer is that there is no actor in Hollywood small enough to play our titular hero, as Gentleman Jack stood at barely five foot. I countenance that Tom Cruise, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman and about a dozen other short-arsed movie stars have not had a hit film for a while, but the matter is already closed. Someone tells me later that it is simply because the JD brand is so tightly controlled that the powers that be would never relinquish that control to the flakiest arm of the entertainment industry. The aforementioned Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House, a place steeped in the mythology of JD (Jack lived here for a while) provides lunch. Catfish with red sauce, meatloaf, cheese grits, pinto beans, turnip greens, fried okra, canned apples marinated in JD, corn bread and iced tea are served up in chintzy rooms seating 10 or more people each. Elderly ladies direct us to eat more before we emerge in to the spring sunshine.
The live music side of The JD Set Legendary Mash is split over two nights. We were reunited with the 150 or so competition winners drawn from all over the world, including a couple for The List, for an evening in the esteemed company of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who play a storming gig at the Mercy Lounge on the Friday night. Painfully monosyllabic in interviews, the band bring many of the tunes that lay dormant on their new album Baby 81 to life, most notably 'Weapon of Choice' and 'Not What You Wanted'. Garage-hard, scratchy and incredibly tight, BRMC live are something of a revelation for anyone who has only heard the albums. For me this was the to be gig of the festival, only I do not yet know it.
The following afternoon, we were fed, watered and then taken to BBQ Hill above the Lynchburg distillery. BBQ Hill is a very large shack/gig venue overlooking some very fine Tennessee scenery. The JD flows and Carbon/Silicon take to the stage. Dressed in a nicely cut suit Jones comes on like a man in the grips of euphoria. His band trot out the stand out tracks from his album - 'The News' and 'The Man with a Suitcase' - with all too rare glee. Next up are those stars of CCTV, Hard-Fi. The audience cheers as they work through their fairly innocuous mix of post punk dialectic, reggae, soul and indie dance. The moment everyone has really been waiting for arrives in the last half hour. Hard-Fi support Carbon/Silicon in renditions of Big Audio Dynamite's 'E=Mc2' and The Clash's 'Should I Stay or Should I Go'. Those of a certain age or beholden of a nostalgia for things they can't remember can now go home happy.
Grateful, bleary eyed and exhausted, we shuffle towards the coaches. I ponder for a moment why the almost terminally cheeky Jones did not choose another Clash tune for an encore -- 'I'm so Bored With the USA'. I guess that would have just been rude to our gracious hosts.
The next JD Set events around the UK are with Oceansize, Nottingham, 30 May; Pete and the Pirates in Manchester, 6 Jun; The Holloways, Newcastle, 8 Jun; Malcolm Middleton, London, 12 Jun. The JD Set is on Channel 4 every Friday after midnight with future highlights including The Subways, The Metros, The Dykeenies and Foals.
Find out more info at www.thejdset.co.uk