In A Change From Our Usual Programme.....

On Tuesday 4th December 2007, Forgotten Albums ventured into new territory. In an exciting development, the chance acquisition of an album to review for this journal has led me to meet the man who recorded it, and have a fantastic night out.

Ladies and Gentlemen, together for one night only, Forgotten Albums and Tony Best.  Together at last!

(I'm the one on the left, by the way....)

Allow me to explain. As you will no doubt recall, I was delighted to find that Tony Best was a local artist, based in a neighbouring county. When reviewing albums, I like to do a bit of online research to try and place the artists in context. I knew nothing of Tony when I bought the album, but very quickly discovered that he runs Tony Best Leisure, an organisation dedicated to bringing people and country music together.

I also discovered on his site that he runs and hosts the 'Lazyacre Country Music Club', which meets every Monday in the Lord Hill Hotel, Shrewsbury. I know the place well, having had more than one work meeting there. The calendar of events told me that there were two Christmas events coming up on the 3rd and 4th December. And that Tony would be compere.

This was all I needed, and I resolved to go. I phoned the number on the site to order tickets, and left a message. I was called back within the hour, by Tony himself. The man on the front of that album was on the phone. To me! I managed to order 3 tickets (as I was taking two friends along on this quest), and was about to complete the transaction when Tony asked me how I had come across the Lazyacre Club.

Well. I had to tell the truth didn't I? So I explained about this journal, and the rationale behind it, and that I would like to come and meet him, get a photo of him, me and the album, and post my thoughts here.

The speed with which he then finished the conversation and put the phone down made me realise just how much of a stalker I must have sounded. So it was with some trepidation that last night I made the trip up to Shrewsbury to meet the man in question.

Walking in to the venue, everyone was greeted by Tony on the door. Obviously he's aged a bit since the album that I'd got - after all, that was 28 years ago, but this was definitely our man.

I wasn't going to launch straight into my schtick straight away - after all, this was a man with a show to do, and I didn't want to scare the living bejaysus out of him before having to entertain. But on collecting our tickets, he had clearly remembered my name, and asked me to explain the backstory again. He was clearly interested, amused, self-deprecating and very, very charming. We met his wife, Jean who is also very involved in the club, and when we tried to pay for the tickets, Tony insisted that it would be his treat. A very kind gesture, and one that was much appreciated.

I have to admit that we were amongst the youngest people there, and I'm no spring chicken myself. But Lazyacre Country Music Club has been going for 30 years. These people have grown up with the club, and there was clearly a real community there. They have notable members, in-jokes, and a distinct sense of humour. People have been coming back year after year after year because they are being entertained. And what more could you ask for.

The evening was clearly a club night - in addition to the musical acts, there was a raffle, the club sweepstake, and notices and announcements, all done seamlessly by Tony who seemed to know everybody there. I don't know how many members there are in the club (at least 259, because member 259 won the sweepstake), but he certainly seemed to know them all.

To kick the night off, we had Country Company, a husband and wife vocal harmony pairing, described on their leaflets as 'Wales' Premier Country Music Duo'. They certainly knew their audience, played to their strengths, and were thoroughly enjoyed.

But after their set came the main attraction as far as we were concerned. Tony himself came out and did about an hour's set. This is an increasingly rare occurrence as he is now retired and infrequently performs. Had we gone at almost any other time in the year, we wouldn't have heard him sing. How lucky are we?! So we had a set of just Tony and his accordion doing a number of standards, mixing it with a fair few jokes, banter, and a bit of audience participation.

Clearly these are Tony's people. He knows who they are, he knows what they want, and he delivers it by the bucketful. The audience were onside from the word go, and lapped up every morsel he fed them.

The biggest surprise of the evening for me is that unlike on 'Tony Best - By Request' where his voice sounds at times hesitant, almost nervous, last night there were no such signs. His voice was loud, clear, confident but still in that unexpectedly high register with the clarity of tone (if you'll pardon the pun...)

After Tony's set, Country Company came back for a second round, and did a number of standards and more Christmassy type tunes, and then they were joined by Tony, and the three of them finished off the evening. Full audience participation was required for a raucous version of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' which nearly fell apart a number of times.

And then it was over. On the way out I found Tony to ask if he would mind if we took the photograph. We got the snap, had a chat and just as we were about to leave, he presented me with a copy of one of his CDs - A Golden Hour of Tony Best. I had arrived there because of his debut album, and left with his most recent. It seemed a fitting way to end the evening.

And, do you know what? I had a fantastic evening. Despite being a relative Country novice, despite being in a room with strangers much older than me. Despite not knowing most of the songs or any of the in-jokes, I, we, all had a really enjoyable time. Last Sunday I went to see a band I've been following for 24 years, had clear, high expectations and was disappointed at the end of the evening. Last night I went to a Country Music evening on a whim, based on some foolish idea to follow up one of the albums on this site. I had no expectations, and was thoroughly entertained.

And Tony himself, who could so easily have been dismissive of some bloke off of the internet who wanted to meet him because he'd picked up an album second hand was instead warm, funny, interested, and above all generous. And if you ever find yourself in Shrewsbury on a Monday night with nothing to do, you could do a lot worse for yourselves than head down to the Lazyacre Country Music club.

Normal programming will resume next week!

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