High Valley – Birmingham Institute – Thursday 9th Feb
It was proper Canadian cold on Thursday 9th February so how appropriate that Canadian brothers, Brad and Curtis Rempel, aka High Valley, rolled into Birmingham for an evening of arena Hoedown music at the Institute. Speaking to the boys before the show, they both expressed surprise at how cold it was here in England, something they hasn’t been expecting apparently whereas I was surprised they weren’t in shorts and T shirts!
Opening act, American Young, took the stage in coats and hats as it was so cold inside the venue and I felt sorry for co-lead singer, Kristy, as she had such cold hands it must have made playing her violin extremely difficult. American Young did a good job of warming the crowd up, both with their songs and their humour and it appeared at one point that Kristy was playing strip song poker as she started to take off a layer of clothing after three consecutive songs. It was a thrill to hear ‘ A Woman Like You’ played. A song written by Jon Stone, the other member of American Young but a number one hit for Lee Brice although stand out song of the set was closing number, ‘A Soldier’s Wife’ – a moving, dramatic song that saw Kristy really able to extend her vocal talents to the max in an almost Meat-Loaf-esque fashion. They did say to the crowd that they were going to ‘soft rock our faces off’ at one point and I can honestly say they achieved that goal easily!
It was great to see High Valley take the stage with a full band. I had worried that with ticket prices being only £10 we might be in for a more Dan & Shay style acoustic show but no fear there. The Institute 3 room doesn’t have the biggest stage but all 6 members of the band managed to carve out some space on stage for themselves and Brad mentioned to me that he was pleased that he at least had some space above his head to jump – at the gig in Glasgow the previous night, the ceiling was so low it was grazing the top of his head when he sang!
High Valley took the stage bang on 9pm with ‘I Be U Be’. One of my favourites on the album but an odd one to open with I think. ‘She’s With Me’ would be a better opener in my opinion, bit more energetic although the crowd were lapping up every word and movement from the Rempel brothers, in fact Brad announced after a few songs that the Birmingham crowd was the youngest on the whole tour – giving the front few rows a healthy dose of youthful exuberance and energy.
High Valley are an interesting band, bringing something quite different to the Nashville scene. Their major label debut, ‘Dear Life’ saw their rural, hoedown personas given a bit of an arena polish with gang vocals and Mumford & Sons style backing. It works well and there are very few major label bands out there like them. They have a USP and are skilled musicians and performers. You could tell instantly that the brothers have been on stages for the best part of 20 years, there was a connection between Brad and Curtis and between the band and the crowd that was effortless. As they played through songs like ‘She’s With Me’, ‘Young Forever’ and ‘Memory Making’ they gave their all, were warm and personable and played with a simplicity and a smile on their faces that was a delight to see.
Brad is clearly the frontman of the band and Curtis seemed happy to let him to do the lion share of the talking although he did raise the biggest laugh of the night during band introductions when he introduced Brad as being ‘ his brother, who plays in my band’.
Stripped of their lush, recording studio sheen, the songs from “Dear Life’ started to sound more similar to High Valley’s independent back catalogue and it was great to see songs from that era like ‘County Line’ and ‘A Father’s Love’ still being played. The boys are fiercely proud of their back catalogue and they have many more songs, like ‘Why God Made a River’ and ‘Call Me Old Fashioned’ that still deserve an audience.
A couple of cover versions were thrown in for good measure. A cover of John Michael Montgomery’s ‘Be My Baby Tonight’ brought out the line dancers and an acoustic re-working of gospel /bluegrass standard ‘I’ll Fly Away’ gave us a glimpse of what life around the Rempel camp fire must have been like for the brothers growing up in the wilds of Alberta, Canada.
The main set finished with hit single ‘Make You Mine’ which was played just as energetically as it was at last year’s C2C Festival. The crowd even got to sing the chorus a few times and did Birmingham proud with their enthusiasm.
A brief pause whilst the chanting for more took place and then they were back for one more song, the title track of the album, ‘Dear Life’. More jumping, more big choruses and more smiling and then they were gone, but not for good, as it wasn’t long before the brothers were out at the merch stand signing CD’s, T shirts and whatever else was thrust under their noses, all in good spirits and with great enthusiasm.
We are lucky in England these days that we get to see bands of the quality of both American Young and High Valley over here with such regularity now and in such intimate venues. It feels like being part of some ‘best kept secret’ and it’s credit to the musicians themselves that they want to come over and play for us instead of taking the easy route on the American circuit. We must keep supporting these tours so that the bands keep coming over – I have no doubt High Valley will be back and in bigger venues too, a quality band staffed by thoroughly likeable people playing great music – what more could you ask for?