I’d thought about giving Charlie Worsham a Union Jack Lawn Chair but, since it would’ve been an awkward gift to lug around his UK tour, bought him a drink instead. It was his birthday and for the first time in 33 years he was spending it playing a show, and one a long way from home.
To the old blokes sat on the benches outside our Hole in the Wall pub in England’s South West he probably looked like just another tourist, laden with a backpack and huge guitar case; no fuss, no entourage. I have his mom to thank for that;
“She raised me as a world traveller.
As a teacher she always believed in travel as education. So when I first came over to the UK as an adult I already knew how to get around.”
These days, Charlie is a regular over here. You’re likely to spot him jogging through London’s St James’s Park after a red-eye flight from Nashville or browsing near Brick Lane, an area he describes as “a magical place of goodness”. Another favourite capital spot is Rules, London’s oldest restaurant.
“Rules is only seven years younger than our country [USA]. I wish I could send every American there to say, look, we’re the toddler on the world stage; we need to quit having a temper tantrum, there are grownups on this planet.”
Charlie’s spent a lot more time here in the UK than most of his fellow Nashville musicians, playing anywhere from C2C Festival to a gig in a bakery. He’s meeting me just before a show on a moored cargo ship in Bristol.
“One of my favourite things about performing over here…
is trying new music. At my first show here I was playing a lot of songs that had yet to be released. I played the same new songs the next night and people were already singing along. It blew my mind. The British fans shaped my last album [Beginning of Things] and it was here I learned to close a set with Southern by the Grace of God [his current single].”
Charlie continues to test new music on his British fans and we can expect more sentimental songs in his next project.
“The next record will be…
based on songs I’ve written through falling and love and getting married. Music and its side effect, travel, have always been the relationship in my life. I’m still truly in love with having a guitar and seeing new places, but then I met Kristen… It’s an interesting time for the work life balance. My new song, For the Love is probably my thesis on that.”
Charlie met Kristen at a meeting for the Follow Your Heart music scholarship fund he’s set up for young people from his home town of Grenada, Mississippi. Thanks to Charlie, it was almost a year before any romance began.
“I have zero game…
…so when we met in the first meeting I had no clue that Kristen might be interested; it went right past me. After about 11 months she sent me an email saying; ‘hey knucklehead, if you ever wanna hang out let me know’ and then it hit me that I might have a shot.
Half our dates in the first year were at my gigs so I’m not playing at our wedding; it’ll be nice just to be a husband for a night. But my favourite part of planning the wedding has been organising the music. I’ve written the song The Other Side of the Lens for my mum, which a friend will perform for the mother-son dance. That’s the cool thing about Nashville, so many dear friends are getting to play, like Western Swing band The Time Jumpers. But on the downside, so many friends can’t make it because they’ll be away gigging.”
Brothers Osborne will be there in spirit though since Charlie and Kristen have chosen their song Pushing Up Daisies for the first dance, performed by Madi Diaz.
You may have heard Madi harmonising on Mississippi in July, Charlie’s personal favourite song from his back catalogue.
“I would love the chance to re-record Mississippi in July now…
…having had another 5 years to learn. But that’s the nature of making records; you want to listen back to what you’ve done in the past and still be proud of it but cringe a little because you’ve grown.”
It’s not just his song about Mississippi that Charlie is passionate about.
“You have to go the Delta and see where American blues was born. It’s an economically depressed area and has been for a long time but out of that has come such beautiful highlights.
You cannot tell the story of the south without uncensoring the past…
…so I’d go see The Lorraine Motel [where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, now a civil rights museum]. Then when you walk through Beale Street and see the music that’s come from that pain, you also see the redemption and healing of those like BB King who made it out and changed the world.
Then head south on Old Highway 61, through Cleveland and the new Grammy Museum or to Sledge where Charlie pride is from. There’s not much technically to see in some of the small towns, but there’s always something to feel and some good music to hear. Plus
…any food you get will be terrible for your heart but amazing for your taste buds.”
As I’m about to tap Charlie up for foodie recommendations, he’s spotted by a fan – Richard from Wales – who’s pretty much following Charlie around the country. Richard is not unusual. Later, at the Bristol gig, I spot several familiar faces who’ve travelled from London and who’ll be there again, a week later, for his main stage set in Leicestershire’s Long Road Festival. As he came out on stage at Thekla someone started a singalong of Happy Birthday. Fans had brought a helium balloon and multiple birthday cakes, prompting him to start his set with Birthday Suit (song, not attire).
This is why I’m convinced Charlie needs to release a live album. More than his songs, there is something special about the charm and connection with the audience which has made his U.K. fans so devoted. There is something awe-inspiring in the realisation that the prolific guitar playing is not the work of studio production wizardry, but just as deft live on stage.
Richard’s interruption reminds us Charlie’s almost late for sound check but, fortunately, he’s as skilled at downing a pint as he is with a guitar.