Early in 2014 a friend of mine, badfalcon, said that she'd be at a gig in London and would I like to meet up? So I booked my ticket for an event at the East Wintergarden venue in Docklands - a triple bill featuring support from the aforementioned Luke & Mel and Gary Quinn, and headlined by a group called Raintown.
Raintown are a Glasgow-based couple, Paul Bain and Claire McArthur Bain (they married a couple of years back). Their debut album, Hope in Troubled Times, was released in 2012, and the follow-up, Writing on the Wall, came out in October last year, funded by fans through a Pledgemusic campaign and supported by a five-date UK tour.
Hope in Troubled Times is an excellent album in itself, but Writing on the Wall is just that little bit better in all respects, in my opinion. Don't get me wrong - in an ideal world I'd recommend both albums, but if you were to only buy one album by Raintown as a "dipping your toe into the water" album, it'd be Writing on the Wall.
The opening title track is an up-tempo number which to my mind has shades of Cliff Richard's Devil Woman in its lyrics. There are some lovely upbeat songs throughout the album - Right Here with me and It's a beautiful life are both positive and cheerful. Mellower numbers such as If this was a love song and Better Beautiful contrast with those excellently, and we're also treated to do Nineteen Again, written by fellow Glasgow artist Brian Hughes, as well as the haunting Forever isn't long enough and See you again. My personal favourite track on the album is probably Feel much better now, which is positively anthemic (the refrain of "When you feel like letting go/Turn on the radio/And you feel much better now" is a great pick-me-up). Paul and Claire's vocals throughout the album complement each other perfectly, with some great harmonies, the instrumentation is strong and tight, and the whole thing is held together by Justin Johnson's production.
Raintown, like many others in the UK country scene, are very open in their relationships with their fans on social media - there is a very welcoming atmosphere on their Facebook page (along with jokes about how a picture of their dog Bella will get more likes than one of their guitarist Stevie!). This has, sadly, led to an encounter with at least one internet troll. However, unlike many people who've had such problematic situations, Raintown have at least been able to immortalise this through the medium of song - another of the album's highlights, Shut the front door, which shifts gear from a slightly Bon Jovi-esque intro into a positive hoedown.
Despite two strong albums to their name, Raintown are most in their element playing live dates. Paul and Claire have an obvious exuberant joy as they share their songs with audiences, and their growing fan base reflects this with an infectious enthusiasm at gigs. Main guitarist Stevie also contributes to the cheerful atmosphere at their live shows. As well as festival appearances, they've played a recent live headline date at prestigious Glasgow venue King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut, and a support slot to venerable Scottish band Runrig at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, and later this month they'll be supporting fellow UK country act The Shires at Cottingham Folk Festival. I'm not sure what live dates, if any, are planned for the foreseeable future after that - Claire is expecting their first child, a girl, in October, which may well limit their live dates for a while. But if you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing them live (their mashup of their own song Love's got a hold on you with country classic Jackson is worth the price of admission alone). But whatever you do, if you like pop/rock with a strong country influence from a likeable, charismatic band who have several BCMA awards under their belt already and are clearly going places, I strongly recommend checking out one or both of their albums.