Margo Price

Margo Price


Margo Price was born into a life on a corn-and-soybean farm in Buffalo Prairie, a place name so Northern American that it almost must be fictional, as if Price is a character in a movie about an up-and-coming rockabilly star. Her life-so-far story truly has taken on cinema-worthy credentials from her family losing the farm circa 1985 through to last year’s uplifting end-of-the-beginning breakthrough: a record deal. Inspired no doubt by legends of music in decades long since passed, Price moved to Nashville a dozen or so years ago and soon started singing and playing in the bars. For years she worked all manner of odd jobs to pay the bills, got married, suffered the death of an infant son, hit the bottle and spent a short time in jail.

It’s then that determination and perhaps desperation kicked in, and Price sold her wedding ring and car to help fund three nights of recording sessions at Sun Studio in Memphis. Imagine that, making your first record where Howlin’ Wolf, Elvis Presley, Bill Monroe, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash cut famous tracks. Somehow Jack White, founder of Third Man Records, heard about the finished album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, listened to it, loved it, and promptly signed Price to his label. This is probably the movie’s happy ending: the rewards that can come from grit and perseverance. With the record in the shops, Price has now taken it on the road.

These US places certainly seem a long way from Manchester and The Deaf Institute, and it’s not every night of the week that the likes of her honky-tonk sounds get to be heard in these parts. Price in her dark-blue dress is joined on stage by her five-piece band, The Pricetags. What a perfect name for an accompanying band. Amongst the players is her husband on rhythm guitar, a role normally filled by Price but alas, she tells us, she injured the bandaged first finger on her left hand about ten days ago in a car-door incident. On the plus side, no guitar to cradle frees Price up for dancing and liberates her from instrumental duties save for plenty of tambourine shaking.

The extraordinary thing about Price’s record is that it starts off with ‘Hands of Time’, a song in which the lyrics tell in detail her life story from early childhood to present day. After performing the song tonight, she thanks us in the audience for listening so intently to her six-minute narrative. “That’s such a rare thing these days,” she smiles. Mostly, though, a few such ballads excepted, this is totally rockabilly shake-your-ass party music, and more so than if listening to her record, for sure. The floor at Deaf is completely rammed, which is a shame in one way because with more space a lot of fun could be had dancing to these tunes.

“Give it up for the Pricetags!” beams Price, and it’s thanks in part no doubt to her wealth of experience playing bars in Nashville that she’s just brimming with confidence on stage. At their core her self-penned songs are all about storytelling, and she looks hard into our collective eyes as she tells those stories, reliving every phrase. With only one record of original material under her belt, to fill a headline set Price turns to covers written or made famous by Waylon Jennings, Levon Helm, Loretta Lynn, Gram Parsons and Neil Young, to name a few. Well, by my reckoning, then, she passes the you-can-judge-a-band-by-its-choice-of-covers test with flying colours. Before the end of the set, Price does manage to play guitar on one song: “I can’t feel my finger, but I can make an E chord,” she smiles.

According to White, he was inspired to sign Price to his label because her album was genuine and real, and these are the same impressions, along with the great danceability of this music, that I take away from Deaf tonight. Perhaps one day she and her band will return to Manchester and there’ll be room enough to dance, but somehow I doubt the latter. I have a feeling that these guys will be packing out rooms for many years to come.

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Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.