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Red Dirt Skinners

October 2017: The Red Dirt Skinners
Foot stamping reception for the Red Dirt Skinners

It’s not often music makes the hairs rise on the back of the neck, but it happened to me and I suspect a few others at Clayhidon Parish Hall when Sarah Skinner picked up her soprano saxophone and played a piece called Daybreak.

It was something she and her husband Rob had written, and it was a highlight of the Red Dirt Skinners’ two sets here on 13 October. By the time they finished, to thunderous applause and foot stamping, we realised these people weren’t just good, they were very, very good.

“Best gig we’ve ever had,” said one lady, who has been coming to hall events for years, and another agreed.

Selfie take by the Red Dirt Skinners at Clayhidon.          
  So, what made it such a great evening, apart from Sarah’s sax playing, which by the way won her the British Blues Awards Instrumentalist of 2014?

Well, for a start, you’re unlikely to meet a pair of voices as closely matched and as beautifully harmonised as Rob and Sarah Skinner’s. Lisa Marie Presley (Elvis’s singer-songwriter daughter) recognised this when she heard them in a pub soon after they got together. She said they had “unbelievable talent” and urged them to stop singing solos and concentrate on duets, advice they have followed with increasing success.

Then there’s Rob’s guitar playing. It was skilful, energetic, diverse and always at the right level to accompany both their voices and Sarah’s sax playing without drowning them out. For some numbers they managed to create enough depth and volume to fool people into thinking they were using backing tapes, which they were not.

There was the homely chat between the songs,  explaining them with touching anecdotes. Some stories were maybe a little long, but it didn’t matter because the audience were chilled out.

Then there were the songs themselves These included some terrific cover versions – notably David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and Paul Simon's Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes, a great number for a bit of audience participation.

The Skinners’ own compositions were strikingly original, clever and highly personal. Bad Apple was inspired by the man who conned guests out of their tips at an open mic evening. The idea for Home Sweet Home came from the shattering effect of being burgled, which in the end did them a favour. Daybreak was dedicated to a Canadian who had been kind to them. There was a song about a lonely lady they met in a pub, which could have been a Beatles classic, and Lay Me Down, a moving love song about comforting each other in troubled times. Girl in the Truck, which opened with something borrowed from Queen, was a thumping good country song motivated by the discovery that Canadian audiences love songs about trucks and girls.

And the final reason why this was one of the best gigs ever at Clayhidon was the sheer variety of the programme, which spanned a range of genres, from Blues to Roots, Country, Rock, Pop, and Folk.

This gig was the start of a 14-venue tour of the UK which takes them to the Isle of Sky and back to Gatwick in time to catch a plane home to Canada, where this English couple now live. I for one hope they will come back to Clayhidon, which they praised on Facebook later as “a wonderful community”. Gareth Weekes