after a tin of talcum powder spotted in Boots the Chemist, Lemon Grass
has over the years, become one of the most popular and enduring bands
on the British country music scene. Funnily enough, it didn't start out
that way. When three young Cumbrian musicians first got together to form
the band back in the late 60's, they had pop music in mind. Somehow though
even in those early days, country songs kept finding their way into the
repertoire. Get a bunch of football fans together and chances are they'll
get into a hot debate over which players and teams have been the best
over the years - and whether a particular squad of twenty years ago would
have been any match for today's lot. Lemon Grass fans are just the same
- except that in their case they'll talk about the band's various line-ups,
comparing names from the past with those who now take the stage.
That the band still exists today
is thanks entirely to founder member Malcolm Mason. He's responsible for
resurrecting it after it went into premature and short-lived retirement,
and for bringing together one of its most successful line-ups. From the
soul band Captain Flint he recruited John Stubbs - a man who looks like
a Hells Angel and sings like a Fallen Angel
and is far better known to his legion of fans as Stubby. And he brought
o n board accomplished steel player Geoff Betsworth who'd been in the
band Harper Valley.
'It was with Stubby and Geoff that Lemon Grass really went to the
top of the British country music scene', Malcolm says now. 'That's
the line-up that most people would remember. For two years running we
were voted top British trio in the Country Music Round-Up and we also
brought out three very successful albums.'
The third of those albums, True
Brit featured a song called 'A Breath Is All It takes' by Geoff Betsworth.
Its beautiful lyrics and heart-string tugging melody made it the number
one country single in the UK. The more humorous side of the band brought
them success stateside, when Malcolm's song 'Bingo Cowboy', a rather wry
look at those clubs which seem to fit the bands in between the bingo sessions,
charted in America.
A few years farther on down the
line, Stubby's a solo artist now, but he still stays at Malcolm's house
when he's appearing anywhere nearby - and Geoff lives just a few miles
away in a Cumbrian seaside town where he's still involved with music.
Meanwhile Lemon Grass
is still going strong, with a new, vibrant and wholly modern sound - that
nevertheless manages to stay true to the band's philosophy.
'I've always liked having a Steel player in a country band and when
Geoff left to concentrate on his studio based work, Colin Gibson joined
us. He'd worked with Harper Valley and Craig Duggan and I knew he was
discovered my daughter Caroline could sing a good country song as well,
so she came into the line-up.'
has to be a masterpiece in understatement that only a father could achieve.
Caroline Charters has one of the best voices in country music today,
whether she's singing the modern day songs of the Dixie Chicks and Shania
- or the classics of Patsy Cline. I bet loads of people have been amazed
on first hearing Caroline sing, that so much voice could be contained
in one small person!
But if the personnel have changed considerably
over the years, Malcolm has worked hard to keep a thread of continuity
going, to ensure that the essential Lemon Grass sound survives.
'It's a sound that I like. It's a modern
country sound and if we go back into the 60's and 70's to pick up a
song from there, we give it the modern country treatment and I think
we've established a Lemon Grass kind of sound on most of the material
that we do.'