One of the first questions faced that evening when I asked if I was in the correct venue for the Celtic Connections Willy Vlautin gig, was, “how do you know him? As a musician or a writer?” In all honesty I was not aware of his music or his work with Richmond Fontaine, and was better aware of film-adapted novels such as The Motel Life. Discussing his new novel, Don’t Skip Out On Me, Willy Vlautin enriched the evening and his audience as a balladeer and storyteller immersing them into his written and musical worlds.
Inspired in his teens by a Paul Kelly song inspired by a Raymond Carver story, Oregon-based Vlautin has carved a dual storytelling route as both balladeer and author. He has fronted darkly literate band Richmond Fontaine throughout their career, before founding retro roots/soul combo The Delines, whilst also getting four well-regarded published novels under his belt. On the night before his fifth book, Don’t Skip Out On Me, is published, and the film of his third, Lean On Pete, released, Vlautin sang and read to his audience playing with pedal steel player David Murphy, as well as modestly discussing his tales and talents with BBC Radio Scotland’s Janice Forsyth.
In the stunning venue that is Mackintosh Church in Maryhill, with the quirks of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s style, it was a beautiful evening of finding oneself lost and entranced by his anecdotal folk music. With David on pedals and Willy on guitar and vocals, there was an Americana roots alt-country vibe to the evening before we were indulged by a reading of the new prose.
Here we meet Horace, a twenty-one year old farm hand from Nevada, who moves into Mexican boxing, and we can hear, feel, touch and laugh with Horace in this Vlautin world. Willy’s storytelling is spot on, pulling us over to Nevada, giving a great voice to this protagonist. Whilst chatting with Janice who mentions that he is economic with his words, he retorts, “write with heart and soul and not mess around” and admits to reading ample John Steinbeck, and this is perhaps why he has had much acclaim never mind film adaptation.
This is a wonderful night that encapsulates all that there is in storytelling through song and words, an immersive experience that I wish more had chosen to witness.
For more on Willy Vlautin click here.