WHILE London is hosting The International Festival of Country Music this weekend for the first time in 20 years, a little corner of Newcastle is turning country too.
Tonight the cosy confines of the Cumberland Arms in the Ouseburn will be given over to Cash Covered, which is described as “an evening of Johnny Cash music, style and attitude”.
Tomorrow would have been the country music star’s 80th birthday and among those marking the occasion slightly early will be Ian Wylie in local tribute band The Line.
Drummer Ian Wylie promises an upbeat night of songs with which the audience can join in.
“Everybody knows a Johnny Cash number or two,” he says.
His own appreciation of the Man in Black, who died in Nashville in 2003, has certainly grown since he joined the band, led by singer Steve Rodger.
He explains how he “kind of fell into it” when, looking for a band to join, he spotted an online advert for The Line.
“It said musical ability was not as important as having your own transport,” he recalls, “and I had an old Volvo I could fit my drum kit into!
“And that was that.”
The band – who played last year’s Heaton Festival, and the Souter Lighthouse midsummer gig where they’ll return this year – all have day jobs. The others are lecturers at South Tyneside college, while Ian is a freelance journalist who also lectures at Newcastle University.
He says of them: “I hadn’t been aware of much Johnny Cash beyond Ring of Fire but they introduced me to the whole catalogue.
“And I grew to love the music.”
He adds: “You don’t have to be a country fan to like Johnny Cash.”
This was a man, he points out, with many sides; who did some rock ‘n’ roll too, for instance, and was friends with Elvis.
“He had several stages to his career and in the last few years he did some unusual collaborations and covers of songs completely removed from country music, but which brought him a whole new bunch of fans.”
The band, whose other members are Alan Burns, Conrad Bays and Pat Routledge, play these songs too as well as the famous tracks, to cater for the mix of audiences and ages, some of whom might have been introduced to the singer-songwriter only through the 2005 hit film Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix.
Fans old or new, they can relive the Cash glory days tonight, where more entertainment comes courtesy of Skylark Song and Muddy Line.
And they’re being encouraged to enter into the spirit of the occasion by wearing black.
Says Ian: “We encourage people to be in black. And there’ll be black balloons and birthday cake – but without being too creepy about it!
“We won’t be singing ‘happy birthday’ or anything.”
Cash Covered is at the Cumberland Arms pub in James Place Street in the Ouseburn, Newcastle, tonight at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £3. For more information on The Line visit www.thelineband.co.uk