Maybe the idiom, all hats and no cattle, comes from Texas. Some might have heard it uttered from the lips of J.R. Ewing, a fictional character in the TV series Dallas that appeared first in the late 1970s but who seems to have manifested himself into the realities of current day American politics.
As an “oil worker” myself (full disclosure: I worked for Shell for 17 years), but hailing from way out east (Yorkshire, England), I was always amused when the expression was brought up in meetings to describe someone who is more talk than action. Full of hype. Or, as Mark “Boots” Graham, delicately put it: “Two days ago I was covered in chicken shit. Look at me now, I’m just full of it!”
Big voice, funny stories
Boots is the right foot in the threesome country band, Boots & The Hoots. He’s big on voice, funny with his stories, appreciates old-style country and wears a beige cowboy hat (a Smithbilt?) But here’s the key: Boots, and his Hoots, have plenty cattle. No hype as we tend to use that word these days, just raucous, embroidered stories, spoken or sung, that hit the spot with a packed out crowd at The Gateway, SAIT in Calgary on Saturday. Not a band to wait through, get through, drink through until the main act comes on stage. (That was The Dead South: read here about their ebullient stage show). Both were performing as part of the Calgary Folk Music Festival Fall Concert Series.
Like a Working Men’s Club
Boots & The Hoots performed like they might have been in a Working Men’s Club. Very different to a Gentlemen’s Club, these down to earth venues in the north of England (and in industrial parts of Scotland, Wales, and the Midlands) offered cut-price beer to the likes of miners and metal-workers and promoted show bands. Good music, funny stories; and engagement with the audience, not just a distraction in between the other entertainment (bingo) and the stylish food (pies and peas).
Red Deer Boys
The funny stuff connecting Boots & The Hoots to their audience started up as soon as the Red Deer boys got on stage: “We’re here to play some Norwegian Black Metal” alerted Boots, and launched into a real country number, featuring a terrific, twangy Strat guitar solo from Tyler Allen. Sean Vandenbrink, a smiling, big fellow with “crude” and a cup and saucer inked into his left hand, laid down a solid rhythm on his upright bass.
Boots, his nickname emblazoned on the body and strap of his guitar, did the singing. And talking, lots of it, especially about the state of country music as he sees it. He explained how the band has a rule to always play at least one Hank Williams song in their set. On the other hand, he seems to have a disliking for the music of the “King of Country”, George Strait (“anything on the radio over the last twenty years played (by him) sucks”.
Songs of love gone wrong and life on the road
The band went into a medley of songs about love gone wrong “If that’s not country, then kiss my ass”, Boots offered. One of these, Lower the Bar, was written about “one of my ex-wife’s who ran up a big tab at the bar when I left her.” The hardship of life on the road was featured in Hobo Shower, which reminded me, for all the wrong reasons mind, of The Blackfoot Truckstop Diner, an authentic place in Inglewood, Calgary with roots going back to the late 1950s. It’s highly recommended for a visit; try a milkshake and poutine together!
Drinking and its after-effects was another strong theme in their songs (“I’d like to dedicate this next song to anyone who ever had a hangover”) including their last one, Whisk all the Drinky. Boots & The Hoots went down really well and some good after-effects are still buzzing around.
More action from the gig
Boots & The Hoots released a nine-song CD, Too Hot to Hoot in 2015. Pinecone Cowboy their first recording, was released in 2013.
A video featuring some of their live performance at The Gateway, SAIT (shot by Ryan Simchuk)
You can hear Boots & The Hoots (from 2014) on CKUA radio