Country music on the move

MARK NICHOLLS A year ago country singer Big Steve Pulford left the UK to set up home in California with his American wife, Stephanie Arlene. With a new album out, he spoke about the past 12 months and another baby on the way.

MARK NICHOLLS

When Steve Pulford and his American-born wife Stephanie Arlene took the decision to leave the UK for a new life in California, they knew the move would not be without its challenges.

Taking baby daughter Honey with them, they left family and friends behind in Norfolk and London, and also the growing UK acclaim they were receiving as country outfit The Arlenes.

As Steve explained: "It has been incredibly difficult and incredibly hard uprooting the family and moving to the other side of the world but also great at the same time."

Delays with the immigration process affected their plans, along with problems shipping their possessions to the US – the latter to the extent that when Steve was ready to record his new album much of his equipment was still in a container on the dockside in Los Angeles waiting to be searched.

Steve put the time to good use, retreating to his home county of Norfolk where his family still live, to focus on writing songs clearly influenced by the inevitable emotional and physical turmoil of such a move.

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Consequently the resulting album, Going to California, owes a great deal to Norfolk and also the circumstances Steve and Stephanie found themselves in as they tried to complete the move as a family to her home state.

The album follows on from the hugely successful Stuck on Love CD, continuing with a selection of hard-edged country-influenced songs that have wide appeal.

"Quite a lot of them were formulated in the UK," said Steve, currently in the country promoting the new album, having left a heavily pregnant Stephanie behind in America.

"I spent a lot of time up in Norfolk at my grandmother's house in Worstead, writing songs and getting ideas ahead of the final move to America."

The opening track, Smallville 336, comes pretty close to home.

"Smallville 336 should really be Smallburgh 336, as it was my grandmother's old phone number. I always remember her picking up the phone and saying 'Smallburgh 336'," he said.

But Smallburgh had to become Smallville to tap into the US psyche.

What Am I Waiting For? sums up the frustrations over immigration delays. Other tracks include Married Life, Don't Turn Away and Charlie Rich's What's My Name?

"There is a lot of disparate stuff on the album and the songs are different but they do work well together," he said.

"People who have heard the album have been surprised by the intimacy and honesty. I'm a 'write about what you know' kind of fella.

"My relationships, moving to a new country, leaving friends, family and having a child all played heavily on my mind."

But once settled in the US, events moved ahead quickly. Steve went to Austin, Texas, to record the new album, aided by old friend Mike Stewart, who helped him assemble an American band to complement Steve's guitar and vocals, Stephanie's wonderful voice and the guitar of regular band member Al Christie.

"Austin is full of amazing guitarists and horn players," said Steve, "we were so lucky.

"I was a bit wary going into the studio; when we recorded Stuck on Love we did it over nine months. In Austin it was four hours of rehearsal and then nine days solid in the studio and we just knocked it out.

"Having the variety and quality of Austin musicians made for an exciting time – scary and painful too. Having Mike at the production controls gave us confidence and enabled us to let go and just run with it. I'd always been in charge before but luckily Mike and I know each other well and he knew exactly what we wanted.

"It's a mixed bag of songs and sounds, but it all sits together as a body of work that we're all very proud of."

The new album has already been well received, much to the band's delight. Prior to leaving the UK, The Arlenes were beginning to make a serious breakthrough in the British country scene. Albums and singles were receiving high-profile Radio 2 airplay, people like Bob Harris were among the admirers and there was a growing fan base rippling out from the Camden musical heartland they had made their own.

Now based in Sacramento, they are performing regularly in America and looking to develop album sales in the competitive American market.

"It is odd being English and turning up in America but in some ways it gives us a bit of celeb status and also the fact that we already have a record deal," said Steve.

America held such a lure, personally, emotionally and for the inspiration it may offer Steve Pulford as a songwriter and a new father to Honey, now two.

"Honey is a wonderful little creature, just beautiful and everything that she can be in her Daddy's eyes," said Steve. "It's great to be over here, but I am really missing her and Stephanie."

Despite the difficulties over the move, life seems to get better all the time for Steve and The Arlenes. Steve and Stephanie are expecting their second child next month, more songs are planned and life is moving on apace stateside for a rural Norfolk boy who continues to make his name as a country star.

"Moving to California has been really tough but at last it is now all starting to fall into place," he said.

Going to California is out now on Loose Records.

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