Hank Wangford at The Shed

British Medical Journal – February 2004 – Review

I liked Hank Wangford even before I met him. His name, perfect for a country and western singer, suggests deadpan mischief. It’s made up, of course. In real life, he’s a London doctor. He mentions this on stage but doesn’t make a thing of it.

I liked The Shed before I saw it, too. A tiny venue on the edge of the north Yorkshire moors, its gigs include poetry readings on Radio 4 and an improvised bingo and percussion show. On its website (www.theshed.co.uk) are detailed instructions on how to knit your own Elvis wig.

The last time I had met Hank was at the Royal Society of Medicine. We had chatted about contraception and then he told me about falling angels. Kicked out of heaven along with Satan, they were still falling and causing trouble. He thought the idea might make a good song.

Now, on the moors in December, a lad with a lantern directed us to the village hall. Crammed in were 70 seats and little candlelit tables.

In the kitchen Simon, the friendly but pensive impresario, was helping to sell drinks. Hank and his band, the Lonesome Cowboys, were changing in the toilet but would be signing CDs later.

The packed audience included men with pullovers and women with pink Stetsons. Hank told us that he, like everyone else, had once considered country music naffer than naff. Then, one life-changing day 20 years ago, he met one of the genre’s greats. Now, according to www.hankwangford.com, he has become its “troubled grubby soul… and walks the thin line between laughter and the dark.”

He mournfully welcomed us to an evening of festive misery and sang songs about death and loneliness. They included a Johnny Cash number about a divorced man learning to fend for himself (“Beans for breakfast once again”) with the exquisite line: “I ain’t got no clean utensils.” And a wonderful song about falling angels.

As we left, Simon was there in the darkness, handing out fliers for a forthcoming concert by an avant-garde string quartet from the Netherlands. Britain was experiencing a meteorite shower and on the long drive back to Leeds the sky was full of shooting stars. Angels? On this surreal night, I could believe it.

James Owen Drife,
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Leeds