Feature Articles | 2016

Feature Articles | 2016

Southern Fried. Perth. Friday 29th - Sunday 31st July 2016

Southern Fried. Perth. Friday 29th - Sunday 31st July 2016

Southern Fried. Perth. Friday 29th - Sunday 31st July 2016

Southern Fried, the annual celebration of American roots music held in the fair city of Perth goes from strength to strength, this year adding more venues and introducing an indoor acoustic stage to complement the outdoor stage (which was introduced two years ago). Over the three days of the festival these two stages hosted a total of 24 acts, an incredible opportunity to see artists from the States, Europe and the UK up close and for free. And while the major names were to be found at the paid for gigs there was a fair dollop of well known acts dotted around these three days including Appalachian archaeologists Anna & Elizabeth, UK Americana Award nominees The Dreaming Spires, singer-songwriter Norrie McCulloch and ex Thrum duo Monica Queen and Johnnie Smillie. For most folk attending however their abiding memory will be the debut performance from Texas Martha and her band of expert pickers, all French, The House of Twang. With telecaster twang, Dobro and banjo picking and Martha's joi de vivre they blew away the clouds that shadowed the opening act Shady Pete & The Blues Concessions.

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Maverick Festival, East Farm Park, Suffolk. 1-2-3 July 2016

Maverick Festival, East Farm Park, Suffolk. 1-2-3 July 2016

Maverick Festival East Farm Park, Suffolk 1-2-3 July 2016

 

The thing about Maverick is that it’s the best weekend of the year, best music, best venue, best people, best vibe, best everything.  For 9 year years solidly banging away, just being ace, putting the best bands nobody has heard of on, in a place miles from anywhere. It’s the festival yardstick, you will hear it; “how was festival X”? “Oh great yeah, I mean its not Maverick but great”.  It is charming, always good weather, lovely food, child friendly, chilled relaxed atmosphere, great beer, and just some of the best bands, playing the best you will see.

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South By South West Festival 2016 Austin, Texas 16 – 20 March

Kacy and Clayton

How is a responsible AUK correspondent supposed to approach sxsw? One option is to go to places like Threadgills and report on performances by the likes of Jon Dee Graham, James McMurtry and Sam Baker. But, good as they are, they are part of the Austin furniture and can be enjoyed there at any time. Another possibility would be to venture out to Willie Nelson’s Ranch, where a plethora of contemporary roots artists did battle with the storms, but that sadly wasn’t an option. The whole point of sxsw is to check out new music and up and coming bands, so that is what I decided to do. It turned out to be less rewarding than I’d hoped, and I came home wondering whether music is in need of another punk-style shake-up.

First I went to Maria’s Taco Express, where the margaritas are cold and the salsa is red hot. Like other such venues in Austin, sxsw is used as an opportunity for band after band to play 30 minute sets with cursory sound checks. Performing here was Brian Whelan from LA, playing very infectious bar room rock, greatly entertaining but not really going anywhere. Following on from him was veteran Canadian Corb Lund and his band. Again, the sardonic country songs were enjoyable but generic and you had the feeling of having heard it all before. Is it unreasonable to want to be thrilled and amazed?

The search continued by way of two sessions at the Ginger Man Pub in central Austin. This is a great venue but it’s marred by a silly layout of extremely hard benches that run at right angles to the band, a sure recipe for a stiff neck. Here also, the format is an endless succession of bands that tune up, smash out six or seven three-minute guitar songs and disappear again. You only actually remember trivial things about them, such as that Blackfoot Gypsies had filthy trousers, Yoko And The Oh-Nos were a cross between ZZ Top and Boy George and that Soul Asylum should not try to perform their stadium anthems with acoustic guitars. You’d never consider buying a record by any of them and you wonder what exactly the point of them is. One band that stuck in the mind were called Dash Rip Rock. They came from Alabama and their songs included Let’s Go Fuck In My Truck and Spank Your Panties. It was alarming to be told that these weren’t ironic titles. The Bluebonnets stood out on account of being women, but that was really the only difference.

Please don’t get me wrong. None of these bands were bad as such. In fact, they could all play, they could all sing and rock out and they all had catchy songs and riffs. I went so far as to seek out the manager of the Ginger Man and congratulate him on the organisation. We didn’t see a single bad band there, but of real spark, innovation and brilliance there was little sign. A vicious thunder storm that closed down many outdoor venues didn’t bother the Ginger Man, as, after a brief pause, they simply played on with yet another set of musos, this time some blisteringly loud, middle-aged rockers called The Sidewinders, who had forgotten they aren’t punks any more. I couldn’t bear to stay for the Waco Brothers, for fear it might be more of the same.

A lovely Saturday tradition is the Brooklyn Country Cantina, which showcases at least thirty roots / “Americana” bands over two stages. This is usually a great place to trawl for new talents, but not this year. David Wax Museum presented us with mock Mariachi, The Wild Reeds specialised in Coldplay-style soaring climaxes, Christian Lee Hutson was trying to be Andrew Combs and failing, Banditos were more banjo-thrashing and throaty vocals and as for Sam Outlaw, oh dear. Bland, good-looking straight country singers, I’m so fed up with them. Whatever else this may be (and it may be commercially successful), it isn’t “outlaw country”. That I could handle. Things were redeemed a little by Daddy Long Legs and Daniel Romano, but they had both played the year before and so weren’t really “new”.

Well, okay, I started sxsw with flu but I don’t believe it tainted my experience and turned me into a grump. There definitely were positives to be found in the form of ubiquitous New Zealander Marlon Williams, whose songs actually sounded – phew – “different” and Canada’s Strumbellas, and “unique” is certainly a term you could apply to the brilliant BP Fallon, whose band currently includes Joe King Carrasco. The band to watch out of all this is Saskatchewan’s Kacy And Clayton, whose Fairport fixation permits them to write beautiful tunes, and Kacy Anderson had the voice of the week. In amongst all the rasping growls and yells of the other bands, her sweet, innocent tones stood out a mile.



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The Americana Music Association UK Conference and Awards

The Americana Music Association UK Conference and Awards

The Americana Music Association UK Conference and Awards
Hackney, London
2 -3 February 2016

This was an occasion that celebrated confidently and joyfully that Americana is now flourishing in the UK. The conference had an international feel about it, with visiting and performing artists from both sides of the Atlantic, music industry and media professionals.

Throughout the conference there was a healthy awareness of the definition of 'Americana' as contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.

In fact, Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, in his keynote address to the conference emphasized what particularizes this blend of music. In his words and in this music ìIf you can taste the dirt through your ears, that is Americana. Plenty of that in the music that particularized the two days!

The first session was chaired by Ralph McLean from BBC Radio Ulster and included on his panel were: Beth Nielsen, Texan singer/songwriter, (check out her song "All I Have") along with Will Kaufman (Central Lancashire Uni) and Andy Fyfe (Q and Mojo). They spent an enthralling hour exploring the special musical relationship between America and the UK.

So the day developed. Next came Kim Bayley (Director General of ERA) who, with her panel addressed the revolution in entertainment, particularly music consumption, a new ingenuity amongst retailers and the potentially favourable implications for Americana!

After Lunch, Baylen Leonard (BBC Radio 2) addressed the subject, "Radio ñ How to Get Played" with panelists: Mark Hagaen (BBC Radio 2 producer) Claire Paxton-Rider (Fleming Associates ñ Radio and Television promotion) and Crispin Perry (CEO British Underground, an Arts Council England NPO) An hour of practical advice on getting exposure.

And the day finished with an added flourish with Bob Harris in conversation with Billy Bragg. They embarked on an entertaining journey through American and particularly British music with no source left unturned: Child Ballads, Woody Guthrie, Skiffle, Lonnie Donnegan, Rock ëní Roll, Dylan, all leading to where we are now, richer because of where we have come from.

In the evening, the venue changed to Moth Club, Old Trades Hall in central Hackney. This was a showcase for the best Americana available in the UK selected from over 50 applications. Ten acts, five hours, two stages. Perfectly organized. Half an hour per set. Upstairs in a smaller room acoustic; the main stage downstairs for the bands. All acts were superb, memorable. The main stage showcased William the Conqueror, Wildflowers, Stevie Ray Latham, Yola Carter (Wow! Look out for this band at The Radio 6 Festival in Bristol), and The Travelling Band. The acoustic stage showcased Danni Nicholls, Joe Rose (special and moving), Dean Owens, Loud Mountains, and Hannah Aldridge (outstanding, and the artist who had travelled furthest, from Nashville via Switzerland) who included a song from her forthcoming album.

The morning of the second day was devoted to a Songwriting Workshop of the highest order. Here was a panel of successful songwriters: Chris Difford (Squeeze), Austin based Kimmie Rhodes with a back list of scores of songs (listen to her and Willie Nelson singing her composition "Love Me Like A Song"), Shelly Poole who has worked with Janet Jackson, Massive Attack et al. and Boo Hewerdine who has written for Eddi Reader, Chris Difford, kd Lang...) There were plenty of artists and bands prepared to play in front of this panel and the audience. And the advice given, often to work in progress, discussing lyrical challenges was invaluable and fascinating.

So, on to the UKs first ever Americana Awards, held in St John at Hackney, a fitting and atmospheric venue, hosted by Bob Harris with special guest Billy Bragg and one surprise award presenter, Bonnie Rait, a secret kept until she appeared!

Under the directorship of Ethan Jones, there were performances from Gretchen Peters, Bearís Den, Danny & The Champions of the World, The Dreaming Spires, Emily Barker, Lewis & Leigh, Cale Tyson, Robert Tyson and Robert Vincent.

As part of the audience you could sense the amount of care taken with the presentation. The resulting atmosphere was very special and unforgettable.

So, here are the awards and the shortlisted ones:

THE UK AMERICANA AWARDS WINNERS 2016

UK Album of the Year

WHAT KIND OF LOVE - DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD (PRODUCED BY CHRIS CLARKE AND DANNY GEORGE WILSON)
Searching for the Supertruth -The Dreaming Spires (produced by The Dreaming Spires)
The Toerag Sessions - Emily Barker (produced by Liam Watson)
If I Was - The Staves (produced by Justin Vernon)

International Album of the Year

BLACKBIRDS - GRETCHEN PETERS (PRODUCED BY DOUG LANCIO, GRETCHEN PETERS & BARRY WALSH)
Something More Than Free - Jason Isbell (produced by Dave Cobb)
Pageant Material - Kacey Musgraves (produced by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves)
Introducing Cale Tyson - Cale Tyson (produced by Cale Tyson)

UK Artist of the Year

DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD
Bearís Den
The Dreaming Spires
Lewis & Leigh

International Artist of the Year

JASON ISBELL (who appeared on video)
The Bros. Landreth
Gretchen Peters
Sturgill Simpson

UK Song of the Year

CLEAR WATER - DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD (WRITTEN BY DANNY GEORGE WILSON AND PAUL LUSH
Agape - Bearís Den (written by Andrew Davie, Kevin Jones and Johannes Refsdal))
Rubble - Lewis & Leigh (written by Al Lewis and Alva Leigh)
Black & White - The Staves (written by The Staves)

International Song of the Year

BLACKBIRDS - GRETCHEN PETERS (WRITTEN BY GRETCHEN PETERS AND BEN GLOVER)
24 Frames - Jason Isbell (written by Jason Isbell)
All These Dreams - Andrew Combs (written by Andrew Combs and Jabe Beyer)
American Middle Class - Angeleena Presley (written by Angeleen a Presley)

UK Instrumentalist of the Year

BJ COLE
Joseph Bennett
Spencer Cullum Jr
Paul Lush

 

From a personal perspective, it was pleasure and an honour to be there at the AMA UK Conference and Awards representing Americana UK who are acknowledged so fully. Contacts have been made from all over. And a special thank you to Stevie Freeman, Chair, who seemed to be everywhere and in command, and to one other Board member who knows so much of interest about Americana. Two days in Americana never to be forgotten.

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