Monday, 4 July 2016

From LA to Suffolk - Maverick Festival, Easton Farm Park, Suffolk. Friday 1st July to Sunday 3rd July

Some things are eternally re-assuring about the first weekend of July. A large peacock looms protectively over its stage, hug a bunny remains a festival side attraction and a host of fine musicians descend upon Easton Farm Park in Suffolk. Now one year shy of its decade existence, Maverick Festival continues to be a beacon on the independent music scene and forever adept at the concept of sun conquering rain. This ninth gathering of artists, sealed by a common bond of contemporary roots music, once again served up a treat for festival goers and displayed an array of styles to ensure that many angles of what we term ‘Americana music’ was covered.

While it would be useful to acquire omnipresent powers, the constraints of any festival review lean heavily upon the personal perspective. So full respect and admiration for any artist not seen over the weekend, but if you went on quality sampling of what was witnessed, then they too would have been worthy of your time. On an action packed weekend starting on the stroke of five on Friday teatime running through until Sunday afternoon, many acts rivalled for the festival highlights, with some neat scheduling giving artists multi sets. Reflecting on the events of the weekend left the conundrum of structuring the review, with possible options being a chronological, A to Z or preference format. However let’s try something different and embark on a Maverick Festival intercontinental virtual road trip. So fasten your seatbelt and prepare to be taken from LA to Suffolk via many ports of call.

Sam Outlaw 
Sam Outlaw has created an enormous impression with the UK release of his superb album ANGELENO earlier this year and the Los Angeles based country artist was presented with the opportunity to share these songs in The Barn on Saturday evening. Like so many gig experiences, it is often the lesser notable song on an album which stands out in the live arena and the finale of Sam’s set ‘Keep it Interesting’ upheld this theory during a show which launched his most extensive UK tour to date. Remaining on the West Coast, we now journey up to Seattle to bring you alt-country rock band Massy Ferguson who played a racing Saturday lunch time set on the outdoor stage. Primarily in the country to launch their brand new album on At The Helm Records, this four piece combo led by Ethan Anderson carried on where they left off on their last appearance at Maverick a couple of years ago, with ‘Powder Blue’ from their back catalogue once again extracting an enthusiastic response from the audience.
John Wort Hannam
While keeping on the western theme of this Maverick road trip, we now cross the border into Canada and more precisely Southern Alberta. John Wort Hannam is a new artist to many in the UK and this is about to change after a trio of sets across the weekend including a Sunday lunchtime half hour in the Peacock Café. John is your archetypal folk singer-songwriter with a slight comparison to Slaid Cleaves in the style of his compositions. As you would expect, the stories were enlightening with ‘Love Lives On’ being the pick of his set, although conducting a crowd choir during the chorus of ‘Time After Time’ didn’t need too much encouragement, even for the morning after the night before.

Lynne Hanson 
John also participated in the Friday evening Canada Day presentation along with compatriots Ryan Cook and Christina Martin, but for the next witnessed artist from this fine country we have to travel thousands of miles east to Ottawa and the impressive Lynne Hanson. Backed by her two piece band known as The Good Intentions, Lynne played a lively set in The Barn with the volume turned up on a fine bunch of tunes, mainly on the darker side of the song writing genre. ‘Gravedigger’ from her latest album 7 DEADLY SPINS and the title track from an older release ‘River of Sand’, led the way on a performance which signalled the rising of her star in the UK.

Jon Langford
We now must leave the land of the maple leaf and head back into the States and the northern city of Chicago, the current home of the legendary Jon Langford. Admirably, Jon stepped in early on Friday evening to play a set while another artist was struggling with the UK‘s fragmented rail network. Whatever your exposure to Jon has been in the past, most notably as a member of The Mekons and the Waco Brothers, it was not difficult to detect how he has successfully merged the passion of new wave punk with traditional twang to become identifiable with the alt-country scene of the 80s and onwards. Apart from Jon’s music, his incredible artwork was also on sale and you must look out for the fabulous piece that has been created for the Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats exhibition currently running in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Luke Winslow King
Our Maverick road trip should now move onto the rails and board the City of New Orleans right though the spine of the country to the Crescent City. Two artists based here represented the old and new of the festival. Andrew Duhon, a Grammy nominated singer songwriter, has graced the stages of Easton Farm Park a few times now, but this was the first time a set of his has been witnessed. The error has now been corrected and his song, ‘Just Another Beautiful Girl’ is now permanently in my head. Luke Winslow King was in many folks’ eyes, the star of Maverick 2016 and being up close to his closing set late on Friday was a great experience. Prominently playing a contemporary blues style, Luke hit on a perfect beat during this crowd pleasing performance with the song ‘Cadillac Slim’ being both a memorable and autobiographical number.

Barbara Nesbitt 
We are now going back west from Louisiana, crossing the Red River and into the neighbouring state of Texas. Two Austin based singer songwriters featured across the weekend with both Amanda Pearcy and Barbara Nesbitt using this Maverick appearance as the base for a series of UK dates. Amanda was briefly caught Saturday teatime on the Peacock Stage where she had the benefit of a house style band frequented by the legendary UK pedal steel guitar player BJ Cole. ‘Pallet on the Floor’ is one of the best songs on her latest album and duly featured during her time on stage. Amanda is actually combining some UK dates with Barbara and it was a treat to catch the latter’s set on the Moonshine Stage in the final throes of the festival on Sunday afternoon. She came across as a very accomplished country singer, leaning to the traditional side unsurprisingly for a Maverick booking. She was appearing alongside fellow guitarist Ben Jordan and from a raft of enjoyable songs; ‘Old Devils Can Die’ left a favourable impression.

Carter Sampson 
Now is the time for a bit of personal bias and a trip up to the epicentre of the 2016 Maverick Festival– Oklahoma City. Upon listening to Carter Sampson’s latest album WILDER SIDE, one was absolutely hooked on her captivating voice, imperial songs and earthy link to the soul of the music. This was Carter’s first professional trip to the UK and her Saturday afternoon set in The Barn lived up to all the exalted expectations. Half an hour was way too short, but just enough to sample some of the best from the new album, including ‘Medicine River’, an understanding on why she is the self-anointed ‘Queen of Oklahoma’ and by far the best song story introduction of the weekend – ‘Rattlesnake Kate’. We now also know what a Canadian tuxedo is. Carter, you were the star of the weekend.

Hop onto I-40, head east out of the fertile song writing state of Oklahoma and eventually Music City will beckon. However we have one further destination in the Deep South which featured prominently in Maverick before we land in Nashville. 2016 was Jimmie Rodgers tribute year for the festival and for an hour and a half on Friday evening the Peacock Stage was the domain of leading interpreter Britt Gully. He co-ordinated a celebration of the Singing Brakeman’s music with the help of many of the artists playing the festival including Sam Outlaw, Luke Winslow King and Robyn Hitchcock. Yodelling was optional, but the spirit of one of country music’s pioneers was prevalent in this corner of Maverick.

Wild Ponies
Nashville is the home to three of the most outstanding acts to play Maverick this year and all pre-festival favourites here as well. Doug and Telisha Williams, aka Wild Ponies, played a couple of blistering sets across Saturday and Sunday, Doug’s telecaster was on fire, Telisha’s vocals drooled with pure Southern class and the added percussion raised the bar once again. Relaying the set lists will take up too much time, but a shout out is essential for ‘Unplug the Machine’, ‘Radiant’ and ‘Love is Not a Sin’ from the new album and ‘Trigger’ off the previous one. Maverick had been on the couple’s horizon for a while and they seized the opportunity with great relish and plenty of enthusiastic skill.

Hannah Aldridge
Hannah Aldridge is now a Maverick Festival legend after playing for three consecutive years and growing her appreciative following considerably. This was the sixth occasion of seeing Hannah play a set in the UK and it was possibly the strongest performance of the lot when she commanded The Barn stage on Saturday evening. The voice, poise, electric guitar and songs which mean so much equip Hannah with the power to captivate an audience. From the opening line of ‘Lie Like You Love Me’ right through to celebrating the work of her father, Walt, with ‘Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde’, she was in peerless form and the new album cannot come quickly enough. Nashville is Hannah’s adopted home, and also to be more precise, East Nashville the location for Amelia White who was finally caught playing a set on Sunday in The Barn. The last two albums of Amelia’s have acquired favourable reviews here with the title track from HOME SWEET HOTEL shaping up to be the pick of her showcased songs. She teamed up with UK guitarist Dan Webster for this festival appearance and her endearing left field sound shared many similarities with the work of Lera Lynn.

Amelia White
Before we leave Nashville, and ultimately the USA, a quick word on two performers who have made the city their home, although thousands of miles from their country of origin. Robyn Hitchcock was one of the organisers’ coups this year after an impromptu appearance twelve months ago. Only a short part of Robyn’s set was seen, but the reports were positive with a couple of Dylan covers going down well. Immediately preceding Robyn on the Peacock Stage on Saturday night was Aussie songstress Emma Swift, accompanied by the ‘house band’ – (more BJ Cole on steel). She celebrated the work of Gram Parsons with a smashing cover of ‘Brass Buttons’ and her fellow antipodean sad song writers with the immensely dark ‘Shivers’, as interpreted by Nick Cave. 

Daniel Meade
It wouldn’t be Maverick, if there was not a fine input of home grown music gracing the weekend. After leaving Nashville, we first land in Glasgow and hook up with Daniel Meade and his Flying Mule sidekick, the incredible guitarist Lloyd Reid. The frustration of the schedule pitched Daniel in direct competition with his At The Helm partners Massy Ferguson, with both acts only making the single appearance. With more opportunities likely to catch Daniel live, only fifteen minutes of his set was seen but the songs of his new album sounded sweet live including the rousing title track ‘Let Me Off at the Bottom’. Hopefully Daniel and Lloyd will bring their talents south of the border more frequently as their style of honky tonk country always goes down well. 

Robert Vincent 
Unfortunately Daniel was the only one of the Scottish contingent to be in my listening vicinity, so next we head south down the M6 to Liverpool and check in on Robert Vincent. My previous exposure to the work of Rob was only as a solo performer and his full band performance in The Barn on Friday evening was a welcome surprise. To say Rob and the boys rocked is an understatement. The new material sounded superb with a strong emotive number 'Demons’from his previous record perhaps just eclipsing them as the set’s stand out moment. Without doubt Rob's status of 'emerging' star will be updated to 'established' in the near future. 

Yola Carter 
A late addition to the festival this year was Bristol based country soul singer Yola Carter. Her booking and the sound she brings was a major shift in the diversity of Maverick, which should be in line with the true definition of the word. Yola’s powerful vocals are beginning to literally make noises in circles actively promoting the genres of Americana and contemporary roots music. A full band supported Yola for this Friday evening exhibition of her talents including some fiddle, an instrument not so prevalent among this year’s artists. ‘Fly Away’ stood out as one of the prominent numbers included in Yola’s set and the live presence of this rising UK solo talent whetted the appetite for recorded material to become available.

Peter Bruntnell 
Our virtual road trip has covered thousands of miles so far with just the capital left to call in before we finally head up the A12 to the rural outpost of Easton Farm Park. Two artists with London links were among the full bands booked to rock the Sweet Home Alabama outdoor stage on Saturday afternoon. Simon Stanley Ward returned to the festival twelve months after a song writing circle slot and this year showed what he can do with an enhanced back beat to his quirky songs. The result was impressive with his distinct vocals working in tandem with the instrumentation on songs such as ‘The Monster Song’, ‘American Voice’ and the popular audience participation singalong ‘Water’. The vastly more experienced Peter Bruntnell returned to Maverick later on Saturday afternoon to play a signature alt-country rock set, full of swirling guitars and an intense passion for ensuring a cultured powerful sound resonated around the festival grounds for forty minutes. By the time Peter closed with ‘St Christopher’ many folks were thrilled with the stirring performance from the band.

As we wind our way to the festival site through the lanes of Suffolk, the journey from LA is almost complete. Nine Maverick Festivals are in the book with hopefully double digits being accomplished a year from now. The artists featured in this review are far from household names, but each one, plus the others that were only curtailed by time, deserve the utmost credit for putting musical integrity at the top of their agenda. They are, and always will be, the stars of the Maverick Festival.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Rainbow, Birmingham. Wednesday 29th June 2016

Lucinda Williams, Woody Guthrie and John Prine were cited during this show, but Alynda Lee Segarra is well equipped to ply her own route in the contemporary roots scene. The entity of Hurray for the Riff Raff forms a rooted base for Alynda to spill out the wares of her wandering spirit which blossoms into a haze of groovy soulful folk songs. This Birmingham show was the second date of a UK tour designed to re-acquaint a British audience with Hurray for the Riff Raff and it is all systems go for the new album to hit the markets as we head into the winter months. From the moment Alynda and her four band companions struck the first note of ‘End of the Line’, an appreciative gathering at the Rainbow were left in awe of the talents in their midst.

It was fitting that the band slipped in a cover of Lucinda’s ‘People Talkin’ in the latter stages of their set as the similarities in Alynda’s approach to song delivery was stark and not just as a result of the shared Louisiana connection. Over the course of a handful of original albums that Hurray for the Riff Raff have released, the stellar song structure has been a common theme culminating in SMALL TOWN HEROES being one of 2014’s most acclaimed releases in respected roots and Americana circles. Several sensational numbers from this record formed the heart of this show led by the classic duo of ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ and ‘Crash on the Highway’ which open the album.

If you thought it couldn’t get any better, the strong emotive version of ‘St. Roch Blues’ , which saw Alynda ditch the guitar to pour extra into the vocals, could only be hailed as an exceptional show closer. Not to be outdone in the troubadour stakes, the solo acoustic delivery of ‘Small Town Heroes’ in the first encore slot revealed a folk singer to reckon with and the ability to hold an audience from opening line to last.

For this tour the band behind Alynda comprised of bass and lead guitars, drums and keys with all four players executing their parts of the mix with acute precision. The comfort of ease in filtering in the styles of soul, blues and rock into the sound was admirable. Essentially the core is a bunch of heart influenced folk songs given a musical coating, sung by a vocalist adept at penetrating and extracting the soul of each number. The new compositions were given an enticing preview and definitely you should look out for ‘Life to Save’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl’ and ‘Living in the City’. The latter possessed the evening’s most profound rock vibes and was born out of Alynda’s desire to give some insight into her New York upbringing. This sheds an alternative light on an artist who cut the early stages of a music calling via the transient life.

Throw in Alynda’s Puerto Rican heritage, which at times does give the Hurray for the Riff Raff sound a Hispanic tone, add the southern exposure to the raw talent and the result is knockout music refusing to abide by the constraints of the ceiling. This was a performance that moved up the gears right from the second song ‘Ode to John and Yoko’, got everybody moving in their own subtle ways to ‘Look Out Mama’ and ended far too soon with the rousing finale of ‘Little Black Star’.

Hurray for the Riff Raff will be at the forefront of the contemporary American roots scene for a long time to come and have the potential to develop further. The perfect marriage of talent, understanding, influence and heritage give the band a sure footing, with Alynda destined to flourish as a song writing performer. Birmingham Promoters should be commended for bringing them to Britain’s Second City and the promise to return soon armed with the new record needs to be grabbed. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Wild Ponies - Radiant : No Evil Records

Not only do East Nashville based duo, Wild Ponies put on excellent shows, they are also in the game of making exceedingly thoughtful and interesting records. RADIANT is the second album released under the band moniker Doug and Telisha Williams have decided to use and it does a fine job in defining the musical ethos that comes across in their live shows. A multitude of shades paint the façade and interior of this record, while shaping a style which reflects their influences, principles and outlook.

The short gap between US and Europe release dates has heightened the anticipation for this album and it is sure to prove a popular buy during the duo’s current run of UK dates. This includes an appointment at the Maverick Festival; a perfect all round fit for Wild Ponies. Many of the eleven tracks had a preview on the last tour towards the end of 2015 with the reception being positive upon first listen. The recorded versions have lived up to the early promise with the four musicians assigned to the production adding finesse to a sound not afraid to hop between tempos and focus.

The writing input is an exciting mix of the acclaimed and the familiar with co-writes generally ruling the roost. Among the names joining Doug and Telisha on the credits include Robby Hecht, Amy Speace and Amelia White, all artists who have been active with records of their own over here in the last couple of years. Amelia, who is also playing this year’s Maverick Festival, actually contributed on two songs: ‘Home is Where the Road Goes’ and the sassy ‘Big Blue Sun’. One song on the album where Doug and Telisha didn’t seek any help is the strong closer ‘Love is Not a Sin’ which is an impassioned response to the significant changes that have occurred with same sex marriages.

Photo by Nielson Hubbard
This was of one of the distinctly memorable songs previewed at shows last year alongside album opener ‘Born with a Broken Heart’ and ‘Unplug the Machine’. The first of these has the helping writing hand of Amy Speace and generally comes across as a leisurely dark and moody song. On first listen it sounded like an Angaleena Presley composition both vocally and in song structure, and repeat plays confirm this. The second is packed with straight up rock vibes and is an unashamed assault on the overbearing presence technology can have on our lives. Not a track to be filmed at gigs, if you’re that way inclined.

The pondering and evocative vocals of Telisha are prevalent throughout the record with a neat interjection from Doug on the jaunty effort ‘Mom and Pop’, also packed with groovy guitar. Both vocal inclusions have a distinct personality to the voices with Telisha exuding oodles of southern mystique.

Musically the album reaches across several barriers with steel providing some delicate touches, Doug’s electric guitar periodically letting loose and Telisha’s double bass keeping immaculate time.

The title track ‘Radiant’ is worthy of mention and not just for its origin. Doug and Telisha were bowled over by a set of lyrics from the twelve year old Mariah Moore that they encountered while on a project and suitably turned them into a high quality temperate track. At the other end of the scale is Nashville A list songwriter Sally Barris who contributed to the gorgeous soothing lullaby ‘The Night We Never Met’, one with reassuring serenading qualities and loads of steel.

Wild Ponies have served up a treat for new and old fans alike with the surfacing of RADIANT. This dedicated release has all the nuances of an album subtly encompassing the best parts of a record seeped in the genres of country, folk, alt-rock and roots. Doug and Telisha Williams make damn good music and it’s a pleasure that opportunity has presented itself to ensure it is internationally available, both in person and on record. 

Maverick Festival Preview Update. July 1st to July 3rd 2016

The signal to start planning for the Maverick Festival arrived with the unveiling of the full weekend schedule. This announcement coincided with the revealing of a whole raft of new names, to without doubt make this the most extensive line up of Americana/roots artists on the summer festival circuit. Unfortunately it was announced that Los Pacaminos had pulled out of the event, yet this was compensated by an enhanced depth to the range of artists scheduled which is probably the festival’s defining feature.

To stock up on the home grown talent on offer, it was a case of the old and the new. The most eye catching addition was Yola Carter who will play the Barn on Friday evening in one of the prime slots. Yola has been gathering praise as a solo artist in recent times and her style of soulful blues will add an extra dimension to the weekend sound. Making their Maverick debuts alongside Yola are Scottish artist Daniel Meade bringing his stomping brand of honky tonk roots south of the border and English singer-songwriter Robert Vincent, the inaugural recipient of the AMA UK Bob Harris emerging artist award earlier this year. Peter Bruntnell is no stranger to the festival and there is a 100% guarantee that his set will rock the Sweet Home Alabama stage late on Saturday afternoon.

Wild Ponies
On the subject of artists to raise the tempo and inject a dose of rock into the proceedings, Seattle based alt-country rockers Massy Ferguson have been invited back after impressing everyone two years ago. Once again they will grace the outside Sweet Home Alabama stage on Saturday lunch time, no doubt playing songs from their new album. In contrast, three other recently confirmed artists from America make their Maverick debut and will play eagerly awaited sets. Carter Sampson is the proud owner of an excellent new record titled WILDER SIDE and for thirty minutes on Saturday afternoon the Barn will succumb to the wonderful earthy sounds of Oklahoma. Husband and wife duo the Wild Ponies will also be playing Maverick for the first time and are beginning to grow their UK following on the back of several recent visits. Amelia White is another new artist perfectly equipped with the Maverick sound. Her couple of sets spread over the weekend is an example of the smart scheduling which partially alleviates the unfortunate scenario of artist clashes.

The first part of Friday evening in the Peacock Café is designated as a Canada Day celebration and although not part of the trio of acts playing then, Ottawa based artist Lynne Hanson is a worthy inclusion to the line-up. The Barn on Saturday afternoon is one of the recommended places to be when Lynne and her band The Good Intentions take to the stage.

Just a quick word on a further couple of themes inserted into the scheduling, Britt Gully hosts the Jimmie Rodgers tribute in the Barn late on Friday evening and the sound of New Orleans is celebrated in the 'Crescent City Comes to Maverick' presentation on the Moonshine stage on Saturday. As previously mentioned at the festival launch and in the initial preview piece, Sam Outlaw, Robyn Hitchcock and Jon Langford are among the higher profile artists appearing over the weekend.

As in previous years the Maverick Festival will have a twin appeal for folks heading to its Suffolk location. Serious music fans can really get their teeth into the wealth of acts scheduled, while more casual observers can add the splendid idyllic surroundings of Easton Farm Park to what always ends up to be a weekend to treasure. Maverick continues to be the most cost effective event on the festival circuit and on the evidence of the last eight years, 2016 promises to be every bit as good.


Tickets are available from //

Ranger £85.00
Weekend ticket with admission to all stages and includes up to TWO nights camping FRIDAY and SATURDAY

Wrangler £65.00
Weekend ticket with admission to all stages No Camping

Rustler £39.00
Day ticket, Saturday only

Nighthawk £25.00
Friday night only

Holy Roller £20.00
Sunday only

Tenderfoot £15.00
Children 10-15 yrs, under 10's go free 

Monday, 13 June 2016

Hannah Aldridge + Lilly Hiatt - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Sunday 12th June 2016

This was a show of many highlights. Two gifted songwriters answering a call to destiny while determine to overcome the perils of life’s obstacles. They both possess the burning desire to share their experiences, observations and feelings. Perhaps song writing and performing is a form of therapy that finds a willing audience ready to finance a journey through words and music. Whatever connects an articulate performer and active listener was prevalent in the Kitchen Garden Café this evening. Hannah Aldridge and Lilly Hiatt play music of the soul in a way that captivates a tuned-in audience leaving a trail of awe, satisfaction and belief that straight from the gut music is full of intense appeal.

Poignant moments endlessly flowed from a show that inevitably adopted a shared platform feel. The overseas touring experience, vocal presence and dominant poise edged Hannah in the billing stakes, yet Lilly wasted little time in stripping back the tracks of a brand new album to reveal a song writer of supreme talent. Together they ironically united for a rendition of Lilly’s ‘Somebody’s Daughter’ and jointly celebrated the work of a hero when spilling out a version of Gillian Welch’s ‘Look at Miss Ohio’. Those were key moments for starters as both individual sets hit on common themes akin with the deep feelings of a lyricist.

Two songs continually wrestle with the strong emotions of the listener when Hannah Aldridge hits town. ‘Black and White’ evokes a tough bond between mother and son with an inner strength surfacing amongst a superlative melody. ‘Parchman’ may have a third person origin, but is written and performed so entwined in character that it leaves a convincing impression. Not to be outdone in the melody stakes, Lilly Hiatt’s ‘Royal Blue’ regally makes a golden journey from performer to listener, while ‘Get This Right’ successfully finds an acoustic home in the absence of a full band accompaniment.

Similarities are aplenty between these two singer-songwriters and not just the wisely underplayed genetic heritage. They’re both soaked to the bone in Southern writing folklore and seemingly possess an independent spirit to find their own answers. From a Nashville base they strike out to a lot of places east, west and south, fuelled by travel, history and context. Life’s travails are turned into song writing positives and they’re both embedded in the spirit of Americana.

The contrasts are not limited to a visual observation and use of vocals. Lilly has successfully released a new album which is currently having a European renewal, while Hannah’s determination to follow up her well-received debut record is about to enter the final stages of fruition.The increased familiarity of Hannah’s unreleased new songs only adds to the anticipation of their status being updated, especially as they’ve been previewed on repeat occasions. The full band treatment and slight rock direction of them will shed more light on Hannah’s ability to ease through the styles of the South.

Lilly has grasped this opportunity to join Hannah on tour with suggested relish. Her story telling mark has been left on the calling cards of being stranded in Texarkana during ‘3 Days’ and the relaxed nature of introducing ‘Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant’ in Europe. There is an optimism that this transatlantic arrangement can flourish in the foreseeable future.

It is probably fitting to leave the final words with Hannah who has made such a defined impression with European audiences over the last two years. Tonight’s unplugged version of ‘Howling Bones’ was another successful attempt to connect with an intimate crowd eager to buy into her take on art. However it was her description of ‘pouring out your guts music’ which resonated strongly and, that proverbial nail may just have had its final hammer blow.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Jinney Ring Folk Festival - Hanbury, Worcestershire. Saturday 11th June 2016

With a rolling backdrop of Worcestershire’s green fields, the 2016 outdoor festival season kicked off in the beautiful setting of the Jinney Ring Craft Centre’s grounds. It was a low key beginning, illuminated by the scheduling of two acclaimed artists appearing with the sure fire guarantee of impressing in terms of their talented versatility. Sam Carter and Lucy Ward duly confirmed their high profile billing to top a day where the weather gods eventually decided to show a little mercy on the folk fans gathering for this quaint festival.

Although organised as a two day event for the camping fraternity, the music was essentially confined to the Saturday with eight acts booked to frequent the single tented stage from noon till late. The majority of these represented the local scene within the county, covering several bases of a loosely defined folk genre.  

A few thoughts on those which created the most impression a bit later, but the first kind words need to be reserved for Lucy Ward who continues to show why discerning folk critics are right on the mark. For an hour as the sun set (it was a pity the two main acts weren’t allotted a little more time), Lucy gave another enchanting performance packed with feisty impassioned chat and bags of wonderful artistic invention. Whether accompanied by guitar, concertina or harmonium, the songs bristled with an enriched substance showcasing the aura that Lucy purveys as a solo artist.

The challenge is not to shed a tear for the plight of Bobby Barker in ‘Lion’ or not to be inspired by the passion of her conviction for change in ‘Bigger Than That’ and the requested ‘For the Dead Men’. A touch of on-stage eccentricity goes a long way to defining the magnetic charm of Lucy especially starting her set with visions of the end of the world in ‘The Last Pirouette’. The shade lightened considerably with a ratchetted down version of ‘Waterloo’ in honour of Lucy’s Eurovision obsession. Not to be outdone on celebrating the folk tradition, ‘Old Brown Hen’ and ‘King Willie’ were gustily sung thus showcasing the vocal versatility of this Derby-based singer-song writer – interpreter- multi instrumental musician.

Lucy’s energy, vibrancy and enthusiasm shine through her songs and if there’s a vocal vacancy to lead the song protest movement then a nominator and seconder won’t be difficult to find.

If personality and all-round aura play a significant part in Lucy Ward the performer, Sam Carter finds the optimum balance of matching the folk song ideal with the power of the electric guitar. To be fair Sam does excel when armed with the acoustic variety as well, but there is something special when he ventures down the folk rock road. A journey which continues to accumulate praise especially with the Richard Thompson connection and the False Lights project.

In contrast to Lucy, Sam has a brand new album just released and this evening’s performance brought by the Sam Carter Trio yielded several tracks from HOW THE CITY SINGS. Differences between the two were the extent of inter song dialogue, although commissioned song writing is a common theme. This was also extended to the content and desire for more justice in this world.

Perhaps the defining mark of Sam’s, also too short, hour on stage was the band musical interaction featuring the trio completed by Evan Jenkins on drums and Matt Ridley on both electric and stand-up bass. They played a sensitive subtle role supporting Sam’s slower numbers before considerably stepping up when the signal came to ramp up the rock vibes. This guitar exhibition injected a renewed life into a festival as the afternoon gave way to the evening session.

Despite Sam and Lucy being the heavy bias subjects of this feature, the remainder of the festival programme was not short of merit in its own way. Unfortunately the first two acts were not witnessed due to prior commitments, but upon arrival interest was instantly aroused by the performance of folk-punk duo Jack of All. In line with much of the day’s content, protest music was in plentiful supply as this guitar-fiddle duo possessed all the excitement of the 80s heyday when The Levellers and New Model Army spearheaded an alternative take on some of society’s conventions. The moral though is the relevance then is just as high, if not more so, thirty years on.

Worcester-based trio Granny’s Attic was probably the pick of the four lower key acts seen. Consisting of fiddle, guitar and melodeon, the trio’s sound belied the combined age of their young years as they lent heavily on the traditional strands of Irish, Scottish and English folk. The shared vocal arrangements were the perfect match for a batch of original and traditional songs. The guys certainly maximised every minute from their hour on stage and the performance suggested that they will not be short of festival bookings this summer season.

The two remaining artists were full bands with contrasting sounds thus adding to the diverse feel to this musician assembly. Woo Town Hillbillies concluded the afternoon session with a fun set of American inspired folk songs drawing on old time, bluegrass and country influences. To bring the festival to a close, indie pop rock band Jasper in the Company of Others was the perfect tonic for those wishing to end the day in upbeat mode on their feet. All the artists played their part in making the musical presentation a success and create interest that this mini jamboree could be repeated next year.

While Sam Carter and Lucy Ward were the undoubted stars of this show, even they had to play second fiddle at times to the large presence of ducks from the nearby pond. Maybe there were more edible attractions for our feathered friends than the music that filled the air for nearly twelve hours. On a final note the organisers deserve praise for their excellent offering of food and drink as well as ensuring the sound from the stage was top notch. The booking of Sam and Lucy was a venture that successfully paid off as well. 

Monday, 6 June 2016

Lera Lynn - The Bodega Bar, Nottingham. Sunday 5th June 2016

Her set started with Lera requesting a glass of whiskey from the bar and ended an hour and half later when the sumptuous song of the same name was sandwiched into a trio of encore numbers. However the only intoxicating experience in Nottingham’s Bodega Bar was an audience absolutely besotted by her sultry enigmatic style of dark and moody Americana. Countless highs have emerged during Lera Lynn’s rise up the ranks and on the evidence of this evening’s performance her new album is set to maintain the momentum. This latest UK trip has had the benefit of national TV exposure via a performance on Jools Holland’s BBC Later show and shortly Lera will embark on some big venue support slots with Ben Folds. Yet this gig was best insight that you can get of Lera and her super band.

A highly respectable Sunday night gathering packed this city centre venue and didn’t have to wait long to open their senses to the main event after London-based singer-guitarist George Cosby had opened the show with a short set of atmospheric songs. Maybe a slight adjustment was needed to the volume of sound spilling out of the stage speakers, but right from the start Lera’s band hit the optimum button. Led by Joshua Grange on baritone guitar and ably assisted by bassist Robby Handley and drummer Tom Perkinson, the guys proved the ideal foil for Lera’s sophisticated songs which possessed a powerful edge. The subsequent ninety minutes rolled out to be a sublime showcase of her new album RESISTOR beautifully punctuated by several older tracks including the inevitable ones from her True Detective involvement.

There is a Southern gothic tinge to the music of Lera Lynn and the shadier side to her onstage persona closely resembles the intense Northern indie of Sharon Van Etten. Lera also oozes with artistic class and you feel she can adapt to any genre on the left field spectrum as witnessed by an inbuilt alt-country sound. While some of her older material leans this way, RESISTOR has a subtle rock stamp all over it and reveals hidden nuances with each listen, especially prevalent in this live setting.

The three key tracks from the album to move me this evening were the punchy ‘Shape Shifter’, the awesome ‘For the Last Time’ and the engaging ‘Little Ruby’. Just to demonstrate that Lera is a great interpreter of songs as well as an impressive originator of them, she guided the band through a very individualistic version of Springsteen’s ‘Fire’ and the immortalised ‘Ring of Fire’. The latter had a previous life as one of Lera’s singles and was the cream of the encore which skilfully brought the sound down from the main set mayhem mixture of cultured and frenzied electric guitar.

Chat from the stage was rare as Lera adjusted to the impeccable and restrained politeness of your usual UK audience for this brand of sophisticated music. You get the vibes of intense listening and eventually the artist comes round to respect this. Either way it was appropriate and fruitful for the music to do the talking, but Lera did mention the US TV show which helped raise her profile and played ‘My Least Favourite Life’ and ‘A Church in Ruins’ from this angle of her recording career.

Lera Lynn has been in the spotlight now for around half a decade since the release of her debut album and is an artist ready to spiral into the listening domain of a wider audience. However you get the impression that this will be done on her terms and creative whim. To those hooked in, her music will continue to mesmerise and future independent free thinkers are out there to succumb to the sound. This show needed little alcohol to create a heady presence and eased up the rankings of a packed gig year.