Thursday, 27 July 2017

Joey Landreth - White House Unique Social Club, Ashington. Monday 24th July 2017

Can the grass be greener? A twist on this time tested analogy that can also apply to whether the gigs you regularly frequent are better attended elsewhere in the country. The answer was clearly yes on a Monday night in Ashington where many folks can quite legitimately state that ‘they were there the night Joey Landreth came to town’. The White House Unique Social Club is located in this old Northumberland colliery town twenty miles north of Newcastle. It is not your usual domain of an award winning Canadian folk rock artist, who together with his brother had brought the delectable sibling harmonies to a wider world via the band The Bros. Landreth. Yet on this latest trip to the UK, during a period of Joey branching out on his own, circumstance and fate led to the sold out sticker being plastered right across the gig poster.

For a bit more context, the event was organised by Ashington Town Council as part of its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the first mineshaft being sunk in the area. The individual behind the project also happens to be a massive music fan and a series of connections led him to discover that Joey Landreth was struggling to get a gig in the North East. Well one and one generally makes two, but in this instance add a couple of noughts in light of the popularity of the eventual show. This was also no social event, as the packed room offered the utmost courtesy to both Joey and the opening act Paul Liddle. Indications were that a few folks had travelled (though not as far as two refugees from the nearby SummerTyne Festival and over two hundred miles from home), but this evening was very much owned by the people of Ashington and they put on a grand display.

Having enjoyed a Bros. Landreth show around twelve months ago to the extent that it made the Top 20 Favourite Gigs of the Year, there was always the danger that Joey with just his guitar minus brother and band would be a tough act to follow. If you were comparing like with like that would have been the case, but putting the performance in its own context was the best way to establish the merit.

Joey began the show armed with the acoustic guitar before switching to the electric version around midway into a set that probably spanned an hour and a quarter. While there were many references to The Bros. Landreth including versions of fine songs like ‘Firecracker’ and ‘Let it Lie’, little was shared about Joey’s move to pursue a solo challenge. He did refer to a previous UK tour earlier in the year, so these shores must be high on the list of markets he wants to focus on. To support his new venture, Joey has released a seven track mini album titled WHISKEY. The lead and title track off this record was held back until the pre-encore song, but when finally heard live ‘Whiskey’ was the standout moment of the original material.

Maybe this moment was just eclipsed as the eventual standout by a beautifully delivered version of the Leonard Cohen classic ‘Bird on a Wire’ as a tribute to his late grandfather. Sometimes it can be a touch disrespectful favouring a songwriter’s cover choice to their original material, but this had so much punchy meaning and sincerity, I’m sure the praise is understood.

Away from the classy vocals, fine guitar playing and serious song selection, Joey displayed a relaxed demeanour. This included a couple of ‘what’s said at the gig stays at the gig’ stories along with simple irreverent chat that continued to hold the undivided attention of an appreciative audience.

It may just have been a one off but Ashington gave Joey Landreth a night he’ll never forget. Now the next time a Monday evening gig struggles to sell, you can always say Northumberland did it – once.

SummerTyne Americana Festival (Overview) - Sage Gateshead. Friday 21st July to Sunday 23rd July 2017

Is it a festival or a collection of gigs? No doubt, a strange question for many SummerTyne Americana devotees, but one pondered several times across the weekend of a first visit to this jewel of the North East. There are similarities with the likeminded Southern Fried Festival in Perth, but there is more of a compartmentalised feel to SummerTyne. While the outdoor Jumping Hot Club stage and the indoor concourse stage in the Sage’s ground floor foyer are integral parts of the event, the lifeblood and true pull are the array of independent ticketed events that are liberally strewn across the transformed venue.

An early decision to maximise the paid offering via purchasing tickets for six shows meant that there was always going to be a chance of the other two performing areas becoming a peripheral attraction. This proved the case after an initial sampling of the SummerTyne experience, with essentially the outdoor location being at the mercy of the weather and the concourse sonically hampered by its temporary transfer into a venue. Yet there were still plenty of golden moments to enjoy, if perhaps not to the intensity of the gigs.

Massy Ferguson
With the Gateshead weather set fair for the Friday afternoon, the Jumping Hot Club stage proved a popular place for both locals and those travelling from further afield to sample music with a distinct North East roots. The remit of the Sage for this opening segment of the festival is plain to see and highly commendable. The staging of SummerTyne surely has to fight its corner with the wider local arts scene and embracing the locality is an essential selling point. Most of the local acts on Friday afternoon had a least part of their sets seen, although you had to arrive early to get one of the intense watching seats. Alternatively, the amphitheatre setting of this location via the grassy terracing made viewing accessible. The pick of the local artists was a band called Buffalo Skinners, but all slated acts played a key role in getting the show under way.

As the weekend proceeded, the outdoor stage has to compete with the concourse stage for the afternoon’s free entertainment. Obviously, the weather can be an important factor with options on the table as we were to find out on Sunday. However, with tickets to see the Angaleena Presley show on Saturday afternoon only a couple of artists were seen outside. These included Fargo Railroad Company, following up their Maverick Festival set with a hearty mash of Southern Rock, and the impressive Amythyst Kiah putting an old time roots spin on her Appalachian inspired music.

Robert Vincent
While general viewing of bands on the outdoor stage was fairly limited, there was another opportunity to see Robert Vincent play a full band set on Sunday and further solidify the progress being made. An increasingly similar variety of excellent songs was played from his two albums, just prior to the inclement weather setting in. With little sign of it abating, a couple of brief sorties outside after the afternoon paid show provided a short but wet sample of High Plains Jamboree and the Savoy Family Cajun  Band. Fair play to the hearty souls who braved the rain to embrace both bands in the entirety, but generally the pull of drier entertainment prevailed.

For the whole of Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the concourse stage was commissioned by the AMA UK to give an opportunity for some of its member artists to play a festival show. The audience was a mix of seated and standing folks watching intensely and a sizeable chunk passing through. As previously indicated, the band sound did struggle with the environment, but all witnessed artists embraced the opportunity. The pick of these was definitely Massy Ferguson, who probably had the biggest sound of the artists scheduled, but stuck to the task of showing why they are such a highly rated band. A bonus from the performance was UK artist Danni Nicholls joining the band on stage to sing the Zoe Muth part on ‘The Hard Way’. Not a bad substitute!

Jim Lauderdale, Chuck Prophet, Ashley Campbell, Amythyst Kiah
Two events that went down really well on the concourse stage were at the bookends of the festival. Just before the ticketed shows began on Friday, young multi-piece soul combo Stax Academy Revue wowed early Sage arrivals with a stellar take on the endless supply of classics that flowed out of a small Memphis studio in the sixties. This act also had a supreme support slot for Stax legend William Bell on the following evening in the Sage main hall and won over many fans during their weekend stay in Gateshead. Likewise, High Plains Jamboree had a successful SummerTyne and was granted a late Sunday night slot on the concourse stage, which gave folks an alternative to the ticketed events. The bonus was being able to catch the last half hour after the Chuck Prophet show finished and this traditional country outfit, led by Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, duly rounded off the weekend in fine style.

High Plains Jamboree
For the record, and recorded in greater detail elsewhere, the six ticketed shows seen began on Friday evening with Merle Haggard's Strangers and Ashley Campbell just edging out The Shires. Marlon Williams played the only late night paid show of the weekend and this was not to be missed. The two afternoon show pairings of Angaleena Presley and Danni Nicholls on Saturday plus Jo Harman and LisaMills on Sunday both beat off the competition from further free stuff. Where tempting choices were available, Jim Lauderdale and Sam Outlaw won over William Bell on genre preference, while the power of Chuck Prophet was never going to be really challenged by the grace of Beth Nielsen Chapman as the festival closer.

However, there was one impromptu event that proved the pick of the free presentation. It was hastily announced and posted around the Sage that on Saturday evening Jim Lauderdale would host a songwriters in the round show in Hall 2 after his show. Therefore, plenty of dedicated diehards queued up to see Jim joined by Chuck Prophet, Ashley Campbell and Amyhtyst Kiah each perform a quartet of acoustic songs that took us well into Sunday morning. Following a general theme of relationships, each songwriter took the topic in a different direction especially Amythyst with some deep rooted offerings and Chuck, as you would expect, heading deep into left field.

As the dust settled on a successful first trip to SummerTyne, thoughts turned to maybe another visit in the future. The festival appears fairly established with its ten plus years existence, but no doubt will always have to fight its corner from a funding point of view, especially with little sign of heavy corporate backing. It doesn’t take too much digging to understand what the event means to the dedicated Americana community of the North East and from a distance, it is essential that it be preserved. 

Just returning to the opening question, and perhaps a personal emphasis on the six gigs did make this festival a little different. Maybe like the term ‘Americana’, a festival can take whatever form you want it to be. The proof is in the enjoyment of the event and SummerTyne delivered wholeheartedly on that front. 

Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express + Curse of Lono - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Sunday 23rd July 2017

2017 is turning out to be just as big a year for Chuck Prophet as 2016 was a bad one for rock ‘n’ roll. Putting corny associations aside for a moment, Chuck is currently finding renewed love in the UK for his music and in return, he has gifted his fans an excellent album in BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR YOUR SINS. This Sunday evening headline set in Sage 2 at SummerTyne exploded into a rock ‘n’ roll fantasia with the full Mission Express band firing on all cylinders. This was the band’s opening night of a second run of UK dates this year. It eventually rolled out as a two-hour performance, which ran very close to their gig of the year candidate in Nottingham at the back end of the winter.

Opening with the title track from the latest album, the band quickly seamlessly wove the new material into the set. Songs like ‘Bad Year for Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘Jesus was a Social Drinker’, and ‘We Got Up and Played’ are fast becoming stage favourites and that is a credit to Chuck with his pretty awesome back catalogue. A full Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express show is an intoxicating experience especially when the lead protagonist is in imperious form. ‘Temple Beautiful’, ‘You Did’ and the closing pre-encore anthem ‘Willie Mays is Up At Bat’ quite rightly form the pinnacle of the show from many perspectives, yet this wouldn’t be possible without Chuck’s trusted team of players – now the longest stable Mission Express line up.

Led by bandleader Stephanie Finch on keys plus much more, the extended trio of James DePrato (lead guitar), Kevin White (bass) and Vicente Rodriguez (drums) each played an highly charged role to fuel the adrenalin. The whole band feel probably peaked on the never ending ‘Summertime Thing’, while Stephanie eased into a duet role for ‘In the Mausoleum’ from the new album and a cover of ‘Amanda Ruth’ from Austin country punk band Rank and File.

There are times when you feel the term ‘Americana’ was designed with Chuck Prophet in mind. Basically, just an old punk sliding into alt-country rock, with a fascinating articulate view on the world, mirrored in his writing. Barely twenty-four hours earlier, and literally straight off the plane, Chuck had participated in a songwriter’s session. The highlight from his four track selection for that show was translated into the full band format a day later with ‘The Left Hand and the Right Hand’ still being preluded by the story of two infamous and notorious San Francisco brothers.

It was clear Chuck did not want this show to end and was only prevented from joining the audience by the lack of steps from the raised stage. He was clearly in the mood for more impromptu stuff and subsided to calls for a cover of ‘Shake Some Action’ by the Flaming Groovies. This eventually closed the show, but not before one final story of a wide eyed fifteen year old falling in love with his life’s destination at a gig by the aforementioned band.

The opening act for this Sage 2 finale at the SummerTyne Americana Festival, and also on Chuck’s other dates, was UK band Curse of Lono. This five piece outfit are beginning to make prominent inroads with their style of darkened alt-rock music, illuminated by some fine harmony vocal parts and a soundtrack that excites in its diversity. They represent the good side of Americana elasticity and some stage reference to college rock also helped define their presence. A connotation of The Doors meet Dawes sprang to mind during their forty-minute set, which peaked with ‘Don’t Look Down’, a song chosen for inclusion on the US TV series Kingdom. Bandleader Felix Bechtolsheimer gleefully shared that the cheque had cleared before launching into this final number.

Like so much of this year’s SummerTyne Festival, the pairing here was spot on. Probably to a similar extent of the Beth Nielsen Chapman and Callaghan gig that went head to head with this in the Sage 1 finale. The choice was stark in style and Chuck Prophet ensured those who wanted their festival to end in a frenzied haze had their desires fulfilled. 

Jo Harman + Lisa Mills - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Sunday 223rd July 2017

While the general SummerTyne main evening choice is between two ticketed shows, the afternoon offering pits a paid event in Sage 2 against the free outdoors and concourse stages. This year the festival organisers decided to wholly make these afternoon events the domain of the female artist with a double bill of Jo Harman and Lisa Mills following up a previous day scheduling of Angaleena Presley and Danni Nicholls. Whereas the Saturday show leaned heavily in a country direction, the corresponding Sunday event brought a slice of the blues with two powerhouse vocalists.

It is always a welcoming touch when artists are matched with a plethora of contrasts and comparisons that make the art of complementation work well. Both Lisa Mills and Jo Harman draw on the magnitude of their vocal strength to form their work. For this twin show, Jo was afforded the slightly longer set, but both performances gave fascinating insights in how the voice can be utilised so well.

Ultimately, it is probably the duality of their styles and backgrounds, which formed the lasting memory of the show. First up are their national roots, with Lisa being a proud southern girl who was raised in Mississippi and now lives in Mobile Alabama. Although you generally find her touring the UK during the summer months, probably a wise climatic choice. Lisa played her music solo with just the simple help of a single guitar, while mining deep into the barrels of her soul to extract earthy vocal ammunition. There was an incredible amount of warmth and humility in her stage presence alongside a desire to connect with the audience. The background stories to the origin of her material were often heartfelt, whether sourcing material close to her family or borrowing the work of the greats such as Etta James.

Jo Harman hails from southern England and came across as a more refined vocalist. For this show, she was appearing in a trio format. We did learn that this was a rare stripped down outfit and one that the band were still trying to adjust to. Grand piano and gentle electric guitar were the chosen instrumental accompaniments to Jo’s voice, which possessed all the hallmarks of a trained attribute benefitting from as much nurture as nature. It was compelling to watch such an accomplished vocalist effortlessly work the mic. The musical is equally at home in a late night blues setting as well as a semi-jazz or theatre environment. 

Whereas Lisa did race out the blocks with instant appeal, Jo appeared to tread more carefully in her set. It could be construed as a slow burner, which really ignited in the stunning finale. ‘When We Were Young’ and ‘Sweet Man Moses’ were the responsible numbers for the afternoon ending on a serious high. The latter saw Jo infect her voice with acres of heartfelt sentiment and blast off any covers of pretence. This was the vision of Jo Harman to take home with and preserve for future acquaintance.

If the widely defined genre of Americana music needed further proof of an acceptable eclectic existence, then Lisa Mills and Jo Harman provided that. Maybe Lisa’s style is probably an overall better fit for the genre, but Jo too played her part in the success of this presentation.

Sam Outlaw Band + Jim Lauderdale - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Saturday 22nd July 2017

The match up on Saturday night of SummerTyne was predominately classic soul versus classic country. While Stax legend William Bell rolled back the years with a reported stunning show in the larger hall of Sage 1, the main alternative paired the old and the new in Jim Lauderdale and Sam Outlaw. The contrasts didn’t end at the positions on the career longevity ladder as Jim opted for the solo performance while Sam went down the band route. This probably led to the latter grabbing the headline slot in what was essentially a double bill. Offered a similar amount of time, both artists gave a snapshot performance of where their careers currently stand with many positives being extracted from each hour of music.

Jim Lauderdale is going through an Anglicised phase in his career. Not only is there a big clue in the title of the new album LONDON SOUTHERN, but the record was also made over here with significant help from Nick Lowe’s band. A fleeting visit earlier in the New Year saw him pop up on the Transatlantic Sessions line up and now a more extensive summer run of solo dates is further cementing an Americana music legend in the hearts of a UK audience. 'Statesman' accurately sums up the persona of Jim Lauderdale alongside a willingness to adopt the role of student/teacher when it comes to American roots music.

On one hand, you feel that Jim never stops learning and evolving. However, there is also the side to him that willingly imparts his enormous experience and knowledge on the upcoming generation. During this affable hour in the company of Jim Lauderdale, we learned of his inspiration from George Jones/Gram Parsons, perfectly summed up in the song ‘King of Broken Hearts’. Further namedropping included his work with Elvis Costello via the song ‘I Lost You’, his bluegrass appreciation via a nod to Ralph Stanley and the co-write with Buddy Miller, which led to ‘Hole in My Head’ finding fame when cut by the Dixie Chicks on their second album.

In a totally accomplished set, which both included the audience and held their devout attention for its entirety, a popular version of ‘Headed for the Hills’, co-written with the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter, proved the standout moment. At the conclusion of his set, it was appropriate for Jim to hand over the baton to the next generation, although there was one little surprise left later in the evening.

Before Sage 2 was cleared for an impromptu Songwriters in the Round session led by Jim Lauderdale, there was the little matter of Sam Outlaw rocking it out in full band glory. This rolled out to be an intriguing hour of straight up high octane country music helping to put some more meat on the style of an artist growing in popularity.

Sam Outlaw has forged an impressive path in independent country music over the last couple of years. Debut album ANGELENO exploded out of the blocks at the start of last year and hung around for inclusion on the end of year lists. The latest release TENDERHEART has taken a little more time to eventually reach the vicinity of its sister record, give or take a couple of outstanding tracks making an instant impression. On the live front, Sam’s initial appearance over here with Danny Garcia on accompanying guitar proved an eye catching experience. A couple of further UK tours followed with Sam expanding his show to a band format especially required for summer festival shows. 

The enhanced 2017 touring set up saw Molly Jenson play on all shows and a pedal steel guitarist added. Despite a muffled start to the set, the loud sound did settle down and it was pleasing to see this Sam Outlaw band performance move significantly in the right direction. A wise decision to just crack on with the music led to a populous offering of songs from both albums. It’s still the ones from ANGELENO which hold the biggest sway with set highlights being ‘Trouble’, ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Country Love Song’. The latter was inevitably sung as a duet with Molly, as the band took a brief breather. Also joining the band for this tour is up and coming Nashville based country singer-songwriter Michaela Anne and a sample of her work (‘Luisa’) was handed over to Sam and the others to work wonders with. She is also playing a short opening set on a majority of dates on this extensive summer tour, alas there was no fitting into the tight SummerTyne schedule.

A final thought on this show had to end with the outstanding piece ‘All of My Life’, which still reigns supreme at the top of the personal favourite songs of the year list at the midway point. The full band live version was top notch and topped a performance that sent out a signal that Sam Outlaw remains an important artist in preserving a style of country music often under attack in corporate circles. 

Angaleena Presley + Danni Nicholls - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Saturday 22nd July 2017

Sometimes you just have to wait patiently for that moment when an artist puts all their attributes on the table and the full potential explodes. This show was scheduled for the Saturday afternoon of Gateshead’s very own Summertyne Americana festival and the occasion which proved third time time lucky seeing Angaleena Presley really flourish. While a debut solo performance in another city a couple of years ago revealed an artist feeling her way and a subsequent support slot that didn’t really play to the appropriate gallery, this show was absolutely right on the mark. No band was required, just an exceptional singer-songwriter at ease with their wares, a brave wit and a bucketful of songs saturated in the simple sentiment of country music.

It may have helped that unlike on a previous occasion, she was largely preaching to a converted congregation. Tuning into Angaleena’s wavelength was entirely accessible as she set about proving that song-writing riches are aplenty far from the confines of Music Row. This is an artist who personifies the country cliché ‘three chords and the truth’ in her songs, to the extent of including the line in ‘Dreams Don’t Come True’. Angaleena also positions herself at the heart of a virtual movement to realign the gender balance in how mainstream country music operates. So to replace the rap segment of the controversial ‘Country’ with a snippet of ‘9 to 5’ proved ingenious.

Like so many live performances witnessed, the stand out moments come from an alternative source than that previously enjoyed on record. On Angaleena’s debut album, ‘Dry County Blues’ just eclipsed ‘Grocery Store’, but it was role reversal here. This was even though the former was the second song of the show to embed a classic, with on this occasion ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up into Cowboys’ getting the segmented treatment. The two other songs, which had their live status elevated, were the sensational ‘Outlaw’, complete with its infatuating chorus line, and a glorious oldie from the Pistol Annies days ‘Lemon Drop’. Throw in the fabulously cutting ‘Bless Your Heart’ and the crowned element of Angaleena’s set list sparkled in this artificially darkened afternoon setting of Sage 2.

In another example of astute festival matching, one of Britain’s leading song writing talents leaning in an Americana direction – Danni Nicholls, was scheduled to open for Angaleena. Fresh from a similar supreme solo performance earlier in the month at the Maverick Festival, Danni sumptuously delivered a range of her songs from two albums, which are now firmly entrenched as extensively praised efforts. Stage timings obviously curtailed Danni giving the full background to songs such as ‘A Little Redemption’, but an appreciative audience got the abbreviated drift. This commanding performance ensured invited audience contribution to ‘Where the Blue Train Goes’ and ‘Back to Memphis’ was heeded, while ‘Beautifully Broken’ will always be up there among the highlights of any Danni Nicholls set. One footnote was Danni appearing to still find a feel for the new song ‘Ancient Embers’. This tune sounded great when first unveiled in Birmingham, further confirmed at Maverick and now sealed at SummerTyne. If fan reaction has any pull, it should be here to stay.

With Danni’s gorgeous songs still reverberating around the hall during the break, it didn’t take long for Angaleena to pick up the mantle and smash the ceiling with her subsequent display of country music in its purest state. Family; growing up in Beauty Kentucky; more family and adopting a full frontal attack on Nashville were all key features of this assured and perfectly controlled Angaleena Presley performance. A perfect sound pitch added to the enjoyment of a show where the artist latched onto an ideal balance of humour, anger and downright sentiment with the result a far-reaching success.

Marlon Williams - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Late Night Lounge, Gateshead. Friday 21st July 2017

The name Marlon Williams may not be well known in the UK at the moment, but that has huge potential to change after witnessing his awesome set in the designated late night lounge on the opening day of this year’s SummerTyne Americana Festival. It was quite a coup to enlist the services of a New Zealand singer-songwriter en route to continuing his increasing growth in the US. Listening to his material online following the initial booking plus viewing an impressive KEXP radio showcase on You Tube, only probably prepared you for 10% of Marlon’s ultimate appeal.

The vocal prowess of this South Island resident from the Land of the Long White Cloud at times soared in jaw dropping proportions as he used every second of the allotted hour to primarily paint the landscape with a heavy dose of noir. This was an artist adept at coaxing the listener into a semi-conscious state, oblivious to the surroundings while totally immersed in the depth of the music. The songs spawned mainly from Marlon’s guitar, splintered by a couple served from the piano including the introduced new piece ‘Beautiful Dress’. It was also from this position that the line of the night was delivered in ‘like a snowman in the spring’; protruding starkly from the song, ‘Love is a Terrible Thing’.

As Marlon’s set weaved along, the song content wandered through infanticide territory (‘The Ballad of Minnie Dean’), expressing the thoughts of a river in his native New Zealand (‘Arahura’) and the self-explanatory ‘Dark Child’. Even his covers came from contrasting and interesting pools with a version of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’ getting a glowing introduction and Jim Reeves’ ‘He’ll Have to Go’ just being being tagged with the comment ‘well it is an Americana festival’.

It would surely be a universal call to single out the powerful and upbeat closer ‘Hello Miss Lonesome’ as the superb standout moment. This prominently opens Marlon’s latest self-titled album, with its final two songs, ‘When I Was a Young’ and more specifically ‘Everyone’s Got Something to Say’, also reverberating profoundly around a totally absorbed room.

With Americana music being more frequently defined as a ‘state of mind’ rather than the ‘mind of a state’, this highly tuned evocative performer is well equipped with the depth of sound, gut wrenching yet articulate approach to song writing and a persona to invoke the spirit of a pre-determined mood. Marlon Williams may be more Southern Hemisphere than Southern USA, but the dark gothic tinge that flavours so much of the exploratory roots music of the area permeated this highly addictive performance.