Sunday, 2 June 2013

Palmfest - The Palmeira, Brighton Saturday 1st June 2013

One of the aims of the newly formed Americana Music Association UK body is to provide a nationwide focal point for the different participants in the industry. On the evidence of the performing artists on display at the second annual Palmfest in Brighton, there is no shortage of fine talent plying their trade on the circuit thus giving enormous credibility to this country’s ability to compare favourably with the high quality touring acts.

This single day feast of Americana music is the fruition of the passion, endeavour and investment from the team at Brighthelmstone Promotions and they certainly delivered a slick continual stream of bands and solo performers that each put their own stamp on the varied styles of the genre. From the lone guitar of local singer-songwriter Tandy Hard opening the outside acoustic stage to the raucous roots rock of Danny and the Champs supplying a barnstorming finale some twelve hours later, a further twelve artists gave an exemplary performance of song writing, musicianship and that essential trait of giving everybody present a damn good time.

Before a more in depth analysis of the artists present, this long trip to the south coast also took in a couple of other music related activities a day earlier. No visit to the East Sussex area for a country, roots and Americana fan would be complete without taking in the delightful Union Music Store in Lewes. This little oasis is part of the wider music related activities of Stevie and Jamie Freeman and even on a quiet Friday with no in-store performance there is a lovely ambience amongst the instruments, memorabilia and almost personalised music collection. One of the couple’s other music related activities is to produce and manage local bands and one such act was witnessed later that evening in The Brunswick Pub back in  Brighton. The Self Help Group delivered an exhibition of spine-tingling three-part harmonies in their performance that straddled folk and Americana in a west coast laid back style. While their songs had quirky origins there was nothing peculiar about the innate talent on display to deliver a sound that melted your senses in an appetising way.

House of Hats
Back to Palmfest and while the sound was generally a little more amplified than the previous evening, there were still some gorgeous harmonies on show starting with House of Hats who was first up on the main stage situated in the Palmeira pub which was completely hired out for the day. This popular local band was on maybe a little bit too early for most of those attending but they nevertheless gave an accomplished performance and set a high standard for the subsequent acts to follow. With each performance alternating in sync between the indoor and outdoor stages, the next artist playing in the June sunshine was an exceptional young local talent going by the name of Stevie Ray Latham. His 25 minute set of folk/blues material revealed a maturity far exceeding his young years with a vocal style that embedded perfectly into this style of music. The songs were no three minute throwaways and his album due out on the promoter’s own label is one to look out for.

A further three acts played the outside stage which concluded just as the warm sunshine began to subside. Jack Day was another young singer songwriter proving he is the real deal with a sound reminiscent of the acclaimed Texan Ryan Bingham. Lucky Jim performed as a duo with as good as musicianship as was seen all day with some fine guitar pickin’ and soothing cello. Robert Vincent made the long journey south from the North West to headline the acoustic stage, although he has a long connection with the Brighton area. In the last twelve months the stock of this singer songwriter has risen considerably with a highly rated album and an invite to play on the peripheral of the Country 2 Country Festival at the O2 Arena.  The class, style and confidence were self evident in Robert’s set.

Back indoors, a trio of bands with differing styles entertained the growing numbers that turned up during the afternoon. From London, Mad Staring Eyes impressed with an interesting combination of flute, pedal steel and acoustic guitar. Like so many artists appearing here, they are also lined up to play at the upcoming Maverick Festival and are an outfit well worth exploring further. The Caves ramped up the volume with their high octane version of roots rock which would ultimately set the tone for an up-tempo evening. Society was probably the band that raised their profile most to me on the day with their pleasing brand of classic country rock that would definitely hold up against fellow stateside practitioners. Exploring this band further is a must.

To launch the evening segment which effectively merged into the afternoon one, Small Town Jones, a band very dear to the promotion gave a fine performance to lay the ground for the headline quartet to ignite the atmosphere now swelled by sizeable numbers. Redlands Palomino Company are a band that I have followed on and off for half a dozen years seeing them live at many locations around the country. Backed by bass, drums and luscious pedal steel, husband and wife duo Alex and Hannah Elton-Wall, once again interchanged vocals, humour and general mischievousness to deliver a stunning rendition on how alt-country should be played. Hopefully their continued association with Clubhouse Records will lead to more recorded material.

Dreaming Spires
The Dreaming Spires were introduced as ‘everyone’s favourite new band’ and true to the form established  in their brief but flourishing career as a separate band, the Bennett Brothers Joe and Robin gave a scintillating performance of Americana fused guitar rock n’ roll. They sampled a few new songs with some popular tunes from their debut album which will hopefully be followed up in due course. In a day admiringly almost devoid of cover numbers, you have to grant the Spires permission to sample Parsons’  ‘Sin City’ in their song of a similar name.  

The Bennett’s were to later return to their roots as honorary Champs, but not before veteran roots rocker Peter Bruntnell stormed the festival with an hour long set to raise the intensity and appreciation level. This stalwart of the UK alt country scene has an impending release titled ‘Retrospective’ about to be issued by Loose Records and was another artist intrinsically linked to the promoter and their varying operations. No sooner had Peter left the active audience breathless with an exhilarating performance then the stage was quickly prepared for Danny George Wilson to shed his solo tag for the evening and introduce the horns, drums, bass, pedal steel, electric, acoustic and keys of Palmfest’s ensemble of the Champions of the World. The barnstorming performance by this much sought after collaboration was the perfect way to end a lengthy but ultimately rewarding day.

The success of this high quality assembly of some of the UK’s finest alt country, Americana and roots rock talent was unquestionable from an audience perspective and hopefully a viable one for those involved with its staging. You never know, the growth of the AMA UK may eventually lead to this type of day being more nationally available in the future and not just the domain of the southern portion of our country. 

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