A record number of gigs were attended in 2013, although even this fell short of the totals accumulated by some hard core music enthusiasts that I met during the year. As part of the annual reflection process, here are the top ten that for some reason or another hit the mark.
1. My Darling Clementine – Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham Wednesday 2nd October
Having successfully followed up their debut album, Lou and Michael took the My Darling Clementine project to even greater heights with a sublime live demonstration of how to keep traditional country music relevant in the 21st Century. This slick and awe-inspiring show perfectly succeeded in capturing the moment leaving a sweet memory of how an excellent recording can be brought to life in dance halls around the country.
2. Caroline Herring – The Hive, Shrewsbury Friday 1st March
Amongst a wealth of great singer-songwriter exponents caught live during the year, it was the heartfelt sincerity, engaging anecdotes and beautifully crafted songs of Caroline Herring that appealed most when leaving an endearing indelible mark. The intimate setting of a packed Hive created the ideal environment for the southern folklore tales of Mississippi-born and bred Caroline to leave their homeland and enrich the minds of those present on this treasured evening.
3. Gretchen Peters – Artrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove Monday 1st July
In a post Glastonbury haze, Gretchen brought the UK curtain down on Hello Cruel World with quite easily the best performance witnessed from her many Anglo shows. The settled combo support of Barry and Christine, not forgetting the memorable duet with Ben, has allowed Gretchen’s talents to lavishly flourish and the ease of this performance felt so comfortable in the surroundings of this neat and tidy Midlands venue.
4. Billy Bragg – Birmingham Symphony Hall Sunday 24th November
‘Americana is country music for those people who like The Smiths’ quipped Bragg who despite his onstage protestations made a significant step westwards with his album and stage show this year. The perfection of this evening was embodied in how he combined the explicit nature of this direction without losing any of the vigour and passion that defines his music, political and passionate ideals.
5. Carrie Rodriguez – Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury Sunday 25th August
The talent oozing from Carrie during this performance had the sold out crowd in this vintage venue totally absorbed into the sounds of west of the Mississippi. With Luke playing a stellar supporting role and an impromptu encore jam with Mark Erelli and Barnstar, the magical moments of her fabulous fiddle playing, gracious vocals and inventive songs found a perfect home for the evening.
6. The Band Perry – Institute, Birmingham Friday 29th November
With unabated choreographed brashness, the valued torchbearers of New Country showed the way of inter-generational connection and the uncanny knack of capturing the enthusiasm of a hungry fan base which may need just a little steering. The high ranking of this evening has set a benchmark of what is expected from The Band Perry and set out the standards required for their important future role.
7. April Verch Band – Cookley Village Hall, Worcestershire Sunday 13th October
When taking roots music back to its core, is there a need for anything plugged in? April took her brand of music straight into the heart of a community in a far off land requiring only her fiddle, classical vocals, infectious songs, exhilarating step dancing and two talented sidekicks. This evening was a trip to a bygone age and as pure as you could wish. Surely the observant Robert Plant sitting in the back row appreciated the authenticity which totally defined this show.
8. Stacie Collins – The Musician, Leicester Saturday 25th May
In what is now becoming an annual East Midlands show, Stacie exceeded the high standards of her previous appearances with an electrifying display of raucous, roadhouse, country rock and blues. It’s loud, explicit and enthralling but Stacie never loses that Music City trait of adding a little tradition and sophistication as well as pushing boundaries without abandoning respect.
9. Dale Watson – The Bullingdon, Oxford Friday 1st February
The memory of a double bass totally disintegrating with strings pinging everywhere highlights the enthusiasm and passion which Dale and his Lone Stars gave to this show. Never short on opinion on the direction the genre is developing, Dale knows his position, is not going to budge and his adoring fans love him for that. This first opportunity to catch him live was a delight to behold.
10. Lucinda Williams – Birmingham Town Hall Wednesday 26th June
In a year of redemption, a late decision to give Lucinda a second chance after a lukewarm show a couple of years ago was possibly the most rewarding of the year. From start to finish she alleviated previous prejudices and re-established her position as one of the most highly rated artists in the Americana genre with a fabulous live performance now in the memory bank.