Sunday, 25 March 2018

GIG REVIEW: Ags Connolly @ Wolverhampton Country Songwriter's Night. Saturday 24th March 2018

Opportunities to see Ags Connolly in the West Midlands have been thin on the ground in the past. Therefore, a quick last minute notification of an appearance on the Wolverhampton Country Songwriter’s Night needed little invitation once a window appeared. The slot may have been just over half an hour in a four-way presentation, but this brief acquaintance at least reaffirmed the unique style that he successfully cultivates.

In a climate where country music evolution frequently takes a turn for the worse, Ags adopts a naturally organic steadfast stance pertaining to a style endemic to the roots of the genre. Discovering similar performers of his ilk in terms of vocal, sincerity and song writing approach has often proved a futile task. Frequently, Ags has found soulmate collaboration in touring American artists, usually those of an Ameripolitan persuasion. For the uninitiated, this is a phrase coined by Dale Watson in response to traditional country and honky tonk performers facing alienation on the mainstream wing of the genre.

For me the term ‘traditional’ gets increasingly uncomfortable, suggesting an ‘ill-informed’ Luddite existence. This is particularly pertinent to a writer of original material that brims with respect, and succeeds in succumbing to some of life’s most primal feelings in a style immersed into the mood of the song. Ags has successfully achieved this across his two major studio albums to date, with positive indication that it will continue in the future. This last point was re-enforced by a new song shared in tonight’s set titled ‘Lonely Night in Austin’. Many advocates of ‘new country’ argue that UK audiences fail to connect with augmented American references, but that is part of the romanticised appeal of the genre in its purist form for those seeking a virtual escape from the rituals of suburbia.

This brief exposure to an artist with a finger on the pulse of these ideals lived up to expectation. With the modest investment of the evening firmly in the credit column, it was interesting to assess what else was on offer from this well attended monthly event. Opening the evening was a family trio from North Wales parading under the ironic name Blue Genes. Of the remaining acts, they came across as closer to my taste possessing an organic sound awash with pristine harmonies and selective bouts of vocal impressiveness. A foray into the Welsh language also met with approval in an indicative statement of country’s natural alignment with folk.

Midlands based duo, Gasoline & Matches sandwiched Ags and Blue Genes in the running order and are intrinsically entrenched in the modern stream of the genre, currently experiencing an upsurge in interest across the nation. Another local act in the Emma Swindells Band adopts the role of resident artist and is scheduled to close most of these monthly gatherings. Both acts accrued a positive reaction from the audience, but would need major readjustments to resonate further with my musical ideals.

Ags Connolly meets these head on and continues to spearhead a fulfilling lonesome trail, which is at least spiritually rich in kinfolk. Long may this connection remain, with perhaps room still for one or two likeminded artists to give him a competitive run on the UK scene.

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