Thursday, 25 July 2019

FESTIVAL REVIEW: SummerTyne Americana - Sage, Gateshead. Friday 20th July to Sunday 22nd July 2019

SummerTyne, the Americana jewel of the north east, popular with locals and those of us travelling from further afield. The festival where artists still don’t heed the warning not to say ‘it’s so good to be in Newcastle’, and thus face the wrath of local bi-partisanship. The event that flies the flag for music needing a little push to be heard and where the not so well-known massively outnumber the famous. Come rain or shine, it is a festival that rarely fails to unearth new talent and leave those attending it in some capacity refreshed and satisfied. Like so many festivals, choices need to be made on which acts to catch, with the best policy of leaving any regrets at the door once decided. As a fan you have to place faith in the organisers, who no doubt have a major balancing job to do regards availability and budget, and embrace the schedule as an opportunity to widen your appreciation of good music. 2019 saw SummerTyne cast a little debate in the air with their top billing, yet the strength of any festival lies within its substance and base. On this score, the event succeeded in this its 14th staging on the banks of the Gateshead side of the Tyne, matching up well to when last attending it two years ago.

Before an in-depth look at over twenty artists making the weekend a successful venture north from the Midlands, a quick mention of three pros and a solitary con to the overall feel of visiting the Sage this year. Firstly, the immaculate and seamless scheduling of music on the outdoor Jumpin’ Hot Club and indoor concourse stages was a sheer delight for anyone on a mission to maximise stretches of the festival’s offerings. This is the free part of SummerTyne and full commendation for all involved in this mass logistical exercise. This enabled many artists to be seen back to back on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. 

Rachel Harrington & Massy Ferguson 
Secondly, the sound in the concourse was a vast improvement on what was recalled two years ago. The litmus test was watching Massy Ferguson twice play this location on both visits and coming across so much better in the sound department this time.

Finally, while the Sunday River Cruise was not a new development, attending it for the first time was one of the highlights of the weekend. Once departure from the Quayside was underway, top music filled the air from Massy Ferguson and Rachel Harrington for a near continuous two and a half hours. They each played a pair of well-channelled and adapted sets in a richly invigorating environment. Listening to some seriously good Americana music while cruising from Newcastle to Tynemouth is probably the nearest I’ll ever get to Cayamo, but hey, who needs the Caribbean when you’ve got the River Tyne. 

In contrast, the one downside to the weekend was a fair few fans left music-less on Saturday evening after the Cowboy Junkies finished their show at 8:30. There were a couple of short sets from Hayley McKay on the concourse stage before Hollie Rogers came on at 11:30 to play an hour long slot as Sage 1 was emptying. This though left things a little flat for those making the festival their sole focus of the weekend. Maybe the Cowboy Junkies finishing relatively early created this enforced gap, but a couple of other sets could have filled the void.

For the second successive visit to SummerTyne, the decision was made to catch the three evening headline ticketed shows in the lower capacity Sage 2. This meant The Long Ryders won the retro clash on Friday over the sold out kd Lang show, mainly on the basis of preferring their style of music especially how it has inspired so much guitar fuelled alt-country and Americana music that followed in its wake. The populist tendencies attached to the Strictly Country (a few eyebrows raised at that title) presentation on Saturday was never going to compete with An Evening with the Cowboy Junkies , despite never really being deeply into this band in their heyday. However, you need to respect and embrace class when it’s placed in front of you. Similarly, Kiefer Sutherland’s diversion from acting into live music is not met with much enthusiasm here, and thus fell a distant second to catching Marlon Williams’ return to SummerTyne, this time headlining Sage 2 on Sunday with a full band. 

Cowboy Junkies
So what was the overall verdict of the three headliners who somewhat chose themselves against limited opposition? Sid Griffin and his Long Ryders played their hearts out as it was LA 1985 all over again. A vibrancy reverberated around the hall and all was well with the world for an hour and half. This was the same length of time that the ‘An Evening with the Cowboy Junkies’ extended to on Saturday. The effect of witnessing this set from the lofty reaches of Level 3 could be roughly split into three equal thirds. The first half hour mainly sharing songs from their new album , the familiar ALL THAT RECKONING, created a soothing scene setting ambience, which unfortunately led into a middle section where the prolonged intensity created a listening challenge. The switch to acoustic on the hour mark acted as the perfect personal energiser to make the last half hour a triumphant experience. If a mission of festivals is to broaden music with bands on the periphery of your horizon, Friday and Saturday was job done. 

Marlon Williams is an artist who creates and leaves a distinct impression. Those hooking into this idiosyncratic New Zealander are now starting to get a satiated fix. Since playing a late night solo set at SummerTyne in 2017, he has graced the main stage at Cambridge Folk Festival and now a return to Gateshead with a full band in tow. The one abiding memory of this show was a stunning finale posing the thought what it would be like if Marlon Williams permanently ditched the guitar such was the power, guile and mesmeric movement to his vocal performance. Maybe the wow factor from this as a short sharp stint provides the answer. 

Two of these headline shows had support acts, the odd one out obviously ‘An Evening with…’ English singer-songwriter Hollie Rogers opened for The Long Ryders and prompted discussion among the chattering groups afterwards. Her potential, vocal capabilities and song craft met with unanimous approval , along with perhaps a need to develop a grittier edge to win over those deeply immersed in the Americana spirit, such as her audience in Sage 2 this evening. 

Ida Mae
On the other hand, young English country blues duo Ida Mae have really sharpened their tools since re-locating to America in the last year. The two-piece operation consisting of Chris Turpin on mainly resonator and a century-old guitar and Steph Ward on tambourine and vocals, seemingly have the world at their feet. A rustic rawness to a sweet ’n’ sour sound has seen them make a record with Ethan Johns, link up with the influential American distribution organisation Thirty Tigers and just announcing on the evening that they are about to go on the road opening for Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss. Heady days for this young couple originally from Norfolk, who also happened to give a fascinating and impressively impassioned performance in their 45 minute opening slot for Marlon Williams.

With the ticketed shows attended out of the way (the afternoon and late night ones were given a miss this year to explore the other stages more), focus switches to best of the rest, although many would argue that Bennett Wilson Poole was the best of the lot. Headlining the outdoor Jumpin’ Hot Club stage on Sunday teatime was the perfect slot for this trio to show a mixed audience of fervent and casual observers why so many have shouted from the rafters about them since their formation a couple of years ago. Great tunes from a classic album, a new topical song and a rousing encore finale of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ suggest that the tank is far from empty. 

Bennett Wilson Poole
Maybe the ‘best of the rest’ at SummerTyne should exclude Bennett Wilson Poole, but there was still plenty to enjoy amongst the free presentation, an integral part of the organisers reaching out into the local community. The Jumpin’ Hot Club stage, set at the foot of what is named locally as ‘Shipcote Hill’, is an active zone for the three afternoons of the festival. Friday tends to be local artists with the occasional touring one popping up over the weekend. The highlight of admittedly only casually observing things upon arrival on Friday was a set by Nottingham based outfit Most Ugly Child at 4 o’clock. They crossed my path a couple of years ago via an album review and followed this up with an appearance at Maverick. Their SummerTyne performance this year didn’t disappoint as they sailed through a decent set of country inspired tunes, influenced by the greats and delivered in the staple male-female lead duet format. 
Saturday saw six more acts frequent the Jumpin’ Hot Club stage highlighted by two acts seen before in previous events across a vast divide from Perth in Scotland to Easton in Suffolk. Midlands based transatlantic duo A Different Thread opened the proceedings at noon and progressed to impress an increasing number of folks with their roots-infused take on the folk side of Americana. Following a short break where we could switch to the concourse to enjoy a seamless array of music, Daniel Meade took to the stage to play some songs with his lead guitar playing buddy Lloyd Reid. Daniel is in the middle of a rather busy year recording-wise with a live album already out and a new studio effort due for release in October. The duo were very much in acoustic mode for their set sharing a good mix of new songs and old favourites, while keeping a toe in the Americana scene during this interim period.
Fargo Railroad Company
A quick dash from the Quayside on Sunday afternoon following the aforementioned river cruise saw an arrival just as Fargo Railroad Company took to the stage. They were another band previously seen at Maverick and their style of southern rock influenced country was a welcome addition to a SummerTyne melting pot calling at every point of the wide Americana spectrum you could imagine, from country pop to dark murder ballads and full-on rock to intrinsic bluegrass. Fargo did their job splendidly, rousing an outdoor crowd enjoying the best weather of the weekend i.e. rain-free. 
Sandwiching Fargo and outdoor headliners Bennet Wilson Poole was Austin-based Georgia-native Barbara Nesbit, currently on tour with a guitarist and pedal steel player. To repeat a recurring theme, she first came to my attention when playing the Maverick Festival a couple of years ago. On that occasion she played solo, so the addition of pedal steel was an upgrade, one which added to the diversity of SummerTyne and delivered a performance very much in the Kelly Willis mould. A fellow Austin artist who has previously graced the banks of the Tyne.
Broken Bones Matilda
Away from the highlights of the Jumpin’ Hot Club stage, much was enjoyed on the neighbouring concourse location. This was the weather proof side of SummerTyne and a performing space that extends from a full afternoon schedule to some early evening performances leading into a couple of late night slots as the headline shows in Sage 1 & 2 finish. Friday teatime saw pedal steel and keyboard led blues instrumentalist Roosevelt Collier kick things off before a couple of home grown acts played late night sets. These included Darren Hodson from Southern Companion playing solo followed by Broken Bones Matilda appearing in their duo format. It was intriguing seeing the latter in this stripped down mode following catching them play Maverick a couple of weeks earlier in a five-piece set up. The sparse nature of this format was ripe for absorbing the sunken grooves that emanate from their sound, and mesmeric interpretations of ‘Dead Flowers’ and ‘In the Pines’ complete with serene movement and collaboration made for compelling viewing.
Saturday on the concourse housed more fine performances. London-based international bluegrass trio Lunch Special were the find of the day after missing their set at the recent Maverick Festival. A beautiful combination of traditional, lesser known and contemporary Appalachian tunes flowed from the stringed wands of these three players, marking them out not only as a festival success but a future torch bearer for this type of music on the UK acoustic roots scene. In contrast to Lunch Special, Jonas and Jane had been seen live before when opening for Sarah Jane Scouten in London earlier this year. Once again a light touch yet perfectly delicately formed folk Americana sound seeps out of their music in a pulse of blissful serenity. A set that didn’t challenge the sometimes tough acoustics of this cavernous performing location when multiple instruments are plugged in.
On the other hand, the full pronged highly charged alt-country Americana rock of Massy Ferguson does stretch proceedings in the sound department, but unlike two years ago their set was spot on with Ethan Anderson driving his four piece band along to a throbbing beat.To cement their Pacific North West unison with Rachel Harrington, a feature both at Maverick and SummerTyne, she joined the band to sing harmony on ‘Maybe the Gods’, to replicate a role that Danni Nicholls played on the same stage but on a different song in 2017. Without anointing a single top moment at SummerTyne 2019, this was a worthy candidate boldly propelled forward by the creation of a whole new genre – literary rock – in ‘Momma’s in the Back Seat’
While Sunday was a little lower key in the concourse for me, it was finally good to catch Smith and Brewer for the first time after countless near misses. On a similar folk theme, Daisy Chute has had a brilliant write up and an introduction that left her little wriggle room. Not to worry, as she gave a very confident, classy and assured performance to add another name to the growing list of young performers adept at a style of music that may not be sucked up by the masses, but thoroughly embraced by finely tuned ears.

Of course, many other artists appeared over the weekend that will get column inches elsewhere, but remember what was preached earlier, ‘leave your regrets at the door’. SummerTyne 2019 had a few similarities and differences to 2017. Some of its unusual features embedded in further this time and the strident approach of exploring the not so well known of the presentation regardless of who you would have wanted to be there paid dividends. With Southern Fried taking a break this year, it is imperative that events like SummerTyne continue to power forward to promote music so precious to an ever growing band. Since 2006, the north east of England has been very lucky to have such an event on their doorstep. Look after it and you will see people continue to make a long trek from other corners of the UK in future years.

GIG REVIEW: Don Gallardo - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Thursday 19th July 2019

From a low key solo start to a rampaging finish, Don Gallardo rode into Birmingham and conquered a small part of England yet to be intoxicated by his music. The Kitchen Garden may be more known as an acoustic venue, but the crafted guile of Jim Maving on Fender and Travis Stock  sturdily steering the ship on electric bass allowed a barrowload of exceptional Don Gallardo songs to flourish in the full band format. 

The Kitchen Garden has warmed the hearts of many American touring artists in its decade plus existence. Adding Don Gallardo to an esteemed list was a long time coming , with not a moment wasted in the hour and three quarters playing time. Older material like ‘Burgundy Wine’ from the ART OF TROUBLESOME TIMES album mingled with a few standout tunes from the new hot off the press IN THE NAME OF GOOD INTENTIONS EP release, ably led by its outstanding track ‘How Many Days?’ 

An audience made up of confirmed Don Gallardo fans and curious newbies had plenty of candidates to hang on the evening’s highlight coat hanger, with the time tested duo of ‘The North Dakota Blues’ and ‘Banks of the Mississippi’ certain to frequent any short list. The former closed the first set with its audience uninvited participation line ‘make sure you don’t run out of whiskey’ echoing round the venue. The latter did likewise to the pre-encore second set, getting underway with a hypnotic Travis Stock bass line and finishing with Jim Maving unleashing the Fender into undefined rock territory after chilling mainly in country mode for most of the evening. At this moment, the song morphed into a medley with the sampled Dobie Gray recorded classic ‘Drift Away’ injecting some funk groove into the proceedings. 

A casual observer noting his Nashville base would class Don Gallardo as a country artist. True this style is heavily influential in his music with plenty of slide guitar induced twang from the fender backing up this assertion. However, this is just one part of the Don Gallardo make up and one a fair distance away from the commercial country music hub of his home city. 

First and foremost, Don Gallardo is a finely tuned songwriter, penning incredibly influential songs rinsed with accessible simplicity. ‘Something You’ve Gotta Learn’, ’Carousel’, ‘Kickin’ Up the Pavement’ and the countrified ‘The Losing Kind’ are prime exhibits of a skilled artisan. Issue based songs like ‘Stay Awhile’, focussing on Nashville’s unabated building boom, and ‘Same Ol’ Alley Talkin’ Blues #12’ addressing homelessness, leads the content in a direction of the conscience. 

Humour and dry banter between Don and Travis, music partners for a long time now, is a familiar feature of their shows. Detailed stories and monologues tend to be left on the shelf as wit prevails. As a touring duo, they have previously linked up with UK artists to perform shows, most recently The Rossellys, with the latest on loan signing ex-Case Hardin guitarist Jim Maving proving their shrewdest and most dynamic move to date. Travis and Jim also help out on harmony vocals, and the trio opened the second set off mic and accompanied only by Don’s acoustic guitar to deliver an inspiring rendition of ‘Down in the Valley’.

Away from the original material, a nod to John Price was given with a cover of ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness’. Additionally, the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic ‘Bad Moon Rising’ appears on the new EP, recorded in conjunction with Lilly Winwood, as well in tonight’s set list and you rarely hear a bad version of ‘The Long Black Veil’. 

This Kitchen Garden show came towards the end of a two-week European excursion that opened with an appearance at the Maverick Festival (complete with the legendary cow in the tent story) and had its core underpinned with an invite to play the Static Roots Festival in Germany across the middle weekend. Trips across the pond are a regular pattern for Don Gallardo and the more new venues that host him, widens the appeal and justifies the  investment made to spread his music overseas. 

Few who fall into Don Gallardo’s music sphere for the first time fail to leave a bonafide fan. Likewise few artists treading the Kitchen Garden’s stone floor fail to be moved by its magical intimacy and compatibly creative aura. Nothing to detract from these views occurred tonight. All was well on many fronts, not least listening and supporting some very good Americana music.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Weekly Blog Post 14th July 2019: More Fortnightly Than Weekly!

The Weekly Bog Post is back after a break last weekend due to a visit to the Maverick Festival and subsequent time spent quickly posting a review of the event. Gig reviews have returned for The Bombadils and Lachlan Bryan shows so click on the respective links to read more. The Traveling Broke and Out of Gas gig was an unusual event to the degree that you do not see many touring alt-country Americana bands from Lafayette Indiana playing a venue in Stourbridge High Street. However they were excellent, the turnout was good and are band definitely worth checking out if you like your Americana a little raw, straight from the earthy soul and true to the ideals of roots music from the land.

Gigs Sunday 30th June to Saturday 13th July 

Traveling Broke & Out of Gas - Claptrap Stourbridge Thursday 4th July
Maverick Festival - Friday 5th July to Sunday 7th July
The Bombadils - Kitchen Garden, Birmingham Tuesday 9th July
Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes - Kitchen Garden, Birmingham Thursday 11th July

A couple of weeks of album releases to share, which you are welcome to check out via links to their pages. They are an eclectic bunch from Brighton to the States via Sweden, embracing a diverse soundscape and featuring artists at different stages in their career.

Album Releases Friday 5th July

Jack Cade - Bear Bones
Chip Taylor - Whiskey Salesman

Album Releases Friday 12th July

Christina LaRocca - These Are My Whiskey Dreams

3 Pairs of Boots - Gone South

Buford Pope - The Waiting Game

Curse of Lono - 4am and Counting

Albums on the way:
Lisa Bell - Back Seat due out on September 6th
Jordan Whitmore - Good Things due out on September 6th
Will Bennet and the Tells - All Your Favourite Songs due out on July 26th
The Blue Highways - The Blue Highways EP due out on August 23rd

Jesse Marchant released the album ILLUSION OF LOVE a while back and will be visiting the UK for a few dates in December


Tuesday 10th December – Servant Jazz Quarters, London 

Wednesday 11th December – Louisiana, Bristol 

Thursday 12th December – The Castle, Manchester 

Friday 13th December – The Hug & Pint, Glasgow 

The Local Honeys have already visited our shores to play some acclaimed gigs at the start of the year. This bluegrass and roots duo from the Appalachian Mountains are due to pay us two further visits before the year is out including a run of upcoming festival appearances and a series of headline dates in November. Hopefully, they will be seen at the Birmingham date.


Friday 19th July – Latitude Festival 

Saturday 20th July – SummerTyne

Sunday 21st July - Doune The Rabbit Hole

Tuesday 23rd July - An Tobar, Mull

Wednesday 24 July - Bunessan Town Hall, Mull

Saturday 27th July - Beer & Bluegrass, Bournemouth

Sunday 28th July - Square and Compass, North Devon

Friday 2nd August - Underneath The Stars

Saturday 3rd August - Belladrum, Tartan Heart festival
(both main stage and headlining the Americana tent).


Monday 4th November – Manchester - Midway Folk Club

Tuesday 5th November - Birmingham - Kitchen Garden Café

Wednesday 6th November - Liverpool Philharmonic, The Music Room

Thursday 7th November – The HUBS -Sheffield

Monday 11th November – Brighton The Greys
Wednesday 13th November – London Cecil Sharp House

Thursday 14th November – Cambridge Junction 2

Friday 15th November - Thames Ditton RAM Club

Sunday 17th November – Portsmouth The Square Tower

The next Weekly Blog Post is likely to be on Sunday 28th July (ok more a fortnightly post at the moment) with more details on new and upcoming releases, one or two planned gigs, selected tour details and a major summer festival. Expect to a see a few more reviews in the interim.

ALBUM REVIEW: Massy Ferguson - Great Divides : North & Left

Prior to this summer, Massy Ferguson had crossed my path at two Maverick festivals, one SummerTyne and reviewing their album VICTORY & RUINS back in 2014. Fast forward five years from that last event and the UK is once again on the horizon for this band leading the alt-country charge from Seattle and the wider Pacific North West. Ironically (or same may say obviously from precedence) the pattern is very similar this year with the band on my check list for the usual trip to Suffolk and a return to the north east's prestigious Americana event. You also won't be surprised to learn that a new album is out to provide some focus for the tour.

Although GREAT DIVIDES came out early last month and got a polite nod in the Weekly Blog, it was catching up with lead man Ethan Anderson at Maverick that prompted the feeling that these guys deserve a little more blog love. The missing part of my Massy Ferguson jigsaw is seeing the guys play a fully fledged gig where you can really get into the band's onstage DNA. Looking up and down the tour diary still leaves the itinerary shy of playing the West Midlands (Northamptonshire on a Sunday is a close call). However, there is one gig they are doing at SummerTyne where they team up with Rachel Harrington for a boat cruise show that really caught the eye.

After Maverick, where their radio session for Leader's American Pie and Ethan's Sunday gospel role were seen, it is left to a couple of sets in the north east to give me my main Massy Ferguson live fix this year. Between festivals has been an ideal prompt to tune back into the new album, which first came into my possession in April. In a crowded pool even the best albums have to fight hard for diminished listening time, but a return to GREAT DIVIDES has laid out firmly what a lucky community we are to get bands like this to share their music internationally and tour.

While the ten tracks are staple Massy Ferguson if you have hooked into any of their five previous albums, they roll out as prime Americana country rock showing an influence schooled in the twin confines of the rural heartbeat and the suburban ideal. All ten are credited as Massy originals with accompanying notes showering light on the songwriting partnership of Ethan Anderson and Adam Monda. Themes hark back to personal roots, diverse nostalgia and documenting recollective musings that thrive in the wide expanses of casual Americana. The power, craft, guile and sincerity that you have come to expect from a Massy Ferguson release are prevalent alongside a solitary duet feature to pump further diversity into the sound. Zoe Muth added a fine vocal part on the last album and Adro Boo does likewise this time.

From a personal perspective, returning to the album has reaffirmed the standout qualities of opener 'Can't Remember' and second half anchor 'Momma's in the Backseat'. The latter was also one of the tracks stripped down and recorded for the radio session at Maverick.

With GREAT DIVIDES out for you all to freely sample via the structure of the music consumer industry in 2019 aka streaming, all I can merely do is point you in the direction. The guys will then take the mantle to win you over.

Tracklisting 1. Can’t Remember (3:13) 2. Drop an Atom Bomb on Me (3:53) 3. Maybe the Gods (feat. Adra Boo) (3:16) 4. Rerun (3:34) 5. Saying You Were There (5:03) 6. Don’t Give up on Your Friends (4:17) 7. Momma’s in the Backseat (5:20) 8. Saddest Man (4:12) 9. Wolf Moon (4:14) 10. They Want That Sound (3:47)

Friday, 12 July 2019

GIG REVIEW: Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes + Imogen Clark- Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Thursday 11th July 2019

Lady Antebellum may well have recorded the song ‘Own the Night’, but the sentiment was well and truly with Lachlan Bryan as he moved from festival regular to gig headliner. As much as Lachlan and his many other friends have played their heart out across numerous sets at Maverick over the last three years, there is nothing to beat giving your audience full focus and ultimately ‘owning the night’. This was certainly the case when gracing the delightful surroundings of the Kitchen Garden in Birmingham as part of a short English tour.
Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes have been operating as a band Down Under for a number of years. The horizon has switched to Europe in recent times with its latest incarnation joining up with fellow Aussie Imogen Clark for the second successive year to start spreading their wings further afield from the festival scene. The full breadth of available time was grasped as Imogen delivered an appealing forty-minute opening set before Lachlan took over the mantle to extend his set to over two hours. Value for money was a no brainer tonight. 
The one constant was the presence of current Wildes band members Sean Ryan and Riley Catherall across the evening as they played bass and electric guitar respectively on both sets. We were even introduced to Riley as a solo artist when Lachlan stepped aside to give his newest band member a precious opportunity to share his own singer-song writing skills. 
On an evening when Lachlan launched his on-stage chat by quipping “we must be the only happy Aussies in Birmingham tonight”, we learned many things apart from the obvious re-affirmation of what good artists we were in the presence of. First up, Lachlan and Sean did play the nearby Hare and Hounds fourteen years ago when members of a travelling Aussie indie band. Secondly, Lachlan was a talented schoolboy cricketer good enough to play as a club pro in the Yorkshire leagues (a skill that may have come in useful for the Australian cricket team in the Edgbaston World Cup semi-final earlier in the day). From Imogen’s opening set, she revealed an exciting upcoming opportunity to tour with Clare Bowen in the US that will be of great benefit in expanding her musical reach.
Imogen writes accessible and personable songs, all underpinned by a steely interior and a desire to drive forward her song writing capabilities. She used her opening slot to share recent and older material including the title track from her latest album COLLIDE and key number ‘High Tide’, alongside a glimpse to what the future holds. Perhaps the highlight of the set was a new song yet to be recorded that showed significant development in penning songs with a strong sense of resonance. Sheepishly, she shared a cover, but a lovely version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ added value to the evening. Proclaiming that her head is brimming with new material is good news for fans of the articulate song, and it is suspected that we are going to hear a lot more from Imogen Clark in the future. 
You can pin a multitude of labels on Lachlan Bryan and not be far off the mark. So take a pick from rock ‘n’ roll, folk, country (perhaps more of an alt persuasion), Americana (or its antipodean cousin ‘Australiana’) or any other contemporary roots clichĂ©. More importantly, he writes damn good songs, delivers them with impeccable sincerity and imparts a cynical wit to counter a maddening world. Anybody who names his album after a classic mid-track lyric ‘some girls (quite) like country music’, opens a passionate song with the line ‘women do what you must, because there ain’t a man in this world you can trust’ and co-writes a song with the great Kim Richey is operating in a lofty musical stratosphere. 
The Kitchen Garden, recently described by Irish Mythen as a venue with ‘big heart’, was in ultra-listening mode as a string of super songs permeated the air. ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Middle Aged Man’, ‘I Hope That I’m Wrong’ and ‘You, Me and the Blues’ add titles to the three songs implied in the previous paragraph. Joining these as set standouts from a growing list were concluding pair ‘Careless Hearts’ and ‘The King and I’. Additionally, sampling and referring to Willie and Waylon in ‘The Basics of Love’ goes down well here. Stories also grew with increasing interest as evidenced in the voodoo influenced ‘Down In New Orleans and relationships reflected upon in ‘The Secret I’ll Take to My Grave’

By the close of the show, we had learned far more about Lachlan Bryan than any amount of festival sets could reveal. There goes the power of the gig. Final good news revealed that the European adventures are going to continue in 2020 with a base that will only grow with renewed promotional vigour. In ‘owning the night’ of Thursday July 11th, Lachlan Bryan and friends did all a touring artist can hope to do, but did it mighty well.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

GIG REVIEW: The Bombadils - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 9th July 2019

Canada’s Maritime province has a rich history of roots music. Indeed this style is one of that nation’s proudest exports and the UK is often a fertile zone for hosting these lauded touring musicians. The current members of The Bombadils may have their origins scattered far across Canada’s vast land, but their current residency in Halifax Nova Scotia is right at the heart of the Atlantic junction. Sarah Frank and Luke Fraser have followed in the steps of many of their compatriots in finding the UK a welcoming home for acoustic roots music. It helps that they are both exceptional musicians majoring on fiddle, guitar and mandolin, with the insightful knowledge of the banjo featuring prominently back home. Hot footing from a couple of well-received sets at the Maverick Festival, The Bombadils called into Birmingham’s Kitchen Garden, a venue renowned for supporting music of a similar persuasion. 

On a full packed evening of folk and roots music, Sarah and Luke sailed through a couple of sets with consummate ease straight after a re-focussed Josienne Clark had filled a call to play the opening slot. She had responded to the invitation from Sarah despite the two not actually meeting in person. With the audience including many fans of Josienne’s previous duo work with Ben Walker in full approval with the booking, those present settled down to obtain a glimpse of what the future holds for this talented vocalist. 

The most distinct feature of ‘Josienne Clark solo' is the guitar. Sounds obvious I know, but serious readjustment is required for those accustomed to seeing her pour heart and soul into a compelling vocal style. Things are beginning to move into place with this venture as the signing to Rough Trade records is still playing a role in getting music out. A new album is about to get a release later this year and that will be the true judge to assess how successful this stepping out move will be. This evening was a case of work-in-progress and watch this space.

The Bombadils looked every inch the duo in control and on track. Sarah’s highly schooled fiddling skills quickly gathered momentum, peaking with some exhilarating  jigs, reels and bluegrass pieces. Luke eased into guitar mode before frequently switching to mandolin to ratchet up the traditional sound. Vocal exchange and song choice complemented the playing and stories illustrating The Bombadils’ history, make up and influence grew in stature as the evening proceeded. 

We learned many things of interest from The Bombadils shrinking size from four piece to three piece to duo, Sarah growing up in Edmonton Alberta and the fact that they covered and cut the Caroline Spence song ‘Mint Condition’ long before she named her recent album after it. There was little surprise in hailing Doc Watson as an influence (covering his song ‘Lone journey’), and two familiar songs from this side of the pond (‘Black is the colour of My True Love’s Hair’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’) joined a number of original cuts on the setlist .

Of the originals, ‘Hour of Blue Snow’ and ‘Nova Scotia Goodbye’ came across as the best on the evening, both lifted off the last but one album GRASSY ROADS, WANDERING FEET. This record also included the shanty ‘Heave Away’ inducing the usual Kitchen Garden singalong. The Bombadils’ most recent album NEW SHOES also featured several times including show opener ‘The Fountain’ and the instrumental piece ‘Squirrels Rule the Day, Raccoons Rule the Night’.

By the time the curtain came down on this show, The Bombadils had succeeded in their mission of leaving a small footprint in the annals of the Kitchen Garden. They proved that self-booked tours utilising a musicians network can work and most of all, kept the flame burning on a type of music that never loses its timeless appeal in a world of technological advances. Credit to Sarah and Luke for bravely promoting their music a long way from home, but it is a process made a lot smoother when you possess such highly crafted talent. 

Monday, 8 July 2019

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Maverick Festival - Easton Farm Park, Suffolk. Friday July 5th to Sunday July 7th 2019

2019 was the year Maverick’s mantle as the country’s sunniest festival took a slight knock. Yet as all regulars know there is nothing the elements can do to dampen the musical experience of this perennial Suffolk gathering of all things Americana on the first weekend of July. If it was not business as usual weather-wise as Saturday afternoon slipped into early evening, it was certainly the case on the four main stages as good music reigned supreme, just like each one of the previous eleven stagings. From the simultaneous launch in the Barn and Peacock on the stroke of five on Friday to the same locations closing the event in unison on Sunday afternoon, scores of top class musicians from all corners of the wider Americana community exhibited their craft for all present to savour. 

As the dust settled on Maverick 12, the immense task to capture a sample of what was lavishly consumed across the weekend posed to scramble over the usual conundrum. A lack of omnipresent powers will always lead to more omissions than inclusions, although smart scheduling presents multiple opportunities to catch a large number of the acts. Past review formats have revolved around A to Z, geographical spin and song focus. Not one to slip down the straightforward chronological route, this year’s review is structured around the four prime locations, albeit with a raft of random musings. So sit back and take a deep breath for a very personal take on Maverick 2019. 

Mary Elaine Jenkins
Let’s start at Maverick’s hidden gem, the Moonshine stage. A confined performing space spilling out of a converted room onto a courtyard and housing performances where up and coming artists mingle with those adding a twist to their supplementary sets following main stage appearances. Maverick favourites Don Gallardo and Lachlan Bryan were among those witnessed at this quirky location. Performances were also briefly sampled from Drew Young, Daniel Kemish and Amy Lott. However, the highlight from many strolls across the lawn to the Moonshine was a highly impressive set from American singer-songwriter Mary-Elaine Jenkins. Nothing was known about this artist prior to seeing her play a forty-five minute set, but a sixth sense gave an inkling that something special could be unearthed. Mary confidently sailed through an assured performance using a slightly husky voice to deliver a sizeable number of folk and blues inspired tunes. A pure pleasure to enjoy and an artist to add to that ever growing list of desiring to check out their catalogue. 

Lachlan Bryan
In contrast to many festivals, Maverick’s only major outdoor setting is the lawn stage, this year sponsored by Southern Comfort Presents Southern Sounds. It only sees action between the hours of eleven and six on Saturday and this year saw eight sets scheduled by artists in full band mode. Four of these were enjoyed in their entirety led by two artists getting a second mention in the early throes of this review. Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes has proudly represented their Australian home for the past three Mavericks and the trip this year saw a slightly revised line up. Although, one familiar touring companion was Imogen Clark, who played her own solo set along with chipping in as a casual member of the Wildes. Lachlan’s main stage set immediately followed Imogen’s and once again an exemplary display of archetypal Americana filled the rural air of Easton Farm Park. 

Don Gallardo’s Maverick experience stretches back a touch further than Lachlan Bryan, but there is little to choose between their rivetting sets when a full band is in tow. This year Don and his trusted sidekick bassist Travis Stock were joined by ace UK guitarist Jim Maving, go-to alt-country drummer Steve Brookes and Joe Harvey-Whyte on pedal steel to nail a pulsating set just as a little precipitation annoyingly started to fall on this little corner of Suffolk. In addition to this five star line up, Lilly Winwood, a Nashville artist with whom Don has recently done some work with, joined in on the fun in a vocal capacity. If you think the surname is familiar, you are starting to get very warm. 

Don Gallardo and Band
Completing the outdoor sets seen were duo Kev Walford and Kelly Bayfield, who opened proceedings as many campers were beginning to rise from a late night, and alt-folk London based outfit No Coward Soul. Massy Ferguson just missed the cut on the basis of featuring at another festival later in their tour and with the added consolation of two of their band members joining fellow Seattle native Rachel Harrington for a highly enjoyable gospel set the following morning. 

If the Southern Sounds and Moonshine play a distinct part in Maverick’s make up, it is hard to argue against the Barn and Peacock being the real hub of the festival. The former is the only stage active for the entire festival, while the latter comes into its own as an early evening to late night magical music setting. Let’s leave the Barn for the conclusion and shed some light on what was seen in the Peacock.

Copper Viper
This converted day time farm building is famed for its imposing peacock backdrop adorning many a photo snapped at Maverick. On a personal note, the most widely shared picture I took there was back in 2012 when Gretchen Peters and Otis Gibbs duetted on ‘Wild Horses’, always a fond memory. Fast forward to 2019, and the Peacock adopted a predominately bluegrass theme for its Friday night presentation. Three sets here were pencilled into a busy diary for the first evening and an inspired trio of Copper Viper, The Bombadils and Chance McCoy didn’t disappoint. Indeed the first of these, an up and coming UK duo making strides with a recently released album, actually opened my Maverick on Friday whilst playing a set that moved them up a few notches on the appreciation scale. 

At the outset, Chance McCoy probably had the biggest musical pedigree of the 2019 Maverick alumni. A key member of the Grammy award winning Old Crow Medicine Show suggested a musician of immense ability and McCoy, probably majoring on fiddle, lived up to the billing for those present during Friday’s headline Peacock set The irony lay in this set being the least bluegrass of the six acts staged on Friday with Chance McCoy choosing to blend his undisputed fiddling and assorted string skills with conventional rock drums and guitar plus a few synthetic loops courtesy of his travelling partner Jacqueline Turner. This was an impressive performance given a helping hand by amongst others Hannah Aldridge, and if any artist is going to cover ‘Wagon Wheel’ let it be a member of Old Crow Medicine Show. 

Chance McCoy
Out of the ten Maverick Festivals attended, this was the one with the least Peacock visits as upon reflection only one other set was witnessed after seeing three on Friday. The music of UK country duo Broken Islands was briefly sampled on Sunday morning and although covering ‘Grievous Angel’ is hardly revolutionary, this is a song that can never be played too often in my company. 

Before we delve into the Barn, a quick mention to some of the unscheduled performing spaces that spring up over the weekend. The Travelling Medicine Show Stage and Jimmie Rodgers Busker’s Stage are official pop ups, while Leader’s Live Lounge lies outside the formal structure of the billing, but continues to develop as the truly uncovered gem of Maverick. Over the weekend around twenty artists recorded a publicly viewed session for the Leader’s American Pie radio show housed at East Grinstead based station Meridian FM. Obviously these are for the purpose of future broadcast on the Monday evening show, but taking a sneak peep, as done for Lachlan Bryan and Massy Ferguson this year, gives a fascinating insight to the work being done to promote Americana music across the wires. 

The Brother Brothers
It wasn’t just the rain that made the Barn particularly popular this year. Around thirteen sets were intensely viewed in what could be probably construed as Maverick’s prime location, alongside many more casual glances while on the way to the all-important bar. Saturday particularly staged some truly memorable Maverick performances and an unanimous starting point has to be at least a brace of artists competing for best of ’19. 

The Brother Brothers are an acclaimed US folk duo, who came recommended from trusted sources as an act to seek out. Think Milk Carton Kids but better and you start getting close to what The Brother Brothers are about. Tight harmonies are a given when highly rating a duo, but this pairing of Adam and David Moss add in virtuoso playing, songs that sink into your DNA and an amenable disposition to complete the circle. To many, they were the stand out act of the weekend and experiencing their Saturday evening Barn set up close and personal proved pure magical.

Will Hoge
At the other end of the sound spectrum, last minute Maverick invitees the Will Hoge Band kept their side of an impromptu booking by storming through a high octane set of pure heartland rock and roll to close the Barn very late on Saturday night (Sunday morning). Will Hoge jetted in from Spain during the daylight hours of Saturday to commence his latest UK tour and a quick diversion to Suffolk arranged the week before after Sarah Savoy unfortunately had to pull out had whetted the appetite of a fair few fans excited by this manoeuvre. The set had to be curtailed for numerous reasons, but a full blooded band wasted not a single minute of available time to leave many fans rocking out into the wee small hours. Maverick at its unpredictable and innovative best. 

There are some performers who just give you a feeling they are the heartbeat of a festival. Hannah Aldridge exudes that impression every time she visits Easton Farm Park. Embodying the spirit of a true maverick, Hannah sprung up in several locations most prominently in her ‘barnstorming’ (excuse the pun) set in the Barn on Saturday evening. Full band Hannah Aldridge shows are a rare breed in the UK, but teaming up with her Swedish Jetbone colleague Gus on guitar, a drummer and, wait for it, Chance McCoy on any stringed instrument you like paved the way for one of the weekend highlights. Hannah Aldridge is a regular visitor to Maverick and one suspects this is likely to continue into the near and distant future.
The Resonant Rogues
The pick of the Barn activity on Friday was a terrific set by Asheville North Carolina combo The Resonant Rogues. Having visited this city in 2016 (famously described at the time by Austin Lucas as a ‘leftist Mecca in a sea of red’), any artist hailing from there raises an eyebrow and lends an ear. Admittedly, their recent album got a touch lost in the malaise of new releases, but there is nothing like a live set to bring an artist to your attention. 
A trio of familiar artists graced the Barn as the late afternoon faded into early evening. Ags Connolly is another true maverick, parading a brand of country pushing back against the onset of diluted pop. A 2018 songwriter’s participant slot evolved into a full solo set this year, with Ags joined by the ever-in-demand pedal steel guitarist Joe Harvey-Whyte. Needless to say, the pair sounded great to further whet the appetite for new material due out in the autumn. 
Ags Connolly
Following Ags Connolly was the hypnotic and atmospheric singer-songwriter Angel Snow, making her full band UK debut after several years of touring, complete with extra guitar and drums. If you only ever hear one Angel Snow song, check out ‘Lie Awake’. You may know Alison Krauss' version, but Angel wrote it and puts her own mark on it. We had to wait until the final song to hear it, but patience is frequently rewarded. 
The Black Feathers completed this familiar trilogy with Sian and Ray once again bringing their delightful harmonies to Maverick. Extensive touring in America is likely to make a mark on future material, but this set provided a timely reminder of their admirable talents while we await their next move.

Sunday morning at Maverick is a mixture of catching the sets of artists you have missed and looking forward to whatever gospel inspired session is scheduled in the Barn.This year’s had a very Pacific North West flavour to the line-up with Rachel Harrington, Ethan and Kelly from Massy Ferguson and JD Hobson all hailing from this far flung corner of the States. The set, co-ordinated by Rachel, featured many standard favourites that turned the Barn audience into a vibrant choir for the occasion. Does gospel music transcend faith in the context of Americana? Maybe that debate is for another day.
Rachel Harrington and Friends
Lighting up a first visit to the Barn on Saturday morning were a British folk trio named Fire in the Meadow. Shanties and traditional English folk songs tend not to be your staple material at Maverick, but you can never hide the influence this music has on Americana. In the words of Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes once heard at a festival, ‘strip them down and they’re all folk songs’.
Before we leave the Barn, a quick mention for Broken Bones Matilda who played a set with a difference on Friday evening and Lilly Winwood delivering a few of her own songs in a distinctive voice in addition to appearing with Don Gallardo. Finally on a weekend of many duos, Hallelujah Trails opened my Barn Maverick with a Friday teatime slot. Each style plays a part in Maverick's DNA. 
As this review enters the final furlong, shouts of what about Rich Hall, Dana Immanuel, Jeb Loy Nicholls, the protest song hour and many other artists not mentioned are heard. A wise motto to adhere to is always focus on what you’ve got/have/seen rather than the opposite. There is always next time. Also if you detect any downtime between sets here, think eating, drinking and socialising.
Maverick XIII in 2020? Hopefully. We now know that a wet Saturday afternoons does not put a dampener on this festival. Maverick continues to be unique and cult-like for its devotees, while cutting a deep niche in the UK Americana community. Ten consecutive near 400 mile round trips to Suffolk make a statement about this festival. Maybe some of the passion and commitment about the music on offer has filtered through.