Winchester Texas? The Evolution of SC4M

sc4m-2017-for-webYou wouldn’t think that anyone would mistake a one day music festival in Winchester for the sprawling SXSW held annually in Austin. However, the lawyers at SXSW thought the possibility was there so they slapped a cease and desist order on Oliver Gray’s SXSC (South By South Central) some years back. Oliver, an author and long time music fan had set up SXSC in 2009 although he had been promoting shows in Winchester under that banner since 2004. Writing about his encounter with the SXSW folks he says, “The 2013 SXSC Festival was to be the last under that name, following a surreal series of email exchanges with lawyers representing the South By South West Festival in Texas. I tried to respond with levity but was always flat-batted back with stern, unresponsive legalese, so in the end gave in.” Thus was born SC4M – South Central For Music. Held annually the festival has featured many acts mentioned on Blabber’n’Smoke and this year is no exception so we reached out to Oliver to chat with him about the festival and his tireless promotion of Americana and roots music.

You say that you first really got interested in Americana type music when you saw Peter Bruntnell back in 2000.

Yes, although I’ve been going to gigs since the mid sixties I really first stumbled upon this more roots based music when I first saw Peter Bruntnell. That was in the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester and I decided then that I’d have a go at promoting what was then called alt-country with my friend, Richard Williams. Our first show was in 2003 and the act was of course Peter Bruntnell. After that, we put on shows at The Railway Inn on a fairly regular basis and also started doing house concerts before we decided to try a one day festival. I’d been to SXSX several times and thought we’d call ours South By South Central as it seemed to fit Winchester geographically and sum up the music.

So this year is the eighth festival?

That’s right. We started off in 2009 with Peter and Richmond Fontaine headlining. We call Peter our lucky mascot because he is one of our very favourite musicians and he’s played at The Railway Inn so often and it’s almost a tradition that he and his fans will be at the festival and this year is no different. His latest album, Nos Da Comrade has been so successful  that we take it as a compliment that he’s still happy to come along and play for us. He’s a busy man these days touring in various formats and we’ve actually got him coming back in October when he’ll be playing with the legendary BJ Cole but for SC4M it will be the four-piece band who can really rock. I saw them a few weeks ago at Static Roots in Oberhausen and they were really good as were Danny & The Champs, another great band who have previously headlined SC4M.

The festival takes place in The Railway Inn. Can you tell us a little about the venue?

Yes, it’s almost my second home. It’s your classic, slightly dingy, music venue but it has a great atmosphere and it has the advantage of having two rooms, the barn, which is the main room where we have the bands, and the attic which is where we put on the acoustic acts. We alternate the location so there’s never two acts playing at the same time which is one of my pet hates at festivals when you’re watching a band but really wishing you were at another one playing at the same time. So the audience can amble from room to room and see all of the acts. It’s very homely, almost club atmosphere, just a bunch of friendly people having a nice time together which is what we’re all about.  The capacity is 100 and if all of them came into the attic it can be a bit claustrophobic but some people take time out for a drink or a bite to eat so usually it’s not too crowded. It starts at noon and goes on until 11. Tickets are £32, same as last year even though our costs have gone up and there’s a range of food and lots of ale. It’s not your overpriced festival stuff, it’s a proper pub.

There’s quite a lot of these smaller events going on these days and I’m glad to see that. I was at Ramblin’ Roots a few weeks ago and they had a similar set up with several of the artists who were on veterans of SC4M but it seems that as the appetite for what we call “Americana” grows there’s room for more, we’re not in competition.  The more the merrier I say as there’s an astonishing amount of talent out there and if we can help in any way to let them play to sympathetic audiences then it’s a job well done. It’s always a fraught time as financially it’s extremely tight, we don’t make a profit and each year I get into a bit of a panic over whether we’ll sell enough tickets but in the end we always do. I hand out flyers for example at The End Of The Road Festival and quite a few people seem to come having seen them so it seems to work. We don’t have a publicity budget so it comes down to word of mouth and sympathetic folk mentioning us although I have to say that RnR magazine (formerly R2 and before that Rock’n’Reel)  very kindly gave us an advert in return for us advertising the magazine at the festival. It’s very kind of them and they’re a great supporter of roots music. 

Blabber’n’Smoke has mentioned many of the acts appearing this year : Peter Bruntnell, Emily Barker, Benjamin Folke Thomas, Joanna Serrat, Curse Of Lono, Robert Chaney and Vera Van Heeringen. There are a few we’re not familiar with, can you tell us about them?

Lucas & King are two girls from the Southampton area and we’ve put them on a lot. There’s quite a taste right now for sweet voiced duos but these guys are quite different. Bo Lucas sings and she sounds almost like Tammy Wynette but the songs aren’t anything like traditional country as they go into quite biting and original topics while Hayleigh King is a wonderfully fluid electric guitarist who plays with no effects sounding almost like Chet Atkins. Jonas and Jane are a bluegrassy husband and wife duo from Farnham, just up the road for us  and they played last year and blew the audience away so we’ve moved them up the bill a bit this year. Finally there’s Dan O’Farrell, the “token” local guy, he’s quite a political writer, our local Billy Bragg.

As with Peter Bruntnell we’re happy and proud to have Emily Barker back as she puts on a lovely show and she has been a stalwart supporter. As for Benjamin Folke Thomas we’re hoping he has the Swedish Mafia with him but at  present we’re not sure if he will or if it will be a solo performance. And then there’s Curse Of Lono. It’s unusual for me to book a band I haven’t seen personally but they’re playing a bunch of festivals and I thought we’d better get them while we can. It’s a great line up and you could say we have two themes really. The first is Internationalism as our acts are from all over – Sweden, Spain, Australia, Holland etc and secondly we wanted to try and feature as many female acts as we could and I think we’ve managed that.

I was looking at the SC4M website and the list of artists you’ve promoted over the years, at the festival, The Railway Inn and your house concerts, is just astounding. Are you able to mention any particular highlights?

We always love it when Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express come as they always do a storming show and I was really pleased to see that Uncut did two full length album reviews this month of acts that we’ve presented.  They featured John Murry who  headlined the festival last year and This Is The Kit who are of course originally from Winchester.  I think that the best show that we’ve ever done was not at the festival but we put on Sarah Borges with Girls, Guns and Glory and there was only about 12 people in the room. Despite that they played the most exciting show I’ve ever seen.

The house shows have been going on for some time and they’re a wonderful experience. As empty nesters we’re able to offer to put the musicians up for the night which of course helps them to keep the costs down. These musicians are inevitably incredibly nice people especially the Americans who are so polite and appreciative. Through this we’ve become good friends with some of them over the years especially the guys in Richmond Fontaine. Although it’s a hobby and doesn’t make us any money it’s a privilege to be a part of it and I honestly believe that we’re living in a bit of a golden age for Americana.

So, it sounds like a great day out and you can purchase tickets here. As Oliver says there’s only space for 100 folk so best to snap one up quickly. At £32 that’s less than £3 a band!

The SC4M webpage has a host of information including a great list of all the acts who have appeared under the SC4M/SXSC banner over the years. There’s also a Youtube channel, The Swiss Cottage Sessions , where you can see many of the acts who have played at the house concerts. In the meantime here’s classic clip from a previous festival…

The Primevals. Dislocation. Triple Wide

Primevals DislocationVeteran Glasgow rockers, The Primevals, have been hellbent for over 30 years in their quest to keep the heart of garage band rock’n’blues pumping, a task with which they have been spectacularly successful as they maintain their renaissance which began with 2011’s Disinhibitor after a fallow period at the beginning of the century. While their early contemporaries such as The Gun Club and The Cramps have gone the way of all things, Disinhibitor saw a revitalised band roar back into form and it was quickly followed by Heavy War and Tales Of Endless Bliss, both again superb slices of sound that, to coin a phrase, were groovetastic. Psychedelic swirls, evil slide guitar and hypnotic riffs all bundled into one very fine trip.

Dislocation is no disappointment as it sets its sights firmly on its antecedents with the band firing on all barrels. The twisting snarly slide guitar that kicks off the opening song Fever Zone serving notice that we’re back in Swampland on a classic Primevals’ song with singer Michael Rooney raving towards the end over the rushed beat and psychedelic organ. I Got Strong speeds along with a Seeds like velocity, the band pumping like adrenalized muscle tissue while Boho Baby is a Doors’ like seedy walk on a wild side, a vampish twilight zone of sputtering guitars and panther like stealth. All three songs are excellent and delivered with such a freewheeling ease that one imagines that the band and Rooney (who writes all the songs) could probably knock them off in their sleep, so ingrained in their musical DNA is this primal urge. However one of the delights of The Primevals is their ability to switch gears mid song, jump from garage rock to free jazz, localise a song or just freely associate and all of these come to play throughout the album.

East Campbell Street Breakdown opens with a brief lofi blaxploitation soundtrack soundalike before they go into a burnished speed riff not too far removed from Blue Oyster Cult as Rooney hones in on the plight of Glasgow’s homeless community.  Cuckoo Clocks, Chocolate And LSD manages the task of wedding Orson Wells, Forrest Gump and Albert Hoffman in a paranoid welter of scrambled vocals and razor sharp guitar scything. Meanwhile The Jump From Real To Weird adds trumpet from Robert Henderson over a pummelling riff as Rooney riffs on the lyrics almost scatting. Throughout the album the guitars of Tom Rafferty and Martyn Roger slash and burn but it’s in the frenetic Pleasures Past that they really excel as, apart from a short solo burst from one of them, they buzz and swarm like a pack of hornets. Slow Drip (a Rooney/Rafferty co-write) allows Rooney’s harmonica to add a crazed Yardbirds like R’n’B frenzy to the middle eight over some neat wah wah guitar and they close the album with another co write (with Richard Mazda) on another mighty example of Primevals music, a huge slab of noise, the guitars feral with Rooney in the throes of spiders in his bed hallucinations.

All in all Dislocation blasts the cobwebs from your ears  with the band again staking their claim to be the prime purveyors of swampy garage rock and the album is dedicated to the late Stewart Cruickshank who did so much to promote Scottish rock bands. The Primevals have an album launch gig this Friday at Glasgow’s Hug & Pint and it’s bound to be a great night of hi-octane sweaty rock’n’roll.

website

Emily Duff. Maybe In The Morning.

a3554013858_16

 

Country soul has been a genre percolating through several recent reviews here on Blabber’n’Smoke with My Darling Clementine, Danny & The Champions Of The World and Emily Barker all referencing the classic sounds that emanated from Alabama back in the late sixties and early seventies. The arrival of Emily Duff’s second album then was somewhat timely as this New Yorker actually went to the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals to record this soulful slab of wax. Duff is a new name to Blabber’n’Smoke but she’s got a fine pedigree along with a winning way of promoting herself. Her bio commences, “Emily was born in Flushing Queens and raised by a pack of cigarettes. Her Mama taught her 4 perfect chords and then ran off leaving Emily to figure out the rest on her own…armed with a hollow body electric guitar and enough anger to level a small country Emily carved a path straight to CBGBs and never looked back.” Who could resist such an introduction?

First coming to attention as part of Gary Lucas’ God & Monsters (replacing Jeff Buckley as his star briefly ascended) Duff eventually moved towards roots music with her trio Eudora before settling down with her own Emily Duff Band after taking time out for her family. Maybe In The Morning follows on from her 2015 album Go Tell Your Friends which had reviewers comparing her to Lucinda Williams and while one can see that in the new album, Duff delves much deeper into her early heroes such as Bobbie Gentry and The Staple Singers while the ghosts of The Allmans and Delaney & Bonnie are never too far away. Recorded with her regular band and a wealth of Muscle Shoals musicians including original “swamper” Clayton Ivey on keyboards, the album is chockfull of touchstones; Gospel harmonies, churchlike organ and liquid guitar solos that coalesce into the quintessential southern soul groove. Duff then takes this sound and adds her own vision which at one point is decidedly a New York state of mind as she sings on the title song about addiction as the band pulverise like The MG’s on speed.

She lays her wares on the table with the swampy and sultry Hypmotizing Chickenz which opens the album. A syncopated southern brew with a Meters like percussive precision, Gospel chorus and mighty slide guitar solo it’s as gritty as, well, grits. Please Don’t Do Me Dirty is somewhat breezier, the guitars gliding with the grit provided here by Duff’s throaty voice as she sings about the sexual undertones hidden by southern manners almost as if it were written by Tennessee Williams. Bomp Bomp bounces along like a pop confection from Bobbie Gentry with a hook made for radio play while one could imagine Everytime I Go To Harlem being a staple of Elvis’ Vegas shows as the band rock out with a sanctified middle eight. Alabama is a fast paced country rocker which sounds more west coast derived with the pedal steel gleaning away as Duff recalls a childhood visit to the State but there’s an immediate return to the swampy south on the glorious slow drift of Diamonds which has Duff’s fine vocals duetting with a male counterpart who sounds for all the world like Bobby Whitlock wailing away on the Layla album.

There’s so much to enjoy here with Needledrop Blues a witty dissertation on the current vinyl fascination delivered with some honky tonk vigour while Don’t is a ballad that builds on foundations laid down by the likes of Etta James back in the days. Daddy’s Drunk Again is a taut slide driven boogie with shades of Tony Joe White and Listen To Mama is a fine holy mess of cluttered rhythm section and muddy slide guitars colliding into each other as Duff stands tall and gutsy inhaling the spirit of Flannery O’Connor. The closing song, Somebody On Sunday, gathers all the antecedents together on a slinky southern groove that is so affecting one can almost smell the wisteria.

Sure, Maybe In The Morning is infused with that special moment in time that saw gems scattered daily from a bunch of talented Southerners, but to her credit Ms. Duff has created a vibrant and engaging album that doesn’t just rely on nostalgia. If there’s a new wave of country soul about to land then she should in the vanguard. You can buy the album here and there’s also a great interview here where she talks about her experience of recording in Muscle Shoals. As we said earlier she has a way with words so do catch her colourful descriptions of her time there.

Website

 

Willie Nelson & Leon Russell. One For The Road. Retroworld Records

1577We’ve had an interesting batch of reissued albums sent in recently so over the next few weeks we’ll be indulging in a little bit of nostalgia. First up is this 1979 collaboration between Willie Nelson and Leon Russell recorded after the pair toured together. Russell, who died in 2016, was riding the coat tails of his fame by then while Nelson was gearing up his “outlaw country” persona breaking out of his Nashville straitjacket but the pair were even then old troupers and this album, originally a double vinyl release, finds them delving into country and tin pan alley standards.  As such it’s not what you might call an “essential” part of either man’s catalogue but it’s a rollicking good listen with Russell and Nelson trading vocals, their voices quite complementary while there’s plenty of Russell’s piano work while Nelson throws in some fine guitar parts.

The album opens with a fiery trio of songs – Detour, I Saw The Light and Heartbreak Hotel which rock as if they were playing in a Texas roadhouse (and apparently Heartbreak Hotel reached No. 1 on the US country charts, a feat Nelson has never again achieved).  Let The Rest Of The World Go By slows the pace on a typical Nelson tearjerker with strings and his sensitive guitar solo while Russell is content to tickle the ivories but it’s back to some barrelling boogie on Trouble In Mind with the pair sharing vocals with Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt (who also adds some wicked slide guitar). They seems to be having great fun on their take of the old chestnut, Don’t Fence Me In which is followed by a superb reading of Wild Side Of Life and they amble to the end of the first of the original discs with a sunny side up attitude on Riding Down The Canyon which is given a fine Western Swing feel and Sioux City Sue.

There’s quite a shift on the second half of the album as they drop the rock’n’roll for Russell’s arrangements of which include Danny Boy, You Are My Sunshine, Stormy Weather and Summertime. As on his own album of classic songs, Stardust, here it’s Nelson’s voice which is the main attraction but there’s no denying Russell’s skills with his arrangement of Summertime particularly grand. The closing One For My Baby and One More For The Road has some funkier keyboards than one normally hears on this old saloon ballad.

Retroworld website

 

 

 

Jaime Wyatt. Felony Blues. Forty Below Records

jaime_coverAside from those old time blues guys and gals who were at the mercy of the law every time they set foot outside the door, country musicians seem to have an affinity for brushes with the law. Or at least they would like you to think so. Look through the rap sheets and it’s full of misdemeanours, drink, drugs, more drink and the odd fight here or there, a suspended sentence or a night in the pokey. True, Billy Joe Shaver and Johnny Paycheck did actually shoot someone and then there’s David Allen Coe and Merle Haggard and mention of Haggard leads us to Jaime Wyatt. Ms. Wyatt was an aspiring musician who wasn’t getting the breaks and who drifted into drugs and robbery eventually serving time.  On getting out she resumed her music while being drawn to the likes of Johnny Cash and Haggard, partly due to their connections with the US penal system. A meeting with John Durrill who had penned a song, Misery and Gin, for Haggard led to her recording the song and eventually this mini album.

Misery and Gin closes the album with a mournful wail, weeping pedal steel and soft shuffled band backing recalling Emmylou Harris with the Hot Band at their most lachrymose although Wyatt’s voice is earthier than Emmylou’s. It’s as honky tonk as she gets here with the remainder of the songs adhering more to a breezier LA country sound and indeed she has fellow Los Angelino Sam Outlaw sing with her on the tough Bakersfield influenced Your Loving Saves Me while the opening Wishing Well sparks with spirals of guitar recalling the canyon days of Linda Ronstadt and her fledging band. Wasco is a spritely fiddle fuelled number with Wyatt embodying the romantic fantasies of an inmate with the song positively flying with a rebellious abandon that sucker punches Dolly Parton. Stone Hotel hammers in like a Waylon Jennings’ song and it’s as autobiographical as Wyatt gets as she relates her downfall while the band flail wonderfully around her with a full bodied outlaw country abandon.

She’s more reflective on the plaintive Giving The Best Of Me with its rippling acoustic guitar and sweet pedal steel again recalling that 70’s LA singer songwriter vibe. From Outer Space is an almost literal example of Cosmic American Music as Wyatt waxes wonderfully about celestial affairs, pedal steel swirling like a comet around her as the rhythm section humbly remain rooted in a very fine country shuffle. Overall a lovely record.

website

 

Raging Twilight Album Launch. The Glad Cafe. Glasgow 7th July 2017

 

20170707_203907 copy

Jack Law and his henchmen turned in a fine performance to a capacity crowd in the Southside’s Glad Cafe last Friday as they presented their first album to the public. The album, reviewed here, is a fine collection of songs with a definite American bent with many of Law’s lyrics inspired by recent trips to The States. Indeed they opened with the most evocative song from the album, Iron Way, which was delivered with a great arrangement, bar room piano and mouth harp summoning up the south west with a Morricone tint. It was a great start but the band followed this with some of their jauntier numbers with folk and blues more to the fore as on second number Nothing’s There  while  the mandolin driven Old Glass Jar  and the skiffle/jugband like Dust Bowl Rust Belt Blues were real crowd pleasers.

20170707_212331 copy

 

As guitarist Dougie Harrison strapped on an electric guitar the band dived into the Southern rock of Don’t Want A Lover before they sashayed into the sleazy Chemical Jayne with Duncan Sloan’s electric keyboards summoning up a whiff of The Doors. Dead Horse Point, a stark portrait of a blighted land was a highlight, the images somewhat akin to Cormac McCarthy’s desolate tableaux. Harrison took lead vocals on Hope Sails The River while bass and harmonica player JC Danti led the band into the gospel like opening of Hard Times Bad Times with the audience clapping along and they ended with the organ fuelled You Can’t Get To Heaven, audience singing with the chorus, before an encore of The Weight (which seems to be the go to song for encores recently).  Overall, the band were in fine fettle with several of the songs really brought to life in the live setting.

Support tonight was from Martin Stephen Jones, a Greenock singer songwriter who was a protégé of the late Danny Kyle. He had a strong firm voice as evidenced in his opening song, Looking For A Fairytale. Having spent some time in Valencia he delivered some songs sung in Spanish along with a tribute to his home town in Sugartown, written in a bout of homesickness. His set was all too short but he’s worth seeking out.

 

 

 

Danny & The Champions Of The World. Brilliant Light. Loose Music

165014One of the greatest live acts currently in the UK, Danny & The Champions Of The World are a wonderful conglomeration of Country, Soul and Springsteen-like blue collar rockers, an incredibly attractive mix that is intoxicating in a live setting but which they also manage to convey on their recordings. 2015’s What Kind Of Love leaned heavily on Danny Wilson’s love of classic soul singers such as Solomon Burke and Arthur Alexander with their then live show coming across almost as a Soul Revue, the band adopting several styles throughout the night, able to be soulful, sobbing or flying with some fine extended workouts. The expansive Brilliant Light (an album that was several months in the making as opposed to their usual tight studio schedule), finds the band drawing all the threads together. A supremely well drilled unit comfortable enough to take their time, collaborate more than is their norm and deliver a hefty double disc worth of what is, in the end, just about a perfect Danny & The Champs album.

Brilliant Light has 18 songs spread over two discs (on CD and vinyl) offering almost 80 minutes of unalloyed joy. The songs cover the spectrum, pedal steel honeyed country songs, soulful epics and even a brief jaunt into reggae rhythms. Wilson has, for the first time in several years, collaborated with various band members and others in the songwriting process with only one song here a solo effort. So there’s a poem by Will Burns set to music, a co write with John Wheatley while James Yorkston has two co writing credits with other numbers down to the likes of Chris Clarke and Paul Lush (who kind of kick-started this off as he worked with Wilson on a couple of songs on What Kind Of Love). Despite the all hands to the deck approach (and the addition of a brass section and numerous backing singers) the album is a cohesive whole with Wilson’s attractive slightly husked voice and the mellifluous sounds of the band never failing throughout.

It’s tempting to look at the album as four distinct slices of music (the way some double albums used to be) but in the end this theory doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. However a rough guide might consider side one as classic Danny & The Champs, side two the soul side and three and four a fine mix of the above. They open with Waiting For The Right Time, a vigorous mix of piano, organ, pedal steel, guitar and backing singers, the definitive Champs sound indeed as Wilson considers a gypsy like musical existence. Bring Me To My Knees is another fine glide into country rock with glistening pedal steel to the fore. The seventies tinged mix of reggae and blue eyed soul of It Hit Me startles at first but as the band (in particular organist Andy Fairclough) settle into the groove the song grows in stature and the overall playing as it runs to its end is just spectacular. You’ll Remember Me harks back to Rod Stewart’s glory days when he might have looked like a dandified scarecrow but was singing from his soul as Wilson commands this impassioned ballad and the band are slinky and soulful- it’s the slow dance song that used to close school discos if anyone can remember that far back. Wilson closes the side with his own dose of nostalgia on Swift Street, recalling his childhood in Melbourne, again with a hefty dose of soul in his voice while the band here are more akin to the Stax template with the drums in particular getting that snare snap just right.

Rather than go throughout all 18 songs it’s suffice to say that the standard of side one is maintained throughout.  Consider Me has the keyboards somewhat Stevie Wonder funkified although the pedal steel continues to glide throughout and Lush has a particularly fine solo while Coley Point (with words by Will Burns) is a fine impressionistic portrait.. There’s a Van Morrison bustle to the brisk It’s Just A Game (That We Were Playing) and some Little Feat funkiness on Waiting For The Wheels To Come Off and Long Distance Tears while Let The Water Wash Over You (Don’t You Know) opens with a guitar motif that recalls The Allmans and closes almost like a jam band with guitar and keyboards meandering in a fine fashion and Don’t You Lose Your Nerve is more silky seventies soul. The album closes with another classic Champs styled song, Flying By The Seat Of Our Pants, the glorious sounds generated grounded by Wilson’s on the road philosophy and a rejoinder of sorts to the opening song.

There’s so much to discover and relish here and, should you wish, you can buy a deluxe 3CD version which has an extra disc of instrumentals. In the meantime, I have to mention my favourite song from the album, Gotta Get Things Right In My Life. Here everything clicks, Wilson sounds wonderful, the chorus is mesmeric and the band just lock into a groove that will charm the socks off you. Here the Champs stake their claim to be considered in the pantheon of the greats as the song spirals through seven minutes of unparalleled beauty.

Website