Glasgow Americana Festival 2015 : 7th to 11th October.

This week sees the ninth annual Glasgow Americana Festival and as always it’s an excellent opportunity to see and hear some top notch acts in an intimate setting far removed from the arenas and concert halls that often act as a barrier between audience and artist.

Festival director Kevin Morris will be no stranger to readers here as he is responsible for The Fallen Angels Club who promote shows throughout the year, his keen ear responsible for bringing the likes of Sturgill Simpson to Glasgow well before his star was in the ascendancy. The past week’s been a bit of a blizzard of last minute preparations for Kevin but he was kind enough to take some time to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke. We started by recalling the first festival back in 2007 which Kevin organised as a tribute to Billy Kelly, a key player in the local and national scene going back to the days of Mayfest and who was responsible for Big Big Country, Glasgow’s first Americana festival. Mary Gauthier appeared that year and was recorded in The Herald describing Kelly as “an angel,” his patronage among the significant stepping stones on a career that has taken her to Nashville as a major label recording artist.

Kevin: The Glasgow music scene sadly lost Billy in 2007 and he has been hard to replace ever since. Glasgow Americana has tried to fill the gap that was left after Billy’s sudden passing, and hopefully Billy is looking down us with an approving look at what we have achieved since we started in 2007. We always have a wish list year on year and go about trying to make it happen, we are lucky to have these amazing artists making the festival as part of their tours. We already have some ideas for both 2016 and 2017, so we will see what develops, but probably best to get the 2015 festival out the way first.


Over the nine years there have been numerous artists performing but we wondered if there were any particular moments that stood out for Kevin

There have been loads and that it is a very good and a tricky question, I suppose one that does stand out was Alejandro Escovedo at The Arches in 2011. Also our Americana Saturday in 2012, we had Sam Baker playing the matinee show in The CCA and then Eliza Gilkyson play the evening show that year, that was a very special day indeed.

Kevin and his team are well known for their hospitality for the acts he puts on with many returning time and time again and who regard Kevin as a friend and not just the promoter. He told us a little bit about a special occasion for him earlier this year.

I have been very lucky with the people I have met through putting on shows, and have made so many friends from across the pond. Myself and my wife Lauren got married in Austin, Texas in June of this year. While we were there we met up with some musician friends that have played for us over the years, including Sam Baker, Eliza Gilkyson and Chip Dolan. On our wedding day we were very fortunate enough to have Alejandro Escovedo as a witness at our wedding ceremony over looking Barton Springs. Not your average day for a wee boy from Bothwell.

With that Kevin was back attending to business for what will be a busy week for him. The Festival kicks off on Wednesday 7th October with Bruce Cockburn playing at St. Andrews in the Square while Tom Russell plays the same venue on Friday 9th. Other venues are The Glad Cafe which has Danny Schmidt and Betty Soo on a matinee show on 10th October and Lewis & Leigh and Curtis McMurtry (son of James) that same evening while The CCA has Kathryn Williams and Michele Stodart (The Magic Numbers) on Thursday 8th October and a matinee show from Sam Lewis and Krista Detor on the11th.
The festival ends with Findlay Napier’s Hazy Recollections, his peripatetic event that showcases several acts and is hosted by Napier himself, the man responsible for one of the finest Scottish albums this year in his disc Very Important Persons. His VIPs for the night will be Sam Lewis, Dark Green Tree and Kera Impala and it’s shaping up to be a very interesting evening.

We’ll leave the final words to Kevin as we tried to get him to spill the beans on whether he had any particular artist or group who would be his ultimate Glasgow Americana catch, his “bucket list” as such. Kevin pondered on this before replying… Yes, but I’m not telling you anything else about that.

Full line ups and dates are here

Reviews of the latest albums from some of the acts are here
Sam Lewis
Lewis & Leigh
Tom Russell
Findlay Napier
Dark Green Tree

And finally here’s a clip of Sturgill Simpson closing last year’s Glasgow Americana Festival.

Anna Coogan UK tour

Songwriter Anna Coogan has announced a string of UK tour dates this October, as part of her international The Silver Sea Tour. Anna will be kicking things off in London (Green Note) then heading on to Glasgow, Nottingham and Essex. Now celebrating her thirteenth year as a performing songwriter, Coogan has released five critically acclaimed full- length records and toured extensively around the US, UK, and Europe. Her music has been described as “absolutely gorgeous” (BBC
Radio Scotland) and “simply divine” (Maverick Magazine). Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed her 2011 album The Wasted Ocean here

After moving from Seattle to Ithaca, New York in 2011, Anna began to find her voice among a group of avant-garde musicians living in upstate New York. Under the tutelage of freak-country artist Johnny Dowd, Anna traded her acoustic guitar for a 1979 Stratocaster and began to move away from her folk roots. She began writing songs with longtime friend and producer JD Foster (Calexico, Patty Griffin), and powerhouse drummer Willie B (Jamie Lidell, Neko Case). Inspired and driven by collaboration, Anna plays electric guitar for several upstate NY outlets, including Mary Lorson (Madder Rose), and Johnny Dowd, and has produced several records by young musicians in Upstate New York. She is currently touring her 2015 collaboration with JD Foster “The Birth of the Stars”, as well as a new live record made with Willie B at the Triple Door in Seattle.

Sunday 4th October Live At Earl Haig Hall – The Jet Lag Show, London (Free Entry)
Tuesday 6th October Green Note, London (supporting Willie Porter)
Wednesday 7th October Rothesay, Isle Of Bute, Scotland Private Show
Thursday 8th October Woodend Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club, Glasgow
Friday 9th October The Guitar Bar, Nottingham
Saturday 10th October Little Rabbit Barn, Ardleigh, Essex


Lewis and Leigh. Hidden Truths EP.

Fresh from their highly praised appearance at The Americana Music Festival in Nashville in September Al Lewis and Alva Leigh are set to appear at Glasgow Americana in October with Hidden Truths, their third EP, due for release on October 16th. Since the pair, Alva from Mississippi, Al from Wales, teamed up in London around two years ago they’ve gathered a fair amount of noise, supporting John Fullbright, gaining the attention of Ryan Adams and becoming a staple on those radio shows which still have some form of quality control. Their previous EPs, Missing Years and Night Drives, the first a fresh faced quartet of songs swerving between pedal steel flavoured country and introspective acoustic numbers, the latter a darker affair with the duo recalling Twilight Hotel especially on the spectacular The Devil’s In The Detail, gave notice of their talent and number three is no different.

Hidden Truths continues the noirish trail blazed on Night Drives and beefs it up with some fine horn arrangements which add some swing to the songs which at times are like mini movies packed with drama and emotion. The first song, Heart Don’t Want, opens with a pleading Leigh sounding vulnerable over a naked guitar strum. Lewis then wades in with a defiant sneer, his voice adding a sense of urgency. A dramatic horn section adds a cinematic lift with the pair sounding like a musical version of Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. The quite amazing Only Fifteen is truly a mini opera squeezing into 4 minutes what Pete Townshend took two whole discs to convey. A clattering rockabilly rush sets the scene as Lewis describes being abandoned as an infant. At fifteen he finds he is adopted and sets out to find his birth mother who, once tracked down pleads her age, also fifteen as reason to abandon him. Her plea, backed by some fine plaintive horns seesaws with his guitar fuelled rage until they achieve a rapprochement. It’s a wonderful performance recalling Loretta Lynn’s work with Jack White.

Please Darlin’ is a down home slice of country pie larded with swollen horns and a loose electric guitar thrum as Lewis and Leigh play star crossed lovers who continually interrupt their daily chores in order to dance to their favourite record. There’s an infectious gaiety about it and halfway through listening to it a thought popped into my head that if Delaney and Bonnie had a TV sitcom way back then this could have been the theme song with backing by The Band. A silly thought sure, but it fits.

On each of their two previous EPs the duo have ended with a cover song (Wilco and Coldplay if you ask) and here they close with Elton John’s Country Comfort (from 1970’s Tumbleweed Connection). They take this lament for a rose coloured past and replace John’s mannered voice with their own excellent harmonies recalling classic Parsons and Harris and capturing the sense of nostalgia and loss in the lyrics perfectly.

Only four songs but each one is excellent and apparently Lewis and Leigh are promising an album in the New Year. In the meantime they are touring the UK with four Scottish dates included (Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh), the Glasgow Americana show is on Saturday 10th October at The Glad Cafe. Other dates here


Glen Hansard. Didn’t He Ramble. Anti Records

Ex member of The Frames and winner of an Oscar (Best Original Song, 2007 for Falling Slowly from the film Once) Glen Hansard is perhaps second only to Van Morrison in the recognition stakes when folk talk about current Irish singers (Bono excluded). He’s carved a reputation as a soul searching sensitive chap especially after allowing the breakup of his relationship with Marketa Irglova (his co Oscar winner and partner) to be pored over in the documentary The Swell Season. Didn’t He Ramble is his second solo release and there’s plenty of wistful pensiveness on it especially when his Irishness is on display (several of the songs have a decidedly Hibernian bent) however there’s also a brashness present with a horn section and booming beat featured here and there.

Unfortunately, the mixture of the two makes for an uneven listen. The jangled Lowly Deserter is smothered under parping horns. Her Mercy opens tenderly, almost prayer like, with hushed guitar and sensitive keyboards adding to the sanctified mood. Halfway through a choir and horn section confirm this but the song then looses any subtlety as the horns elbow their way into front space. The horns are used more successively on Just To Be The One; muted, with flute and string embroidery here they fit Hansard’s melodic delivery like a glove.

No such concerns with the remainder of the songs with the opening, Grace Beneath the Pines is an atmospheric emerald piece with Hansard emoting in a poetic bent as he alludes to Frost (grace upon this road less travelled) and Yeats (There’ll be no more running round for me/no more going down you will see) over a sombre string backing. The song recalls fellow Celt Jackie Leven as it builds in intensity. Wedding Ring is a stumblebum folky song with an easygoing beat and Paying My Way grumbles along in a low-key Springsteen fashion. McCormack’s Wall is the most evidently Irish song with Hansard’s voice accented as he hymns some of his homeland’s delights before ending the song with a fiddle led jig. Stay The Road sees Hansard and his guitar closing the album and is evidence that he is at heart a troubadour, his words expertly crafted and carried expertly aloft by his nimble fingers. A simple song but an excellent ending. There’s simplicity evident also on the song Winning Streak, a winning folk rock number that is immediately hummable and memorable. The concern here is that it’s because the song has a close resemblance to Dylan’s Forever Young along with a dollop of John Prine. Having said that it’s a fine listen.


Catching up with John Murry

JM beach 2


Way back in 1971 Kris Kristofferson wrote a song, The Pilgrim; Chapter 33 , the lyrics of which could be applied to a man who was to come to folk’s attention some 35 years after the song was written.
He’s a poet and he’s a picker/He’s a pilgrim and a preacher/ and a problem when he’s stoned/He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction/Takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

If nothing else John Murry is a poet and a picker and he’s documented his drug habit in some harrowing songs. As for the rest; well he has confessed to making up some absurd tales for his pal Chuck Prophet’s newsletter and at times he does seem to be a bit of a lost soul casting around for some stability. The latest chapter in his life sees him living for the time being in County Kilkenny, Ireland and setting out this week on a tour of UK dates accompanied by Grum Gallagher, guitarist with Kilkenny rock band, Duende Dogs. John was kind enough to take some time out to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke about his latest adventures.

I believe that you’re living in Ireland for the time being. How did that come about?

Well, Willie Meighan (promoter and record shop mogul in Kilkenny) set up six or seven dates here for me back in March and back home well, I’m getting divorced. I guess things just became so contentious I felt the best thing to do was just to stay away for a while. I don’t know if I intended to stay here but communications were going wrong, getting mixed up. There were recordings I had made in Australia and Oakland and here and even if I could have salvaged them and put them together I don’t think it would have made any difference because the feelings about them were just too claustrophobic and I didn’t think that anyone cared about getting them finished.

So, in terms of your recordings does that mean that you’ve scrapped them and are having to start over again?

Yes but I’m OK with that. Well, no I’m not. I’m not OK with how difficult it is to have to do that and I’m pretty frustrated with how the whole thing has played out. It’s all a bit confusing for me. The way support from labels and management was supposed to be, I thought I could finish the record but when I met with the people it became clear that there had been kind of, bad blood happening. I mean if I could do anything else I swear to Christ I would, anything other than make up songs and play them. I had no idea it would become as difficult as it’s become.

You’ve been living in Kilkenny then since March. How have you been finding that?

It’s an amazing place, I mean it’s smaller than Tupelo Mississippi where I grew up and there’s so much going on all the time. People have been so supportive and it’s amazing that even with the way the Irish economy, the whole European economy, being the way it is that they put on things and people go to shows. They really do support the arts here, it’s really phenomenal. From 2007 when Bob Frank and myself first came here, there’s something about the place that does feel like home. It wasn’t a bad place to land up in.

You’ve been playing quite a few shows in Ireland, how has that been?

It’s been good, I’ve met Grum Gallagher whose been playing with me and who’s going to be doing the tour with me. It’s given me time to find people around here that I really like playing with and who do it for the same reasons I do, especially Grum. So it’s a bit like getting to start over again and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s given me a chance to go through the songs and hear for myself which ones actually stand up on their own as songs as opposed to what I was doing, getting locked into creating something and then continuing to work on it without thinking about what it would sound like if I was just playing it on my own or with just one other musician. That’s really what I wanted to do, effectively write things I could play alone or with one person and that would be enough. So that’s weeded out some songs. It actually feels a bit like when I was younger when I used to play a residency at the Hi-Tone in Memphis.
You see, things like record labels, well, I don’t think they really matter. You have to think to yourself, what am I actually getting from this relationship and what are they getting? I think there’s a kind of desperation in the industry right now to define itself and when that kind of desperation kicks in it shapes what people are willing to do, there’s a lot of games that actually get in the way of getting anything done. I think I’m blessed to have made the record with Tim (The Graceless Age), it’s let me play dates in the UK and eleswhere in the world, OK it may not be with an agency but I can still do it. Ultimately it’s not agents and managers I need, it’s the people they hate that I need. Every middle man that comes between an audience and the music is effectively nothing more than a distributer and the way that people listen to music these days has changed things. So there’s a desperation in the industry to maintain a place that they’re not able to control anymore.
I mean if you’re born cursed to make music then you’re going to do it and if people are damned enough to have to go to shows then they’re going to go. It’s always been that way. Booking agencies and record labels be damned.

That’s a terrible curse, being damned to listen to good music.

Yes, it’s a horrifying curse, especially if it rains and you’re outdoors in Scotland. Why do they have outdoor things in Scotland? I mean Ireland’s that way too but they just throw up a lot of tents, and the Norwegians, they just pass out in the mud and then they come to and they realise there’s more music and they go for it again until they pass out again.

Talking about new songs, you released a video of one called The Wrong Man, just you and your guitar. Is that the direction you’re heading in?

Yeah, that’s one I wrote that stands up as a song that can be played with very little accoutrements, it works in that way. The others I’ll be playing on this tour are all in that vein. I mean people keep saying shit about Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska but I don’t know if I necessarily hear it that way, I can hear the anger and frustration in it and maybe that’s what people are comparing but I think it’s just a soul song in half time.

To me Springsteen is more blue collar, workmanlike

Well right now I’m kind of trapped in influences from way back, from when I moved to Memphis and had access to all that Stax stuff, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham; I fell in love with that stuff. And that’s what I’m trying to do and it seems to come naturally to me and that’s what disturbs me. I mean that song came so quickly and easily that I thought, oh, this can’t be good because I didn’t have to try very hard.

Maybe that’s what we call talent

Well, we’re all talented I guess in some ways but it’s the only one I’ve got that’s stuck in my craw since I was a little kid. It’s the thing I can’t get away from because I love it too much and if that’s the case then that’s what I’m going to do. A lot of what I did before was experimentation, playing around with a lot of ideas to then create a song or to layer things into a song. I’m really curious about sonics but I’m equally curious about songs and about pushing myself as a person who writes them. I don’t like that word songwriter though. Did you know that’s the number one claimed occupation on tax returns in the United States?

No I didn’t, maybe songwriters are the only folk who pay their taxes over there! Anyway, you’ll have Grum Gallagher with you on the tour.

Yes, I’m coming over with Grum, he’s playing guitar and keys and he’s just brilliant. When we first met we became friends really quickly but I had no idea that we would sort of, get each other the way we did. We played a handful of shows together at Carroll’s Bar in Thomastown, a great place, John Martyn used to play there a bunch. They revamped the place and we opened it up and it was a great honour for me that they let me do that. Anyway, when we played the shows it just kind of felt like I had found a Warren Ellis, someone completely on the same wavelength. There’s very little we need to talk about, it’s something that we both hear and get and don’t really have the language to discuss it. It’s really been a blessing as it’s the kind of thing I’ve lacked in my life and musically for a long time, someone who isn’t outside the music being created but an integral part of it, in the middle of the battle.
We’re touring at the end of September and then we’re back in November and there are still dates being added. I’m going to be seeing places in Scotland I’ve never seen before as I’ve only played Glasgow and Edinburgh in the past so I’m really excited to be able to see the islands and things like that. We’re going to, how do you say it, Stornoway?

Make sure you take your winter woollies, it’ll be cold

Yeah, I really need to get a good jacket, I didn’t think this through. I did intend to go back to the US but then it just occurred to me that the safest thing to do was to stay here. I don’t know if I was right or I was wrong but I’m here for better or worse. I need something rainproof.

You can catch John and Grum at the dates below and apparently there will be a limited edition live album of John’s show at the 2013 SXSC Festival available at the shows. The disc will also be available for a limited time via The Swiss Cottage Sessions, contact them via Facebook for details John has also been working on a new EP in Ireland.
25th – St Mary’s Church, Guildford
26th – Private show, Winchester
27th – Upstart Crow Festival, – London
28th – The Prince Albert, Brighton
3rd – The Fox and Newt, Leeds
4th – The Cluny, Newcastle
5th – Admiral Bar, Glasgow
7th -The Ceilidh Palace Ullapool

Thanks to Garrett Kehoe for his assistance in setting up the interview

Stevie Agnew & Hurricane Road. Bad Blood & Whiskey. Skimmin’ Stone Records

Two years ago Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed the debut album, Wreckin’ Yard, from Dunfermline’s Stevie Agnew and was well impressed by it. On the album Agnew had crafted some particularly fine songs that were in the vein of master story tellers and Americana icons such as Steve Earle and he delivered them with a heady mix of acoustic instruments and the odd rocker. Well, the good news is Bad Blood & Whiskey is if anything even better with Agnew in great voice, sounding grizzled and worn (and wise) while the music has retained the country/folk acoustic leanings with a definite dash of Celtic melodies thrown into the pot. Shades of Shane MacGowan loom here and there while the spiky haired spectre of Rod Stewart can be imagined smirking in the corner.

As on Wreckin’ Yard the songs are composed by Agnew and drummer Chris Smith (who produced the album and plays several instruments here). Of the 13 numbers there are several that are simply breathtaking, digging deep into woe and misery, drink and lost love with the occasional ray of light, the lyrics and melodies are striking. In addition the playing from the Hurricane Road band (assisted by several guests including Agnew’s father, Pete of Nazareth fame on bass at one point) is strong, able to accommodate blues, folk and rock with ease. Although are a couple of occasions when Agnew and his cohorts slip into an overused format, the slinky blues of The Fall Of Man and the mannered country rock of Moonshine for example, overall the album is striking.

The MacGowan influence is best heard on the wonderful Take Me Home With You, a duet with Ali Bell in the manner of McGowan and McColl that has a fine lilt to it with Uilleann pipes adding to the comparison. The pair sound great together although one gets the impression that Bell’s character has been imagined by the narrator who is seeking succour from any girl while in his sozzled state. You can’t beat lyrics like this…

“You’re well put together and fit for your age/It looks like you’ve been around the block/don’t put me on hold leave me out in the cold it’s nearly eleven o’clock/I’ve been wandering around this mouldy old town and the band’s playing Lefty Frizzell.”

It’s a song that given the right breaks could easily become a radio regular.

Agnew is excellent on several tear stained laments here, the opening Don’t Know How To Leave Her is the equal of any Don Henley ballad and In The Shadows is a pedal steel soaked slow waltz with lyrics that are imbued with the spirit of Hank Williams. There’s some sweet Caledonia soul on the quietly majestic Whiskey with harmonies from Elaine Shorthouse and Beth Malcolm cosseting Agnew’s strained vocals while Venal Street bridges the gap between Tom Waits and Michael Marra and is one of the highlights here. There’s some gaiety on Eyes Like Audrey Tautou which trots along with a Celtic air similar to Steve Earle’s Galway Girl while Earle again is recalled on the brisk I Will Find You, another song girdled by fiddle, country guitar licks and pedal steel. There’s more Celtic folk on the tale of an old roue on the prowl on Ghosts Of Yesteryear with the lyrics here especially fine. The badge for best song here however goes to the spectral Bad Blood with Agnew’s hoarse voice sounding as if he and Tom Russell were raised together.

Despite the plethora of influences mentioned above Bad Blood & Whiskey isn’t a hotchpotch imitation of various artists. Agnew stamps his authority on the songs and listen by listen there are more gems to discover and relish, be it the words or the playing. An excellent album indeed and it would be somewhat amiss not to mention the album artwork which is quite striking featuring Agnew slumped in a bar vividly captured by Edinburgh photographer Marc Marnie. It just about sums up the album (with a nod to Tom Waits).


Los Lobos. Gates Of Gold. Proper Records.

Over the past few years it seemed that Los Lobos were marking time, their only releases being live affairs, one “unplugged” (Disconnected In New York) and a live rendition of their album Kiko. Both albums were in fact pretty good but fans yearning for the follow up to Tin Can Trust have had a five year wait for Gates Of Gold with the previews of the title song setting parts of the blogosphere on fire. The song, a mandolin driven mid tempo lurch was favourably compared to vintage Levon Helm, it’s theme of wonderment regarding an afterlife assessed as an acknowledgement of the band’s increasing years. It’s a fine song although a little too short for our liking, fizzling out just when we felt it should start to burn. As an introduction to the album it also sells itself short as around it Los Lobos deliver their usual heady mix of rock and blues and Mexican styles with several of the songs boasting an impressive sense of daring do pulling in jazz and psychedelic flurries and proving that they are still essential listening.

Made To Break Your Heart opens the album with a flourish. A bustling beat and jagged guitar underpins the vocals before shifting into a jackhammer riff and glorious guitar solo. When We Were Free utilises the studio to full effect with the guitars treated and distorted over a tremendous burbling bass and vibrant percussion. With Steve Berlin’s sax freewheeling along with jazz influenced guitar runs the song runs the gamut from prime time Joni Mitchell to Weather Report and there’s more sonic burps on There I Go, a song that sounds like Dr. John beaming in from outer space. It’s back to earth with a tremendous bump on the gutbucket rock and blues drive of Mis-Treater Boogie Blues, a veritable treat for the ears. There’s more boogie on Too Small Heart while I Believed In You goes back to basic 12 bar blues with barbed wire slide guitar and scuzzy rhythm giving it an all too authentic touch, you can well imagine the band, broke down but not busted hammering this out in a low-lit dive.

One gets the impression that Los Lobos at heart are still a bar band and could throw out songs like I Believed In You at the drop of a hat and do them better than most bands around. However writers David Hidalgo, Louis Perez and Cesar Rosas are also capable of tender ruminations alongside their perennial returns to their Latin roots. Poquito Para Aqui swings with a Columbian Cambian sway with the guitars reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s ventures into Cuban music while La Tumba Sera El Final is a cover of a Mexican song about following a lover to the tomb. As adept as ever at translating Latin themes into rock’n’roll they offer the excellent Magdalena, a rolling and rocky blues number with tumbling guitar and a wonderful juggernaut thrust halfway as they sing of Mary Magdalene. Finally, Song Of The Sun is a creation myth that opens with acoustic guitar strums leading one to expect a folk rock song in the LA Topanga canyon style. Instead the band invest it with a powerful driving rhythm that recalls English rockers such as Richard Thompson and again the only fault here is that the song is all too short.

Overall Gates of Gold is on a par with Tin Can Trust and one can imagine that if they were to concentrate on the concentrated excellence of songs such as Song Of The Sun and Gates Of Gold Los Lobos could come up with an Americana classic.