No Mean City Americana Festival

September 2013, sees the return of the ‘No Mean City’ Festival in Glasgow, a unique celebration of Americana music. Tipping its hat to the City’s close ties and associations with American roots music and heritage with over 20 artists performing across five of Glasgow’s best loved live music venues including; O2 ABC Glasgow and Òran Mór, Broadcast, Nice N Sleazy, and The Art School.
O2 ABC Glasgow. General Manager, Joe Splain says… “As a City, Glasgow has so much to offer, we’re lucky enough to be immersed in such a plethora of unique musical styles and Americana and new country have really pushed through in recent years. 2012 saw us host our second Festival, joining forces with some of Glasgow’s most popular venues and promoters. It really was a fabulous event, featuring the likes of Patti Smith and Grandaddy on our bill. No Mean City is the perfect addition to the eclectic music scene and this year’s programme has even more to offer, from outstanding internationally acclaimed headliners, to raw, upcoming talent”
‘No Mean City 2013’ will take music fans on a journey through the many sub genres of Americana music with performances from fresh talent including Junip (15th September) who have recently been making waves within the genre, all female alt country group The Be Good Tanyas (5th September) and a highly anticipated performance from American Alt -Rockers Eels (3rd September). ‘No Mean City 2013’ also sees the welcome return of Caitlin Rose (9th September) who played the very first ‘No Mean City’ festival back in 2011 and the month long celebration will come to a combustible end with American Country music legend and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Kris Kristofferson (28th September) as he delights fans with a very special UK performance.
The official launch for ‘No Mean City 2013’ will take place at ‘For The Sake Of The Song’ on Friday 31st August, a one-day event at O2 ABC and O2 ABC2 Glasgow and Broadcast.

Friday 31st August: O2 ABC, O2 ABC2 Glasgow and Broadcast
“For The Sake Of The Song” – a one-day event launching ‘No Mean City 2013’

Sunday 1st September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
Kat Men + Lou Hickey

Monday 2nd September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
Strand Of Oaks + Daniel Norgren

Monday 2nd September: Broadcast

Tuesday 3rd September: O2 ABC Glasgow

Tuesday 3rd September: Broadcast
Daughn Gibson

Wednesday 4th September: Nice N Sleazy
The Barr Brothers

Wednesday 4th September: Oran Mor
The Milk Carton Kids

Thursday 5th September: O2 ABC Glasgow
The Be Good Tanyas

Thursday 5th September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
King King

Monday 9th September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
Caitlin Rose

Thursday 12th September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
Heartless Bastards

Sunday 15th September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow

Monday 16th September: Oran Mor
Jim White

Tuesday 17th September: Broadcast
Joe Pug

Thursday 19th September: Broadcast
Laetitia Sadier
Friday 20th September: Oran Mor
Johnny Reid

Sunday 22nd September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
Raintown + Ash Before Oaks

Wednesday 25th September: The Art School
Stephen Kellogg

Friday 27th September: O2 ABC2 Glasgow
Ethan Johns / Zervas & Pepper

Saturday 28th September: O2 ABC Glasgow
Kris Kristofferson

For full listings and details visit


Betse Ellis. High Moon Order. Free Dirt Records

Anyone who’s seen The Wilders will know Betse Ellis, the pint sized ball of energy who wields her mean fiddle for the Kansas City quartet. Well the Wilders have been quiet of late and Betse has gone and made her own album and a fine beast it is. A mixture of her own songs, some traditional tunes and a few covers it features several fine fiddle tunes such as Dry and Dusty, Elk River Blues, Stamper and Long Time To Get There where Ellis displays her undoubted prowess on the old bow and is ably supported by guitar and banjo. Her fiddle features alone on the traditional Queen of the Earth and Child of the Skies which has Celtic roots but sounds as if its roiling out of the mountain mists of the Ozarks while When Sorrows Encompass Me ‘Round will remind listeners of her solo slots on Wilders gigs as she sings heartily while accompanying herself on fiddle and again it spookily sounds as if it was summoned from the past. No surprise really as Ellis has studied traditional folk and country sounds for the past twenty years gaining the ability to sound as old as the hills. What is surprising is the contemporary sound of many of the remaining songs which feature a full band sound with bass, electric and lap steel guitars and percussion played by several of her Kansas City peers.

Opening song The Traveller breezes in like a light zephyr with rippling guitars and banjo although there is an instrumental overkill as Ellis weighs in with violin, viola and massed cellos on the chorus. No such problem on the following Golden Road which has Ellis on guitar and vocal along with her compadres. With some excellent lap steel playing from Michael Stover Ellis and the band deliver a traditional sounding (although penned by Ellis) song that captures perfectly the stoical religious beliefs of worn out rural workers from way back in the last century. The Collector has some crunchy electric guitar as Ellis takes us on a slow jaunt through her past as she sings about the hold old music has on her and the band almost falls into a waltz, lovely stuff indeed. Question to Lay Your Burdon Down is full blown country rock as Ellis sings a song she describes as a response to a song by Trouble In Mind, a Missouri band who kick-started a local “rural grit” movement several years ago and whose Mark Smeltzer sings on here. Ellis digs deep here and delivers her most soulful vocals of the album while the band whip up a fine dust storm.
The most surprising inclusion on the album is a cover of The Clash’s Straight To Hell and on first seeing this on the album cover we have to admit to some trepidation as to how this would work out. However as Ellis points out on her album notes Joe Strummer was a folk singer and she grew up with this song and she gives it a good go. The drums and Ellis’ incessant and throbbing fiddle give the song impetus and her impassioned vocals capture some of Strummer’s anger and angst and while it’s not as successful as Rachid Taha’s reworking of Rock The Casbah it does pack a powerful punch. Also packing a punch but perhaps somewhat out of place here is the ferocious two minute thrash of The Complainer. It is a cowpunk belter that comes screaming out of the speakers but ultimately disturbs the overall sense of the album, perhaps best shifted to a bonus “secret” track to be accessed only by those who reckon Betse could have been in The Ramones.


The Abramson Singers. Late Riser.

The Abramson Singers, a collection of various Vancouver musicians fronted by the gloriously gifted voice(s) of Leah Abramson deliver here an almost perfect confection of expertly crafted songs that ring out clear as a bell with Abramson’s crystal delivery supported by some excellent arrangements and empathetic playing. It’s an album that offers some striking folk tinged songs cosseted by wafts of accordion and pipe organ and then flies into the stratosphere of sunshine pop harmonies with chiming guitars and sixties styled keyboard accompaniment. Above all else it’s a celebration of the art of the singer with Abramson multitracked at times and at others supported by some well chosen harmony singers.

A tantalisingly short instrumental, Factory Reprise raises the curtain before the acapella Liftoff Canon features Abramson’s kaleidoscopic multitracked vocals set over a male voiced backing sounding for all the world like the vocoded part of Laurie Anderson’s Oh Superman. The fresh faced Jack Of Diamonds follows, a jetliner of a song as it soars boosted by some gutsy guitar fills as Abramson proves that she can out do Kathleen Edwards in the shiny pop song stakes. She repeats this on Lose-Lose where Tyson Naylor’s throbbing keyboards add a layer of mild psychedelia reminiscent of seventies psych folk. And folk music is at the heart of the album as Abramson delivers some lovely laidback reveries that recall the likes of Shelagh McDonald or even on occasion the weird world of Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s Farewell Aldebaran. Finally Abramson delivers the stunning Drowning Man which marries the traditional method with the laid back organ fuelled groove of The Band which again recalls the heady days of the seventies when John and Beverly Martyn recorded with Garth Hudson and his buddies.


Phil Lee with Hamish Roberts. Tintos Tapas Bar, East Kilbride.

Nashville troubadour and man of the world, self styled Mighty King of Love, Phil Lee has been touring as part of a package deal put together by Rob Ellen’s Medicine Show. With the mighty Lee in the driving seat this nod to the old fashioned package tours has featured guest stars along the way and in Glasgow this week Mary Jean Lewis, niece of the infamous Jerry was on the bill. The Gods however were unfavourable towards your Blabber’n’Smoke scribe as events crashed into one another resulting in a no go to the show. Fate smiled however when it transpired that the prospect of a gig free day so alarmed the miniature dynamo that a guerrilla attack on the quiet backwater of the Old Village in East Kilbride was hastily arranged and so it was that Blabber’n’Smoke along with around 30 others were privileged to see Lee and current sidekick Hamish Roberts in the cosy surroundings of Tintos Tapas Bar for an evening of unalloyed enjoyment as Lee sung, talked, joked, played and played with the audience.

Hamish Roberts, occasional guitarist with the Slim Panatelas opened the evening with a fine set that displayed his undoubted dexterity on guitar. Covers of Hendrix’s Wind Cries Mary, Tony Joe White’s As The Crow Flies and Steve Stills’ Treetop Flyer were well crafted while his slide work on Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out was a treat. A self penned instrumental that included some snatches of Wild Mountain Thyme recalled the work of John Martyn and was mesmerising.

Time for The Mighty King of Love to appear and Lee, dapper in appearance like a frontier medicine man a wee bit too fond of his own potions effortlessly slipped into gear from the off. Armed with guitar and harmonica he came across like a pixie Dylan or Guthrie with some wicked quips and an eye for the girls in the audience. Singing about living with a stripper or losing himself in the generous folds of flesh of Jemima James he plays up to his faded Lothario persona much to the audience’s delight with Every Time’s couplet “Every time I see you nude I want to give your number to another dude” gathering guffaws of laughter. Humour aside Lee performs these songs with a great degree of aplomb while his voice, a close relation to Dylan’s never sounds mannered or forced, in fact it sounds as if he’s having as good a time as his audience. Solo at the start Lee was joined for most of the set by Roberts who provided some sterling backup guitar despite his having to run into the street for tuning up as Lee accused him of being a perfectionist. Together they made a fine noise and away from the talking blues numbers and humorous asides Lee reminded us that he’s a great songwriter wringing pathos from Just Some Girl and whipping up a storm on the magnificent Babylon which was given an extended workout allowing Roberts to play some fine solos. For the encores Lee had some of the audience up dancing as he delved into rockabilly and then was persuaded back for a rock’n’roll medley which melded Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On and Shake Your Moneymaker. The audience lapped this up and by the end an hour and a half of Lee just didn’t seem enough.
This was an excellent opportunity to see a veteran and accomplished musician at close range. If you’re quick you can catch him at Belladrum at the weekend before he heads south for some English dates.

Album review