Elaine Lennon. Uncharted Waters

a3999012289_2Having appeared from nowhere to become one of the most in demand performers on the Glasgow music scene in the space of a year, Elaine Lennon’s debut album, released last January, was universally acclaimed. A winner of a Danny Kyle award at Celtic Connections and noted as an artist to watch by Nashville’s Songwriters’ Association, Lennon inhabits the world of confessional and moving singer songwriters who populated the charts in the seventies with folk comparing her to the likes of Dory Previn and Carly Simon.

As with all of us, Lennon’s plans for this year were cruelly shut down in March, derailing the promotion of her album. However, this Friday, she releases a new song, Uncharted Waters, inspired by the Covid lockdown. All profits will all go to the Paediatrics Unit at University Hospital Wishaw, Lennon’s way of saying thanks to the dedicated staff there who last year successfully treated her son for a tumour on his spine.

It’s a glorious song very much in the vein of the album. Lennon’s voice and piano are supported by a chorus of notable voices including Karine Polwart, Boo Hewerdine, Findlay Napier, Siobhan Miller, Yvonne Lyon and Chris While. There’s also a very moving video to accompany the song which was self shot by Lennon. All in all it’s very moving and should you purchase the song, you’ll know that it’s going to a good cause.

You can buy the song and donate here.


Blue Rose Code live from home. Saturday 9th May 2020.


Is this the “new normal”? Hunched over a screen watching a musician (and generally it’s one unless your favoured act is a commune or a happily domiciled live in couple), at all hours of the day and – depending on bandwidth – buffering, freezing, disappearing altogether? Since the lockdown has robbed all musicians of the ability to play live (and earn their living) there has been a tsunami of live streaming shows, many of them excellent it has to be said, although there have been a few clunkers. Generally these shows have been free to watch and hosted on social media with a virtual tip jar available in the hope that some folk will bung in a couple of quid.

With many of these shows lasting a short time and available for anyone to watch long after the live action has ended, there hasn’t been much point in reviewing them. However, Blue Rose Code’s live show on Saturday night was a horse of a different colour. A private ticketed event, privy only to those who stumped up and not to be streamed or shown elsewhere. This encouraged a sense of occasion. None of that, “I’ll just watch it later” attitude which is tempting, especially if it’s an American act live streaming at 3 am on Facebook which you can watch whenever you fancy the next day.

Ross Wilson chose to launch his first live stream via Zoom, the video conferencing app which has been one of the few beneficiaries of Covid 19. Many reading this will probably have used Zoom by now and will wonder how in hell you could watch a show without everyone and their uncle chatting away, it would be worse than the bar area at Oran Mor. However, Wilson, assisted by Gavin Hastie on tech and host duty, had done their homework and by and large it worked. It was an experiment, no doubt. Wilson is unhappy with the concept of playing for tips and wanted to see if a paying model would work and after the show Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to him about that.

Anyhow, on with the show. A Zoom invite got you a front row seat for this solo performance by Blue Rose Code. The doors opened at 7:30 with an 8pm start time. As folk logged in you could see them on video getting settled in before their video and audio options were muted. Hastie spun some discs and welcomed folk as they joined in, some participating from as far afield as Canada, Italy and the States. At eight, Ross Wilson came on, the sole screen to be seen as all others had been taken down. Screening from his Merseyside home, Wilson played guitar and piano over two 45-minute sets with a short break.

As live streamed gigs go this was pretty much par for the course in the sense that we were being treated to an intimate set of songs with no fancy effects. Fans had the chance earlier to send in song requests and to comment as the show progressed allowing Wilson the opportunity to answer some questions (example – what is your favourite John Martyn song) and to play some songs which are rarely played these days. He kicked off with the newly released single, Starlit, from the forthcoming album, a glorious song etched with aching and love. Red Kites followed before Wilson switched to piano for the first request of the night, My Heart, The Sun and then took some time to say hello to several of the folk signed in. Digging into his past there was an excellent rendition of Skin & Bones and, following a request, he sang Love Is…, a song he says he rarely performs these days which was followed by a powerful and joyful rendition of Ebb & Flow.

As the first set ended, our host Gavin Hastie unmuted all to allow a round of applause and shouts. This was an opportunity to be part of the crowd but it was interesting to see who was making the most noise as the Zoom app hoisted up the names of those closest to their gadget’s microphone. In such a close-knit community, we recognised several of the names.

As odd as it might be for the audience, it must be odder still for the musician to get into a groove, sitting as they are at home, trying to play, watch the messages coming in and respond to them without interrupting their flow. Wilson was certainly getting into the flow in the second half of the night particularly when he played and sang In The Morning and then Sandaig, ten minutes of bliss really as he became evermore animated with his guitar playing here just excellent. Then there was one of the most moving moments of the night with his rendition of Over The Fields, dedicated to his late friend, mentor and sponsor, John Wetton while Pokesdown Waltz (the most requested song of the night), was, as always, a tearjerker.

Prior to this there was an unexpected appearance from Wilson’s Liverpudlian chum, Robert Vincent who sang The Ending from his latest album, In This Town Your Owned, before having a chat with Wilson about how to earn a crust in these virtual gigging days.

By now well fired up, Wilson offered us another peek into the new album on the upbeat London City Lights and then travelled north for the wonderful Edina. The closing song, Grateful (what else) was dedicated to NHS staff and many others, the nameless and pitifully underpaid shop workers, drivers and all who, overnight, suddenly discovered they were “key workers.”

Loud applause from all the virtual attendees at the end and then, video enabled, we could see the faces of all present at this event, a moment captured by Hastie on a screenshot.

And that’s how it happened folks. It was a Saturday night in. Laptop wired to giant TV, Bluetooth speaker for the sound, some wine and nuts, two hours of Blue Rose Code, live, in our living room. An occasion. We really enjoyed it as did all of the other 120 ticket holders (most likely around 250 viewers given that couples were watching). It’s not the same as going to a sweaty live gig but as that’s not likely to happen for a while, this was perhaps the closest one can get these days.


Ross Wilson is a professional musician. That’s how he makes his living and right now, he has no paid work. Like all of us he’s seen Facebook explode with streamed shows, the tip jar dangled in front of us and he’s not happy with that. After the show, Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to him about his misgivings and about the model he’s proposing.

I’m an independent artist, this is my only means of making a living and I’m fiercely protective of that and I feel that there’s an awful lot of moaning going on but not much action. People rightly talk about the lack of proper remunerations from streaming but at the same time are happy to offer up lots of live shows on Facebook and asking for tips. That whole notion of tipping seems like a begging bowl and for me; if I’m not going to value what I’m doing then why should anyone else. I think there’s a responsibility on us to preserve the notion of paying for performances for the young musicians of today and tomorrow.

I’m lucky to have a fan base who support a lot of artists, buy albums and go to shows because they love live music, and they can’t do that right now. They’re sitting at home and from my experience, they are happy to pay for an event. So if you can create an experience for them which otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get during this time of lockdown, why shouldn’t you quantify its value? I’ve said it on Facebook, “It’s not just about the money but it’s also about the money”. I can’t understand how people can take issue with Spotify and then give it all away on Facebook. I can tweet all day complaining that I only get 000.1 of a penny for a stream but I think it’s better to do something about it.

Where I can maybe make a difference is by showing that it is possible to make money by putting on a “virtual concert.” There’s a whole bunch of people out there fed up watching Netflix and I showed that I can get 120 people to pay £12 a head to watch me. All of my work, my income, has been cancelled up to September and even then it might not start again. So the money I made through this show will let me pay my rent. The audience got to see me play and the show won’t be available online so it was a unique event. It won’t replace the real thing, the magic of being in a room with other people watching live music but I think we did a good job last night of interacting, I took requests, I answered questions, we had a song from Robbie Vincent and a chat with him. It worked well and I’ve got a few ideas as to how to make it better next time. It took me a while to work out how to do this model but I think I’ve shown that it can work. As a maiden voyage, it was no Titanic.

Is this a viable way ahead, allowing fans to experience a live show while guaranteeing a fee to the musician? It certainly seemed to work in this instance and, according to Wilson, the technical side of using Zoom was relatively easy to mange. It will be interesting to see if others begin to use this model to create a sense of an event rather than just the random selection of another Facebook video. If anyone reading this wants to know more about playing a concert via Zoom, Ross Wilson is happy to answer any questions you may have. Contact him at rossbluerosecode@gmail.com.

Blue Rose Code website



Top 10 albums of 2019


As everyone else is doing it, we thought we’d post our favourites from the past year. It’s not a definitive list (already been changed several times) but here we go…

Our Native Daughters, Songs Of Our Native Daughters

The Delines, The Imperial

Peter Bruntnell, King Of Madrid

Hayes Carll, What It Is

Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson, Amour

Anna Tivel, The Question

Ian Noe, Between The Country

Buddy & Julie Miller, Breakdown On 20th South Avenue

Norrie McCulloch, Compass

Felix Hatfield, Boundaries



There’s a wealth of bubbling under albums which have been greatly appreciated and listened to regularly but we’re not going to mention here. So have a search through the archives to see what else tickled our fancy in 2019. It was quite a good year and hopefully 2020 will be as fruitful.

A Blabber’n’Smoke Christmas Tale

Ever since Dickens, it’s been a Christmas tradition for short stories to abound. Some ghostly, some sad, some filled with good cheer. In keeping with this tradition Blabber’n’Smoke are proud to publish this seasonal offering from a good friend of our blog. Read on…

The Rough Sleeper

By Ken Irvine.

Canary Wharf business aria, London, Sketch collection

It felt like May. Why did I keep hearing that?

Worse still why did I keep passing the knowledge on. Everyone could feel the wet balmy remnants of Storm Francis. They could hear the spring-like chirpings of the blackbirds and starlings in the bare trees. Why did I insist on sharing that – in the back of taxis, in bars, in the barbershop?

Warm beads of sweat trickled down my back as I trudged towards the building, weighed down by my heavy load.  The river and the houseboats on my left.  The sound of the geese on the little islet in a vocal battle against the traffic. I thought of the relative tranquillity of the island and the successive fringes that surrounded it.

The river, a thin channel between the north bank and the island, too shallow for the pleasure boats that used the south channel, but the occasional rower would stray in there when the tide was right.

The houseboats, really the best real estate in the area, the few eccentrics who staked their claim here decades ago, in what was a downbeat , industrial part of town were now sitting pretty, but it was a tenuous existence –tethered to the bank against the ebb and flow and constantly warding off city hall  bureaucrats who wanted to wipe them from the map permanently.

The pretty little park, fringed with willow that mothers and toddlers would frequent this in day time, and when night fell it was the haunt of the local teenagers, smoking dope and drinking cheap alcohol, skateboards and chrome plated BMX’s discarded around them.

The busy main road, angry cyclists in the narrow bike lane and smug, frustrated commuters in cars ploughing their way home for Christmas in the rain.

Then, the rows of apartments, containing and contrasting all aspects of humanity, from billionaires in penthouses to eight-to-a room migrants in basements.

I sniggered to myself as I thought of my appearance. My heavy parka with the hood up against the rain. The large blue Ikea bag slung over my shoulder and my stooping gait balancing myself against the weight of its contents. Like a grim alcoholic King Wenceslas minus the snow.

Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City was playing in my headphones. I needed supplies if I was going to do this and the bag was full of food, some festive treats at knock down prices, but mainly staples -cartons of orange Tropicana, cereal bars, assorted tins of fish- mackerel, sardines, salmon, cans of strong beer- 7,7%. I had reckoned that would be enough. There would be no waste and I wouldn’t starve.


My building had few lights on when I arrived just after nine. It wasn’t the kind of place where people went to bed early, far from it. The students who rented in there had parties any night of the week, well into the small hours of the morning. But they were all away. Most of the other residents were away too, to families in other parts of the country.


They hadn’t told us about that in the sales pitch. That by choosing a first -time buyer shared ownership block, that I was buying in to a world where parents faked their first-year kid’s applications, these kids graduated and moved on, leasing the apartments to other students. These became neglected and the prices stagnated as all the other genuine residents moved out. I was the longest running tenant – or so it seemed. Twenty-six years old and I’d been here two years.

I switched on the light and hit the remote.  The Allman Brothers – Stormy Monday – Live at Filmore West ’71.  I smiled, it seemed apt, and I sat down – there was no need to turn the heating on.

I looked out of the window – It wasn’t the same for the surrounding blocks – those with proper concierges and strict rules about how the apartments were decorated and what could be placed on the balconies. Those with large brightly light Christmas trees in their windows, and tasteful fairy lights clipped professionally to the balustrades.

It was time.

Everyone was going away, no pubs, no meals, no socializing – no temptation to smoke until things started up again in January. I poured myself a large glass of Fino that had been on the “Reduced” shelf and went out to the balcony and lit up – my last one of the year.  Yes, by January I would have quit, and the album would be in the bag. I felt the warm glow almost immediately.


Although he was on the other side of the building I could see him,  a reflection on the mirror glass in the building opposite. Sat by the river wall – wringing his hands, running his thin fingers through his long black curls. I had seen this ritual many times – but still, it surprised me when he started. I guess after spending all day sitting in the underpass that linked  the shiny office buildings,  his hat on the ground  receiving a few coins,  it was a relief , once the daytime office crowd had gone – it was a freedom  to sit by the river and play his heart out, his djembe drum secured between his knees, his head rolling, trancelike.

 I took a long drag of the cigarette as leaned on the balcony. It tasted good, but I was resigned to what I was about to do.

I looked across at the smart block opposite. The facing apartment was fully illuminated, floor to ceiling windows. A young couple probably no more than 5 years older than me. From what I could see she spent all her time at home chilling, with an expensive pair of Beats headphones on. She was my dream audience, someone who clearly liked her music laid back. I poured another glass of wine and lit up another last cigarette.

Chastity Brown   – Colorado, played and I thought about what it might be like there – better than here.   

Beats woman really had nothing to worry about. Not like me. She had no addictions, I knew that much about her. I could tell that she was shrewd. She / they had bought well. Not up against the fumes of the  High Street like me – no,  they were in the young wealthy professional set who had mainly invested in the blocks that were set in the middle of the development. Despite being set back, they still had river views through the gaps between the street front properties.  She had it all – seclusion, glimpses of the river, wealth. It didn’t cross my mind that she might want more than that.

To the east the incoming flights appearing to hover motionless over the city. Stacking up. Within a few minutes they would be passing by the front of the building.

Was I ready for this? I had been checking the prices over the last few days and they had been going up. It was getting close to the tipping point where I had promised myself I would do it. It was puzzling that they should go up – totally counterintuitive. Why would someone want to come to a rain soaked city over Christmas, and even if they did , why weren’t prices cheap when the inhabitants of the city were all elsewhere, in Auckland, in Mumbai, in Salzburg, in Capetown, in Geneva.  But the little meter on the website showed demand was high and availability was low.

High demand for this dump ?  I thought. Who would want to pay that – but the fact was they did – there were no hotel rooms available. Soon I would get the offer I wanted. The money would be in my bank account, and I could proceed with the next stage of my life. The key would be in the keysafe. I wouldn’t have to meet them. But the place would be beautifully clean and tidy for them and they would be blown away by my personalized welcome notes and quirky, friendly handwritten guide to the best parts of town.

They would leave, noting how friendly, generous and welcoming I was even though they didn’t meet me. There were enough photographs around the place for them to attribute a personality to me. One of prosperity, fitness, talent and humour.  Me: surfing (or at least carrying a board); on a yacht; with a girl; strumming a guitar. That was the one that they would remember.

I had already written their review. Glowing. About how respectful they had been, about their excellent communication and about how clean the flat was on my return. I would submit that within minutes of them returning the keys. So that before they had a chance to write anything negative – they would read my erudite critique of their manners and fastidiousness and be stunned into reciprocating with their own positive review, and so it would continue.

Then I lit another last cigarette. The rainwater was swilling in the gullies below me and the massive drips from the broken gutter above, I dreamed of the lake. The frozen lake in Minnesota. I would be wrapped up properly, warm and snug, auguring the hole in the ideal position, near the cabin, but far enough out in the lake to be alone, remote, to see nothing but white.

The wine was working well. I was feeling fuzzy and relaxed. I started playing with lyrics in my head

against the snow in the winter light. Her warm brown eyes and her breath frosted and white. 

Bu that’s where the daydream ended. Who was I kidding? How could I pull off a song about a frozen lake when I’d never even seen one?  What was the draw of America? in particular the frozen wilderness that made me want to write about her – rather than go there – what was stopping me from going there. There was so much wrong.

I moved onto the next track “Yola – Faraway Look”

I had tried to spark up a conversation with Beats woman in the Spar before. It was in the first year of moving in – almost exactly two years ago. The developer had been trying to get as many sold before Christmas as they could. I had been one of the first. Hopeful , 24 years old, owner ( or so I thought) of my first property . I had watched the neighbouring flats fill up too. On the first day I had seen her and her partner instruct their removal men to carefully place their expensive looking furniture. The pre-lit tree placed in their window and they had got the removal men to neatly entwine the white lights around the balcony, so that by the end of the day their apartment, tastefully lit and sparsely furnished with choice items had resembled a John Lewis advert.

We had talked about the suggestion that the ground floor units were going to fill up quickly , the Spar was already there – good for cigarettes and alcohol – but we were going to get a hipster bar, a Korean barbecue place , a posh brasserie, a dry cleaners, barbershop, a bike shop with a paddle board hire franchise and a branch of Wholefoods

I had been excited about it, she had been slightly cynical. Turned out she had been right. It was too late to rectify things.

So, in the end I had made no lasting friendships in the place. Those that I had met in my block had moved on, and those who lived in the other blocks looked at the residents of our block as a hindrance, something bringing down the tone of the whole estate. I owed too much to move, my salary had not gone up for years, but the rent portion of the shared ownership was steadily rising.

I don’t know what it was that distracted me – something was afoot with Beats woman, she was dressed up for a night out. Her balcony door was open, she still had her headphones on, but was singing along to the track. Her voice – strong and soulful drifted across the gap- I strained to work out what it was.


“My baby’s gone, I have no friends” , The traffic drowned her out  for the next minute or so , then she drifted back strong , “there’ll be no more sorrow , no grief and pain”  I got it! The Eagles Please come home for Christmas . Picking up my guitar I quickly worked out the key A ? no, b flat ?  yes , and started strumming along . The instrumental break came and I continued strumming along and sang the guitar solo – a high falsetto echoing across the chasm between the blocks. The drumming from the riverside started to sync, – she came out on to balcony and lifting one side off her ear, listened for a second, and then sang at the top of her voice “there’ll be no more sorrow no grief and pain and I’ll be happy, Christmas once again”. For a moment she seemed to be three feet away rather than fifty.  She took off her headphones and stood motionless gazing out at the river .

I heard the little ding from my laptop, I went in and I looked at the screen. The offer had come in. A couple from Brazil, seventeen fifty for twelve nights days starting on Christmas day. Perfect.

I moved back to the outside. She was still on her balcony, staring down at the car park. I gazed over at her – I didn’t notice the weather report behind me on the flickering TV in the corner. Storm Francis was being pushed out. As of tonight, a cold front was moving east from the Arctic, over Russia, down the length of Finland, across Sweden and Norway. It was already sweeping across the sea towards us.

She raised her head and looked around her at the other buildings as if assessing her situation then noticed me standing on the balcony, smoking my third cigarette.   She stood motionless for a few seconds, staring. Then she shivered and moved inside and hit the button that closed the blinds.


As I walked down into the underpass, Sam Cook – A Change is Gonna Come was playing from his little speaker. He was lying wrapped in a couple of blankets, his head on the drum, dead still. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the letter that I had prepared for him should I find him sound asleep like this.


This is Alex, you know,  the office worker guy, the one with the beard and locks,  who comes through here five past eight every morning , and leaves at five past 6 , I say hi to you every evening , and on Wednesdays when I go through with my guitar on my back you always yell to me – “ I wanna be in your band Man !” I’ve never said this to you, but I always dream that one day I’ll just sit down beside you and I’ll play my guitar and you on your drums and we’ll sing the world to right!

Anyway, I had some bad news last week. I got told that I wasn’t shaping up to the company’s expectations on the shitty job that I’ve been doing for 4 years – and I got told that somehow they were going to let me go – I didn’t think they could do that , but now it seems man that they can do anything these days.

I always wish I had said something to you face to face, I see your grin and that glint in your eye and the way that you don’t care how the f*ck your hair looks – I don’t know what your story is why you choose to live in this underpass, maybe you’re like me – estranged from anything resembling a family – but man I just think that  you deserve better.

– ok so here’s my point. As I said I’ve got no future in that building above us, and I’ve got no money- but I sure know how to do a deal – and what a deal I’ve just done, Man !!

I’ve just let out my flat over Christmas on keys.com – for a sh’t load of money –it’s probably illegal cos I don’t own it , just rent it from the builders – at same time I went on Gumtree and started looking up recording Studio hire . It’s so cheap this time of year – in the end I managed to book a studio full of analogue equipment with a great desk too – the owners are away in Barbados for Christmas and they have basically handed over the whole place to me – it’s got a kitchen , a shower and a couple of sofa beds too – I’m basically gonna spend the next twelve nights there and record a track a day – I’ve got most of my stuff written but looking forward to writing some on the hops – I’m interested in all kinds of old time stuff like Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons,  John Fogerty and the Byrds – maybe you don’t know any of them , but the main thing is I’m not making a tribute album- I want to come out of there with something that’s urban , gritty , psychedelic and relevant’ It’s gonna be recorded in the city but it’s as much about nature and a longing for remote wild places as anything – all at the same time.

I’ve thought about you a lot man , about the rythyms  that you put down – come down when you read this and help me do this!  The studio address is below  – it’s gonna be quiet here over the holidays and at one point it will probably get real cold. I know some other musicians I’m gonna ask too – who knows maybe we will end up with that band – a great big , clunky,  band in the back of a van – touring round doing what we love .

Peace on earth


I placed the letter beside his speaker and walked up the steps back to the street.  The air had turned chilly, the clouds were disappearing, and the sliver dust of moonlight settled coldly on the night.



Nathan Bell tour and record news

P1080035 copy

A firm favourite of Blabber’n’Smoke, Nathan Bell returns to the UK and Europe for a short tour commencing on 9th October. We first came across Bell when his third album, I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love was released in 2016 but, grand as it is, the album didn’t prepare us for the intensity of his live act which we first experienced at Celtic Connections in 2017. Since then, we’ve seen him live on several occasions and he continues to astound. He has also released three more albums (one a live recording) which confirm that the readers of Americana UK were spot on when they voted him Male Artist of the Year at the tail end of 2017, and then as the runner up to Jason Isbell in the same category in 2018. We can pretty much guarantee that if you catch Bell on one of the upcoming dates you’ll be blown away. Trust us.

bell-right-reverend-coverAs an additional lure, Bell will have copies of a very limited edition 7” vinyl single for sale at the shows, along with a new eight track EP. The single, on yellow vinyl, is a tour exclusive and features two previously unrecorded Bell originals – ‘Heavy As A Talent (Billy Shakespeares’s Blues)’ and ‘To Each Of Us (A Shadow)’, recorded in Santa Cruz, California. The same studio sessions also spawned the EP, titled The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk And Blues, which finds Bell inheriting the mantle of revered characters such as Woody Guthrie and Lightnin’ Hopkins (if you’ve seen Bell live you’ll know that he reveres old Lightnin’).  Co-producer Brian Brinkerhoff says of the EP, “Rarely does an album title give you a perfect depiction of the music contained within. There’s a Blues side and a Folk side here – four songs that fit into each of those broad categories and yet hang together seamlessly.”

We’ve had a sneak preview of The Right Reverend Crow Sings New American Folk And Blues and can confirm that Brinkerhoff is correct as Bell delves into classic acoustic blues and folk territory. It bodes well for these upcoming dates.


Tour Dates:



* with Canadian singer-songwriter
DAVID LEASK in support

Video Premier : Quick – ‘Never Heard a Voice Like Yours Before’

Here’s the brand new video from Glasgow based “newgrass folk” band, Quick. Never Heard A Voice Like Yours Before is the first song to be released by the band since the 2017 release of their debut album This I Know. Since then the band have played at Celtic Connections, KIng Tuts Wah Wah Hut, the BBC’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Eden Festival, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and the Country to Country Festival.

The video was directed by BAFTA award winner Tim Courtney and the song is available from Holy Smokes Records.


Best of 2018

first time record playing cartoon

It’s always kind of weird trying to sum up a year’s worth of music. For sure, there’s a couple of albums which just demand to get mentioned as they’re at the forefront of the old cerebral cortex, very pleasurable memories imprinted for all time (hopefully). But then there’s a host of sounds which have thrilled one at some point during the year and it’s been a task going through the archives to recall them, although it’s also been a most pleasing process as we stumble across a half forgotten gem.

So, here’s Blabber’n’Smoke’s ten favourite albums of the year, in alphabetical order, along with a list of those who just didn’t make the cut but which are well worth listening to. Rising above all of them however is our number one choice of the year. Our favourite album (and best gig of the year) award goes to the stunning Bennett Wilson Poole, a band who just lit up 2018 for Blabber’n’Smoke. Firstly with their excellent album which rejuvenates jangled harmony rock and then for a series of shows we were lucky enough to see them play, several times in trio format, and then finally with their full band line up. That last show was at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe and there’s no doubt that this was the show of the year. If this list does nothing else let it guide you to listen to them if you haven’t done so already.

So, we’ll let Bennett Wilson Poole top the list and then add on a top ten. Links are added to our reviews where available.

Bennett Wilson Poole. Bennett Wilson Poole

And the rest in alphabetical order…

Amy Helm. This Too Shall Light

Birds of Chicago. Love In Wartime

Carson McHone. Carousel

Courtney Marie Andrews. May Your Kindness Remain

Dean Owens. Southern Wind

J P Harris. Sometime Dogs Bark at Nothing

Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes. Some Girls (Quite) Like Country Music

Leon III. Leon III 

Ruston Kelly. Dying Star

The Mammals. Sunshiner

Also of note:

Alejandro Escovedo with Don Antonio. The Crossing

Alela. Diane. Cusp

American Aquarium. Things Change

Anna Egge. White Tiger

Anna & Elizabeth. The Invisible Comes To Us Now

Benjamin Folke Thomas. Modern Man

Cam Penner. At War With Reason

Carter Sampson. Lucky

Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale GIlmore. Downey to Lubbock

Gene Clark. Gene Clark Sings For You

I See Hawks In LA. Live And Never Learn

James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band. High Fences

Joshua Hedley. Mr. Jukebox

Karine Polwart. Laws Of Motion

Letitia VanSant. Gut It To The Studs

The Lonesome Ace Stringband. When The Sun Comes Up

The Lost Brothers. Halfway Towards A Healing

Mary Gauthier. Rifles and Rosary Beads

Nathan Bell. Love Stars & Bones Love stars & Bones

Patrick Sweany. Ancient Noise

Phil Cook. People Are My Drug

Rab Noakes. Welcome To Anniversaryville

Sam Morrow. Concrete & Mud

Stephen Fearing. The Secret Of Climbing

3hattrio. Lord of the Desert

It’s been a great year for music and we’d like to say thanks to all the artists and promoters and fans for joining in. And, apologies for anyone left out or those who have been in touch asking for reviews. We can’t possibly do them all but without folks like you we wouldn’t be here at all. So, read the reviews and if you think it’s worth a punt do get in touch. We aim to please. Love, peace, kisses and joy to the world for all who are tuned in. We’ll sign off with this cool Christmas song from Giant Sand.

Static Roots 2018

34016858_857835087737260_3737381984364658688_nRound about this time last year we spoke to a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, Dietmar Leibecke, from Germany, about his Static Roots festival which he had set up in 2016. Seeing as it seems we share the same pair of ears when it comes to music, Static Roots seemed to be the place to be mid July and this was confirmed when another good friend, Ken Beveridge, wrote a fine review of the weekend. Well it’s that time of year again and so we dialled up Dietmar to ask him what was on offer this time. Read on to see what he has in store for those attending in 2018.

It’s your third year of putting on Static Roots, is it gaining a foothold on the musical calendar over there?

Well it’s a bit early to say but we are getting some more publicity with invites to talk about the festival from some radio shows here in Germany and I’ve even spoken about it for a London based show when I was over there two weeks ago. Certainly when we offered up our early bird tickets they sold out almost immediatley and since then the sales have been building up. Funny thing is that a lot of them are going to people from outside Germany but I’m hoping that with the recent publicity we can get some more local folk to come along.

I know that you have been closely linked with Ireland’s Kilkenny Roots Festival so is it a bunch of Irish folk going over?

A lot of my friends from Kilkenny Roots will be there but they come from all over, Ireland, England and there’s a big Scottish contingent. Many of them have been there for the past two festivals and when they come it’s like a big family gathering but for everyone else they’ve really enjoyed the atmosphere. We have a great venue, an old factory which has been converted into a really nice venue with a beer garden outside selling great food and great beer so there’s plenty of opportunities to meet people and share the experience.

Sticking with the Kilkenny connection I believe you are going to be paying tribute to the late Willie Meighan.

Willie came to the first Static Roots before he became unwell. When I was thinking about setting up the festival I got a lot of advice from Willie, he was a great inspiration and really a mentor to me. We had a lot of discussions about the bands I wanted to put on and he had some great suggestions. There was a band who wanted to play but I wasn’t sure about how they would fit in even though I knew their name would sell a lot of tickets so I spoke to Willie and he said, “Stay true to what you feel is right”, so I didn’t book them in the end and instead stuck to the acts that I knew would go down really well. Willie was my role model and such a great influence, such a lovely, friendly, polite and funny character so we’ve decided to have a special slot in the festival dedicated to him. And really there was no one better to play that slot than Kilkenny’s Midnight Union Band, I think of them almost as Willie’s children as he supported them so much.

So who else is on the bill?

On the Friday we open with Hannah Aldridge who is just tremendous. She’s playing solo but she can really grab the stage on her own and then there’s the Steven Stanley band from Canada whose album was produced by Christopher Brown on Wolfe Island. The Midnight Union Band are on next and then to close the night we have Terra Lightfoot with her full band. I’ve only seen her solo before and I was really impressed but the videos of her with her band are brilliant so I’m really looking forward to that. And then on Saturday we are lucky to have Justin Osborne from Susto opening the show  before we head to Nashville with Anthony da Costa and Charlie Whitten and then into London with Donald Byron Wheatley. I really loved Donald’s album which sounded at times like Dylan in the sixties when he was playing with The Band, I’m really looking forward to that but I think that the last three bands on will just blow people’s mind’s away. We have Bennet Wilson Poole, your new supergroup of sorts who are just brilliant and then Prinz Grizzly who have really progressed since I first saw them at Kilkenny last year. And then I’m really excited that we have managed to get The Cordovas over to close the show.  I saw them last year almost by accident. I was in Groningen  watching Hurray for the Riffraff and when they finished I was going to another stage to see the Cactus Blossoms but I had to pass another stage and there were these five hippies on it just starting to play so I stayed to see what they sounded like and they were tremendous, guitars, pedal steel and three singers doing some great harmonies. In the end I watched the whole show, I don’t think any of them stopped to retune a guitar or anything, they just played and they were so much fun so I missed the Cactus Blossoms and I decided I needed to have them at Static Roots so I spoke to them after the show and we agreed to see if we could manage it. And then I met with Paul Spencer who organises the Maverick festival and we decided to see if we could coordinate some things which resulted in us having The Cordovas coming to play for us. Hopefully Paul and I can continue this and bring some more of the bigger acts over.

Aside from the music what else is going on?

As I said there’s a really nice beer garden outside and we have breaks so that people can go outside and grab a bite to eat.  Our friend Ken Beveridge who has written a book about all the gigs he’s gone to since 1966  will be doing a book signing at some point. I’ve also asked Anthony Griffin, a really good photographer, to come over but not to take shots of the bands but to concentrate on the audience. He did that for Kilkenny Roots and he can really capture that sense of wonder you get when you’re listening to some great music and really being part of a community. And really aside from the music we are arranging a sort of cultural outing for anyone who comes early on the Friday, the Static Ruhr Tour, a trip to some historical sites around Oberhausen along with some stop offs to experience a real currywurst stall and sample a few beers on the way.

Static Roots Festival happens on Friday and Saturday 13th and 14th July, all info here

And here’s a sample of Dietmar’s latest find, The Cordovas…

The Arisaig Americana Festival takes its first steps

arisaig-festival-1The West Highlands of Scotland may well be one of the most beautiful places on the planet and there’s been no shortage of music emanating from the area over the years, most of it in the traditional vein and reflecting the rich culture of this historical landscape. Now, an enterprising musician, Mairi Orr, wants to see the West Highlands, or, more specifically, the village of Arisaig,  on the romantically named “road to the Isles” to become a beacon for Americana music in Scotland complementing the sterling work carried out by the likes of Celtic Connections in Glasgow and Perth’s Southern Fried Festival. Orr (whose music we’ve discussed here) recently moved to Arisaig after living in Edinburgh and she’s decided to use her contacts to set up a festival which she hopes will grow into a popular attraction. Obviously that’s a long term goal and on the understanding that great oaks from little acorns grow this year’s inaugural Arisaig Festival is a small (but perfectly formed) affair. Intrigued as to why and how Ms. Orr set about this Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to her and we started off by asking her why she decided to have a go at setting up the festival in the first place.

I moved back here three years ago, not long after I released my album. It’s a lovely place but I found that I was kind of missing the music scene I’d been around in the big city. There are some amazing musicians up here but it tends to be mostly Scottish and traditional music and while the musicianship is second to none I felt that there was room for more Americana type music and importantly, that there is an audience for it, so I decided to see if I could kind of kick-start that, get it off the ground. I’ve always loved being up here.  Before we moved here permanently I visited a lot because I’ve got family here and I always thought it would be great to have some sort of event here. It’s a popular tourist destination, absolutely mobbed in the summer and there’s a great appetite for cultural events, music and such. When we got here I had my baby girl and that obviously took up my time but I started thinking seriously about setting up an event at the beginning of this year. In reality I’ve set up this first festival in a ridiculously short time but I’ve got a three year plan where I want to build the festival up, hold it over a couple of days and hopefully get some American musicians to come up and join in. So this year is really just to get it off the ground, put the word out and gauge the reaction.



So this year is pretty much dipping a toe in the water and seeing how it goes?

As I said it’s really just a launch pad for what I hope will be a bigger festival next year. We’re holding what is the main event on the Saturday night but before that we will be having musical workshops for guitar, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin, on the Saturday afternoon. There’s also going to be what I’m describing as a big pub session on the Sunday and I know there’s going to be a lot of musicians turning up for that, a good mix of people I hope.  A lot of local people have expressed their interest since we announced it and we’ve received some funding from a local trust fund and it’s great to get their support. There will be tourists around looking for something to attend and then folk I know in the music scene have also said they’re coming up, they’ll join in the session so that should be good fun.


Tell us who you’ve got lined up to play

Well I’m really pleased to have The Wynntown Marshals as our headliners as they are one of Scotland’s best known “Americana” bands. They’ll be playing here as an acoustic trio which suits the hall we’re holding the concert in although I’ve asked Iain Sloan to be sure to bring his pedal steel with him. We also have The Jellyman’s Daughter, an excellent duo who have just released their second album and for this they’re bringing some friends with them to add bass and banjo on stage so that should sound great. Then there’s The Daddy Naggins who will be rounding off Saturday night with some good old foot stomping bluegrass. They’ll also be around earlier in the day as they are going to be helping out on the afternoon workshops.

You’ve missed out an act, the Crow County Pickers, which, after some extensive research, turns out to be yourself and some chums!

OK, that’s me with David Currie, Craig McKinney and Alan Finn. David is a fantastic Dobro player who did several shows with me when I was out playing my album. We hadn’t played for sometime after I had my daughter but we got back together a little while ago and started working on this and Craig is bringing along his mandolin while we’ve got Alan on bass

It seem to me that aside from the concert you’re trying to inject an awareness of roots type music, folk, Americana and such in a place that’s probably more used to trad fiddle sessions and pipers galore.

Well there’s a lot of music students up here who are learning trad music along with a lot of “closet” players out there who would probably love to have a go on the banjo or mandolin. We’re just trying to expand the idea of folk music to encompass more than trad so the workshops are aimed at them. One of things I like about Americana music is that it’s really open and friendly and inclusive, I’m hoping that if you play guitar or banjo or mandolin or anything really you can come along and join in. The workshops will be free as will the session on Sunday, bring an instrument or just come along to hear the music. The Sunday session is being held in a great bar where they’re really encouraging to musicians and I’m getting feedback that a lot of folk will be coming to that.

It is a small festival, we don’t have a great capacity in terms of the venues but I really want to grow it over a couple of days and bring artists up here who probably don’t come to this part of the world that often. Really we just want this year to put us on the map, there are musicians who come to the West Highlands but not often enough. I’ve been talking to some other promoters to see if can start to join the dots as it were for American acts coming over here so that they don’t just play the cities, to see if we can make it attractive enough for them to play a bit further afield.

Which bring us to my final question. A lot of folk will thing that Arisaig is out in the sticks, cut off from the mainstream as it were. If we were to go would we have to hike there or get a helicopter?

Although we look as if we’re out in the wilds there are good transport links. There’s a steam train that comes from Fort William, it’s actually the one you see in the Harry Potter films which goes over the Glenfinnan viaduct. That’s the tourist way of getting here but you can get the train from Glasgow while buses run from Glasgow and Inverness. I think most people will drive and we’re only about three to four hours away from most cities in Scotland. It is a bit of an effort to get here but it’s such a beautiful part of the world it’s well worth the effort. We’ve already got a successful trad festival here, Feis Na Mara, which is held in October and it always sells out and that’s in the off season so there’s no reason not to come.

The Arisaig  Americana Festival takes place on 23-24 June. Their website is here and tickets are available here.

And here’s some video of Mairi in action. She’s sure to give The Marshals’ a run for their money.




Ramble on down to The Ramblin’ Roots Revue

ramblin-roots-revue-2018-905016388-300x300We’ve mentioned previously a couple of the newer (and smaller) festivals which have been popping up over the past few years. The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, held in Bucks University Union in High Wycombe, has its second outing this year from the 6th -8th April and will be featuring a host of acts who are Blabber’n’Smoke favourites so we spoke to organiser Tristan Tipping about the weekend’s events. First of all we asked Tristan why he decided to dip his toes into the perilous waters of organising a festival.

Why did we start Ramblin’ Roots? I guess we’re just gluttons for punishment.  We really just wanted an excuse to have a big weekend surrounded by lots of people we knew while enjoying some great music.

You run Clubhouse Records with your brother Danny but I believe that the festival is a separate entity. Aside from yourself who else is involved in setting it up?

Ramblin’ Roots is really myself along with Noel Cornford who runs Earbelly who do pop up stages for acoustic acts and Jamie Alexander who is the events manager for Bucks University Union where we hold the event. Last year we got off to a real flyer, we were pleasantly surprised both in terms of ticket sales and the feedback we got so we decided to try and have it as a regular event. We don’t really see it as a festival; it’s just a big get together of like minded people who are into the same type of music, not muddy fields and bad camp sites. It’s all indoors in an award winning venue with some great bars and food. We’re all in our forties so the idea of standing in a wet field for days doesn’t really appeal, personally I don’t want to be more than 15 feet away from a bar.

It certainly seems to be a bargain in terms of the ticket prices.

Yes, it’s under a pound per band if you buy a full weekend ticket. We’ve got 36 artists playing and it’s only £32:50. We’ve tried to keep it reasonable and the drinks and the food are all sensibly priced,  having it in the Union keeps costs down and we’re not out to make a huge profit, we just need it to wash its own face. We want an event that attracts folk so we’ve kept the prices as low as we can manage. It’s great if you think that it’s a bargain, I hope other people see it that way. It’s difficult to get people to get out of their house to come to events but I think we’ve chosen a good weekend to hold it on, there’s not a lot of other things going on near us then. It is hard work and there is a bit of a risk in putting anything like this on but as I said a lot of people turned up last year and we’re getting really good support and good mentions.

And it’s not dependent on the weather as it’s indoors.

We’ve got three stages. There’s the acoustic stage which is actually outside and two indoors, the main room holds around 600 people and the other is more of a traditional bar setting. We never have more than one act playing at the same time so if you’ve got the stamina for it you can actually see all the bands that are playing.


It’s a great line up, I presume it’s a lot of hard work to assemble such a cast but how do the three of you choose who is playing?

Well obviously it is down to availability but aside from that it’s important to us that there’s a mix across the Americana genre so that there’s a degree of variety. I mean it’s a broad church so we have some of the more traditional folky and bluegrass stuff alongside more alt country music and some almost psychedelic West Coast sounds.  So there is a common thread there and all three of us have worked in the industry long enough to have some great contacts and a lot of mates so it is a community we’re tapping into. We want to be surrounded by acts we enjoy but the main common denominator is that they are all excellent live acts. Between us we’ve seen all who are coming to play and we know they can offer a great experience on the day.

Looking back at last year’s festival I see that aside from the music there was a pie eating contest!

Yes although it’s a bit of a hazy memory. I think it was my brother who won it. I mean it’s all about the music over the weekend but we’re trying to make the whole event an experience with the food and drink just as important. We’ve got lots of food stalls with free tastings and we wanted to have a bit of fun as well which is where the pie eating came in.  I’m not sure what we’ll do this year, someone suggested horse shoe throwing!

This is maybe an unfair question but who are you looking forward to seeing?

That’s a tough one but I’m really looking forward to The Midnight Union Band who I’ve seen at Kilkenny a couple of times and then The Raving Beauties and The Hanging Stars are right up my street as I really like that West Coast type of thing. But it’s all quality from top to bottom. The act who most people seem to be really looking forward to are Bennett Wilson Poole who are just starting off and who release their album the weekend of the festival.  The other set I’m excited about is the Clubhouse All Stars tribute to Tom Petty. We actually did that at Truck Festival five years ago and with Tom passing away quite a few people asked if we could do it again. We’ve got a wealth of people who can come on and sing their own personal tribute so it should be a great show.

The Revue has a charity partner this year, Ridin’ The Roots.

We’re supporting our good buddy Del Day who is doing a sponsored cycle ride from Lewes to Kilkenny to raise money for Cancer Research. It’s in memory of Willie Meighan who was at the heart of the music scene in Kilkenny and who I had the pleasure to meet when I was at Kilkenny Roots. We’ll be having a collection at the shows and Del will be there to tell folk all about it. It’s a pleasure to do our little bit to help.

Tickets for The Ramblin’ Roots revue are available here

You can read about and support Ridin’ The Roots charity cycle here.