Chatting about the chimes of freedom with Tony Poole

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This Friday sees the release of one of the most hotly anticipated discs of the year in the shape of Bennett Wilson Poole’s debut album. Ever since news of the trio was  announced the web has been buzzing with a frisson of delight at the prospect of hearing what in effect has been dubbed a UK Americana “supergroup.” A carefully managed lead up to the release with notable video productions and a handful of live shows has only whetted the appetite. BWP, as we shall henceforth call them, consist of three very talented musicians –  Robin Bennett of The Dreaming Spires, Danny Wilson from Danny & The Champions of The World and Tony Poole, best known for his seventies star jangled band, Starry Eyed & Laughing, and a producer and arranger of note, widely acknowledged for his prowess on the Rickenbacker 12 string guitar.

Blabber’n’Smoke has been lucky enough to have encountered all three previously in term of record reviews and, like the rest of the Americana blogosphere, was somewhat giddy at the prospect of hearing their collaboration. Happily, the album more than lives up to the expectations  with the band creating some excellent music and in the meantime building up a singular image as inheritors of the precursors of Americana with their sly nods, musically and visually,  to the likes of The Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash amongst others. The trio are uncanny in their evocation of those past times while at the same time adding their own personalities to their songs along with a topical protest touch which again reflects their predecessors’ ideals.

The trio have spoken at some length on the genesis of their partnership in two fine interviews with Lonesome Highway and Say It With garage Flowers so when Tony Poole agreed to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke we thought that, rather than regurgitate the same old questions, we’d concentrate on the live shows the band played in London two weeks ago and try to figure out why BWP are currently the bees knees. So we started off by asking Tony why he thought that the album had whipped up so much excitement and anticipation.

I think it’s a couple of things. The three of us have our own backgrounds and people who know us through them so there’s a fan base already there. When we had finished recording the album I sent out CDRs to folk we knew like Nick West of Bucketfull of Brains and Pete Frame of ZigZag magazine and the reaction we were getting back was really positive. Danny knows this guy Phillip Mills who manages Emily Barker and others and he’s been amazing. We hired him to coordinate the project back in November and again the feedback was so positive and so we built up quite a lot of advance anticipation. It was quite a surprise because I’ve been working away for ages chucking stuff out and never got that sort of feedback. We were all excited as well and Danny’s reaction in particular was so good. He was texting me every day saying he hadn’t had as much fun ever listening to a record he had made and that sort of reaction seems to have followed through with other folk. It’s hit some sort of spot which I couldn’t begin to explain and it’s even carried over to the live shows although we’ve only done five, they’ve all hit that spot also. It’s been a joy so far and, OK, all of this has been happening in a kind of an echo chamber that the three of us live in comprised of people we all know and who like our kind of stuff so I don’t know if when the record comes out it will get much further beyond that but it’s been wonderfully rewarding so far.

Part of the build up has been the three videos you’ve released.

Robin has been the mainstay here. It was his idea to do a Two Ronnie’s’ type thing on the first video, Welcome To The Wilson General Store, while he conceived the train video as a direct homage to The Wilburys’ End Of The Line. We’ve been really lucky to have Martyn Chalk and his brother Barrie of Chalkstar films on board and it was Martyn who came up with the spy video idea for Ask Me Anything and the Ice Cold In Alex ending. As for Danny and myself, we just do what we’re told to do. 

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There’s been a great response to the three shows you played in London at The Betsy Trotwood the other week.

Well they were the first shows we did with a full band with Joe Bennett, Robin’s brother from The Dreaming Spires and Fin Kenny who has drummed with the Spires and who is just the most amazing drummer. We only had two days to rehearse but I’d sent them the songs beforehand and they were amazing. I don’t know if you know the Betsy Trotwood? I’ve got a journalist friend who remembers it when it was kind of like an old man and his dog type of pub but this guy Raz has turned it into a great venue. It’s got an upstairs room which I’ve played solo in a couple of times and a basement which I hadn’t appeared in before but that’s where the band played. It’s a great venue, when you come in it looks a bit like The Cavern, all old arches and such and I couldn’t resist singing Some Other Guy once we were in there. It only holds about 60 people so there’s a great atmosphere. The place was rammed and the shows went fantastically well, there was a great sound guy so that really helped.  We played the album from start to finish. I sequenced the album and I think it holds up really well when you’re listening to it but live it really worked. The last song (Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself)) is a kind of wig out jam sort of thing and on the first night we played it about the same length as the album version but by Friday it was about 15 minutes long.

The response has been wonderful. You’re always unsure as to how well a live show will go down and I haven’t played three nights in a row for a long time so by Friday morning I could hardly talk but a little bit of medicinal whisky got me back singing that night. Along with the album we decided to add on a couple of songs each from our back catalogues including what was Starry Eyed’s “hit,” One Foot in The Boat, a couple of Danny’s including Old Soul and one from Robin’s old band Goldrush along with The Dreaming Spires’ Searching For The Supertruth which was really great because I played on the original. When we were rehearing we had so much fun trying out songs like The Wilburys’ Handle With Care, Find The Cost of Freedom and 100 Years From Now so we did them as well. And then Danny’s such a musical person, he’s always got a guitar in his hand, always playing some music, in fact I think he wrote a couple of new songs while we were rehearsing but he just started off playing Michael Nesmith’s Different Drum and we all joined in and I’d forgotten what a great song it is so we threw that in as well.

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People have of course compared BWP with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young). How do you feel about that?

I’m easy with it.  I mean I’m too old to be bothered by that sort of thing. But even things like the album cover, well that was an accident. We were taking some photos at Truck Festival last year with John Morgan and we saw this temporary saloon bar they had put up for some of the smaller bands to play in and we took about six pictures there. When we were planning the album cover Danny was a bit concerned about the similarity however and he had another idea which led to us doing another photo shoot where we were on the surface of the moon but it looked like we were Kraftwerk or something. Anyway, we went with the saloon shot and I’m totally happy with it. One of the things that’s been good about the reviews that have come in is that people have said that we’re not pastiche and that we’re not coming across like a tribute band. There is a sixties feel to some of the album and when I was doing the arrangements I consciously put in some quotes that kind of reinforce that. At the end of Hide Behind a smile I put in a lick from The Beatles’ In My Life while one of my guitar solos on the album is actually just the start of the melody of the middle eight of I Am The Walrus. There’s lots of little pointers in there but hopefully I won’t get sued for plagiarism!

One of the things that struck me is the sense of how much fun the three of you are having playing together; it really comes across in both the album and the videos.

I’ve known Danny for about 10 years and Robin just a little less and we really get on well together. Somebody said that you had to have some conflict in order to produce greatness but I’ve never believed that, I think you need some harmony. The making of the record was just so easy, they had their songs and when they came to me I had a few bits and pieces, mainly finished songs, and they just slotted in. I’ve always thought, even back in the day, that it’s the intention of what you are doing when you are recording something rather than the perfection of it that matters. Music is such a powerful thing and I think it connects on a subliminal level and it’s great if you can pick that up when listening to the album. When we were recording it was just so smooth. We were in my little room with three mics set up, Robin and Danny were playing acoustics and I was laying down an electric kind of guide guitar and we spent just three weekends laying down the songs and then I had the time to think about the arrangements. I’d never aspire to compare myself to him but I felt a little like Jeff Lynne.

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With all this publicity do you think that it will rekindle folks’ interest in Starry eyed & Laughing?

That’s funny you ask because I’ve just spent a few days with Iain Whitmore (Starry Eyed’s bass player) and we were talking about that. We’ve always kept in touch, Iain and I, and we actually started recording some songs back in 2013 for a new Starry Eyed album but then I developed this thing called polymyalgia and it floored me for some time and we had to put the project on ice. But I’m hoping that the awareness due to this will help us, it’s a bit like when the internet started up and I began to get emails from some fans and that started a bit of resurgence then.  I mean we’ve beaten David Crosby’s record for the longest gap between albums, our last one came out in 1975!

So Iain and I have been working on a new Starry Eyed project over the past six months or so but when Bennett Wilson Poole played the Union Chapel Ross McGeeney, our guitar player came along to see us. I’d last seen Ross at the funeral of our drummer Michael Wackford, we hadn’t kept in touch but we spoke after the show and I’ve met up with him since then. It adds another possible dimension to a new Starry Eyed & Laughing album, I did get in touch with our original drummer but he doesn’t play anymore. Anyway we’ve been working on it and one of the things we wanted to do was revive the tradition of having other musicians come in to play with us. Our producer in the 70s, Dan Loggins, brought in Russ Ballard, he was quite a character, and B. J. Cole. I saw B. J. last summer at a festival in Woodstock in Oxfordshire and he’s agreed to be on the new record and I’d like Danny and Robin to be on it. Obviously there are people who are fans of Danny and Robin who haven’t heard of Starry Eyed & Laughing, I’ve met a few at the gigs who had no idea of us so getting the name back out there is a great thing. We were only together for about three years but we did play a lot of gigs and we were on a major label so we did make a few waves. But then again when we were on CBS their biggest act was The Wombles.

Bennett Wilson Poole is released on Friday and can be purchased (on vinyl even) at The Wilson General Store. They play at this weekend’s Ramblin’ Roots Revue in High Wycombe and are appearing at Kilkenny Roots Festival in May while further festival appearances over summer are in the offing.

You can read more about the adventures of Starry Eyed & Laughing and buy their records here

Thanks to John Morgan for his excellent BWP photographs

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The Man From Leith Finds Himself in Muddy Waters – Dean Owens & Southern Wind

railway-pic-crop-3Dean Owens unveils his latest album, Southern Wind, at a showcase concert this Friday as part of Celtic Connections. Recorded in Nashville with a crack team of American musicians (including Neilson Hubbard and Will Kimbrough, both part of The Orphan Brigade) the album is a bit of a departure for Owens. Many of the songs were co-written with Kimbrough and there’s a definite whiff of the deep South woven throughout. We spoke to Dean about its making and asked about several of the songs on it.

You’ve recorded several of your albums in Nashville but Southern Wind seems to be more rooted in an American sound as opposed to the Celtic Americana that characterised Into The Sea. While the opening number, The Last Song, sounds like it could have fitted easily into the last record with that freewheeling roustabout swing which is reminiscent of Ronnie Lane’s last Chance, the rest is quite different.

It was hard to follow up an album like into The Sea, a lot of folk really liked that and I think the best thing to do is to go down a different road and try not to repeat yourself. I’ve done that with all my albums I think. If you go back to my first album and follow them thorough I think they are all quite different. Last Song is probably a bit of a connection to the last album, when we sequenced the album we decided to kick off with that one and then head into a slightly different world.

The main difference from Into The Sea is that I wrote most of the songs with Will Kimbrough and he’s from the South and that brought a strong flavour into the album. I was talking to a friend the other night about this and he thought that Into The Sea, although I recorded it with some of the same musicians in Nashville, was much more about my background, looking at me growing up and with lots of family and friends references whereas on this one there are different characters and a different feeling. That has come about through writing with Will and also through spending more time over there. Since I recorded Into The Sea I’ve spent a lot of time over in Nashville and travelling about. Aside from Southern Wind I’ve also been recording this other project, Buffalo Blood  down in New Mexico and I think that, as an artist, you kind of soak up all that stuff.

The instrumental break on When The Whisky’s Not Enough and the opening slide guitar and bluesy moans of No Way Around It are particularly evocative of Southern music.

I’m really pleased with the way No Way Around It worked out. I wanted it to be a big sounding song and that take was the one and only time we played it in the studio. I think we really captured the vibe I was going for, the real spirit of the song and in bringing in Kira Small for the backing vocals, I really wanted to have a good soulful voice in there and she nailed it. I’d said to Neilson Hubbard, the producer, “I really want to make a swampy sounding record,” and that’s what he does really well. He’s from Mississippi and Will’s from Alabama as is Evan the drummer so they have that sound in their veins.

I really wanted  especially to feature Will’s guitar playing on the album and on The Last Song he’s actually playing guitar, bass and piano. He just had that Ronnie Lane type of bass sound on the demo so rather than have the regular bass player Dean Marold play, Will did it and he also played piano on it as he has that rollicking Faces’ like loose way of playing.

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You mentioned Kira Small and her voice on No Way Around It is spectacular. It reminds me of Merry Clayton’s singing on The Stones’ Gimme Shelter.

That’s exactly what I was thinking of when we were recording that, that Gimme Shelter type sound. I’d said to Neilson that I wanted a big soulful voice in there and right away he said that he knew exactly the woman who could that and it was Kira. That’s one of the great things about Nashville, I mean people ask me, “Why go to Nashville? There’s loads of great musicians here.” Well of course there are but in Nashville everything’s on your doorstep. You can say I want that voice or I want that instrument and you’re surrounded by some of the best players and singers who can just come in, almost at a minute’s notice for a session. Kira came in and nailed that on the first take. That’s one of the reasons I love working with Neilson, I trust him and he knows what I want and he knows how to get it.

Earlier you said that much of Into The Sea was informed by family memories but there are a couple of songs here that are also  about your family.

When Into The Sea was being recorded my sister was gravely ill and her passing was obviously a huge blow and although I don’t want to dwell on it, in a way I wanted to, as it were, put that part of me to rest. My sister will always be with me and that song, Madeira Street, is a memory but it’s also a way of moving on. It’s a situation that affects more and more people as we go along. I’ve realised that in the past few years that so many people I know have had similar situations so although the song is about me and my sister I hope that people can relate to it.

You also have a song about your mother.

Well, my parents try to come along to my shows whenever they can and one of my most popular songs is The Man From Leith which is of course about my father and my mum’s always been giving me a hard time about not writing a song for her. So I had started this song (Mother) a while back but I really didn’t know where it was going. I sang it to Will when we were doing a wee song writing session way before we started on the album and he helped me out with some of it. I still felt it needed something else however and when I was touring with Danny & The Champs I was playing it in the dressing room, just as a way of warming up, and Danny asked me what it was as he quite liked it. Anyway, I was staying with Danny the next day and we were messing about with it and I was telling him about my mum and some of the things she was always saying and he said, “That’s it, there’s your lyrics there,” and he helped me to piece it together and encouraged me to put it on the album. Fortunately she loves it, I sang it to her on Christmas Eve and by the time I was finished we all had a bit of a tear in our eyes.

There’s a great rockabilly punch on Elvis Was My Brother.

That’s the song that people seem to be picking up on so far. It was pretty much based on a letter a friend sent me and I asked him if I could use it and he said yes and he’s really happy with the way it turned out. Of course it’s about a huge Southern character, Elvis, so it fitted on the album along with my other song about another Southern hero, Louisville Lip, about Muhammad Ali. Aside from musicians one of my greatest heroes was Ali and although we’ve lost a great many musicians in the past couple of years his death was the one that really hit me. I’ve got some memories of sitting with my dad watching Ali fight Foreman when I was really young and although I’m not sure if it’s what really happened as I was so young, I think that I was mesmerised by this guy dancing around with these really cool white shorts on and I said to my dad that I wanted a pair of those. He said I could only get them if I became a boxer and so later I joined a boxing club and that was a huge part of my growing up.

I remember exactly where we were when we heard that Ali had died; we were in Amarillo, Texas, one of those names that certainly conjures up one particular song. We were in the van coming back from New Mexico when one of the guys read the news on his phone. And when we got back to Nashville I sat down and wrote the song and played it to Will and we decided it had to go on the album. Ali was just my hero and aside from his boxing prowess he was a huge figure in the South in the civil rights era so he deserved to be on the album.

The album launch is on Friday and you’ll be appearing with your own band, The Whisky Hearts. Given that the album was recorded with these American Southerners, how will The Whisky Hearts play the songs?

The songs will sound different when we play them. The Whisky Hearts are all brilliant Scottish musicians and while they’re not steeped in the South like Will and Neilson are, they’ll play the songs with their own passionate take on it. For example, there’s no fiddle on the album but we’ve got Amy Geddes on fiddle so it will sound different.  We did it with Into The Sea, we took the songs I had recorded in Nashville and brought them home and we’ll do the same here, the spirit of the record will shine through.

Dean Owens & The Whisky Hearts are appearing as part of Celtic Connections at the Drygate, Glasgow on Friday 2nd February. Southern Wind is officially released on 16th February with advance copies on sale at Friday’s concert. Dean will also be a guest of Celtic Music Radio‘s Mike Ritchie on Friday afternoon, 1-2pm, talking about the album and playing some songs in session.

 

 

 

Cosmic Cowboys, Acid and Having a Beer With Jesus – Justin Osborne of Susto

10915026_1610467402502047_3413982370388978341_oTouring in support of their second album, & I’m Fine Today, South Carolina band Susto make their debut Scottish appearance at Celtic Connections this week. Formed in 2014 by Justin Osborne, the band have rapidly gained a reputation for their live shows while & I’m Fine Today is a well crafted set of songs which explore doubt and the human condition and  essentially ask the question, “Why Are We Here?” With beautifully delivered ballads such as Havana Vieja and more complex layers of sound as on Waves, the album is like a less manic version of The Flaming Lips with a dash of Wilco added.

Osborne grew up in a Pentecostal community and attended military school for a while. Rebelling, he dived into drugs, lost his religion and started a band, Sequoyah. When they broke up in 2013 he returned to college but eventually left and travelled to Cuba before forming Susto. On the eve of setting off to Europe (and on his birthday) Justin took some time out to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke.

First off, Happy Birthday to you. I believe it will be a busy day as you are flying out to Europe. Is this your first time over here?

Thanks. We actually leave for Europe tomorrow, first we fly to Chicago then to Copenhagen.  I’m really looking forward to this, really excited. I’ve played solo before in Europe and in the UK I’ve only played London so I’m excited to be getting to some other places such as Glasgow to play at Celtic Connections. I hear it’s a great festival and that you get to meet lots of other musicians and I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland. We’re also playing some showcases in the Netherlands with some other musicians and I’m really looking forward to seeing Corb Lund and Colter Wall.

First off, can I ask you about the band name? I’ve read that Susto is a Latin American term meaning a sense of malaise or dread, kind of like an existential crisis.

It’s a bit of both really. I was an anthropology student when I first heard the term and it literally means that your soul is separated from your body but the  more I read about it I realised that it has degrees, it can be as simple as a panic attack all the way up to a feeling that you’re not really yourself. When I first heard it I was like 24 or 25 and I thought it described how I was feeling but then I started to learn Spanish and I lived in a Spanish speaking country for a while and I realised then that it’s often just a colloquial term for a fright. But it still has this deeper feeling and I thought that it was an appropriate name for my band.

You lived in Cuba for a while?

Yes, I was in Havana for much of 2013.

Was it easy to go there? I know that the US back then didn’t really encourage tourism.

Well when I went there it was just before Obama relaxed some of the rules but the first time I went it was through an educational programme which was one of the ways you could legitimately visit the country. The second time I kind of snuck in, I flew to the Bahamas and from there I was able to get to Cuba. But then I got detained in the airport when I came home as they didn’t believe that I had spent all that time in The Bahamas and I was carrying all this Cuban rum. However I got off with a slap on the wrist so that was OK. The Cubans are happy to see you, it’s the US government who don’t want you to go.

You’ve said that your time spent there was quite influential. Was that in terms of you personally or was it more of a musical influence?

Both really but it’s not really an obvious influence on the sound. There’s so much music on Cuba and it’s so diverse. There’s the traditional dance music and there’s lots of rock bands and cover bands who just do Beatles songs but what really intrigued me was the singer songwriter tradition, called son truvo. They have this sense of sarcasm and they’re not afraid to sing about the darker side of humanity but kind of playfully and I think that has been the main influence, I came back really as a different kind of writer, using lyrics in a different way from before. It’s definitely on the first album and some of it spills into the current one. We’re not afraid of being sarcastic and we’ve put out little vignettes on some of our videos which I think shows that side of us.

That comes out on the song Chilling On The Beach With My Friend Jesus. Your idea of heaven is having a beer on the beach with your friends instead of seeing pearly gates.

I guess. I’m not religious but I come from a deeply religious family and part of my struggle over the past few years has been reconciling where my head is at now with the way I grew up and being able to communicate with my family. That song was meant to be like a bridge between people who had lost their faith and those who have the traditional beliefs. I don’t know if I succeeded in building that bridge, maybe I blew it up. The song was one thing but then we made a video for it and that made some people more upset, they didn’t like to see Jesus partying and drinking. The church I grew up in, there’s no alcohol so that didn’t go down well but I was told that I had a personal relationship with Jesus and I think if that’s true then you’ve just got to be yourself and not be like on your best behaviour all the time and that’s what we tried to show in the video. I don’t lose sleep over it, a lot of people had fun with the song and we certainly did but if you read the YouTube comments you see people writing, “You’re going to burn in Hell” and stuff like that but I just laugh it off.

You mentioned setting up little vignettes or stories for several of your videos

In a way it’s really just giving people something to chew on. I mean we can’t put out a new record every couple of months so we add a little bit to a song. It’s mainly for people who are really into the band, who are interested enough to search us out. We don’t do it with every song, there are some that I’m not comfortable talking about but it’s more or less a way to orientate people and let them know where we are coming from. We’re kind of giving people a different way of hearing a song and it’s been fun to do but listening to music is a personal experience and some people just want to hear a song and some want to know more about it and I think the listener has a right to choose which way they go about it. We don’t want to push a song’s meaning down anyone’s throat, it’s really just to keep the interaction going.

Having said that, some of the songs are quite obvious. Gay In The South for example tackles attitudes towards gay people with family and friends saying they will go straight to hell. Some parts of the South have always had a reputation for being intolerant but do you think it’s worse today?

I was up late last night just talking about the way this country is going and there are lots of conversations like that going on all over the place. When it pertains to gay rights, women, minorities and such I had hoped we had moved on a little bit but when I go home to my family and the place I grew up, it’s not just my family but people in restaurants and most people around you and it’s like they all voted for Trump. It’s not the case in Charleston where I live now, it’s a more progressive town, but back home you start to think, why, where did we separate? Guys I grew up with, played sports with and could probably still have a beer with, but when it comes to politics there’s a very big rift. With my parents I cannot talk about politics at all, it would just blow up even though they’re people I love. Before Trump there was already a lot of animosity, us and them, but Trump is the great divider, the wedge that’s making that split much wider. It’s sad because basically I love people and I Love my family and where I’m from but I can’t reconcile with their views.

Can we talk about your experience of microdosing with LSD?

I got into LSD when I was at college, not microdosing but going on a trip trying to get that psychedelic experience, it felt like it was stripping away the layers of bullshit and seeing the world in a new way. Maybe that was just us going crazy, I don’t know but it didn’t really feel like that. I started hearing about microdosing when I was in Sequoyah, as a band we weren’t tripping all the time, maybe just a couple of times a year. But by then I had a song called The Acid Boys  and I’ve got the word ACID tattooed on my hand and so some fans would give me some LSD and I started to think about microdosing – the government’s definitely listening in on this but it doesn’t matter because I’m clean right now!

I didn’t want to go back down the whole ten hour acid trip but remembering the changes it brought out in me I started microdosing in the studio for the first record, it wasn’t just me but our guitar player at the time and our producer. And we got a lot done. We were taking just trace amounts and it wasn’t as if you felt you had any substance in you, it was just like, “Wow, I’m in a great mood today, I’m firing on all cylinders.”  It just raises the energy levels but it’s not like caffeine or any kind of amphetamine, I hate that edgy feeling, it’s just a very clean feeling of energy. I don’t do it all the time and although we did do it a couple of times when we were making & I’m Fine Today there was a lot more times when we weren’t doing it. I’m not like saying to everyone, go do acid, but for me personally it’s helped me deal with bouts of depression, helped me deal with the changes in my life.

There’s a song on the new album, Cosmic Cowboy. Did you grow up listening to psychedelic country records?

I’ve been a Grateful dead fan for a long time. I’m not really into jam music, bands like Phish although a couple of the guys in the band like that. I’m coming more from a punk rock and singer songwriter background, I went to military school right after high school and while I was there I just fell in love with the imagery of The Grateful Dead, the Steal Your Face look, I’m even wearing a Dead T shirt right now. I was drawn to them through the graphics and although I wasn’t smoking weed or anything I started to fall in love with their music. It wasn’t because of them that I started taking LSD however, that was just boredom

a4018315158_16You said earlier you had studied anthropology and with your interest in Latin America I wondered if you know much about the culture and drugs of indigenous South American tribes

Well I’ve never used a drug like Ayahuasca which some Amazonian tribes use but that culture is represented on the album cover for & I’m Fine Today which is a painting by Pablo Amaringo. He’s deceased now but he was a shaman from the Peruvian Amazon, a rain forest preservationist and an amazing artist. Our drummer is a visual artist and he brought me some ideas for the album artwork including this. It’s supposed to be a representation of this inner battle that can happen and I thought it was a great way to represent the concept of Susto. When Marshall brought that to the table I couldn’t believe that a piece of artwork like this could exist. Because again, the reason the band is called Susto is because of that ongoing battle internally and I just thought the painting represented us. We spent a lot of time making this album and we were always adding little things here and there, maybe we added too much stuff but the album sleeve, it’s like you can look at it and keep on finding new things and I think it’s like listening to the record, you can keep on finding new things in the songs. I’m really grateful to Pablo’s estate and to the Universe for putting that artwork in front of me.

Susto are playing two shows at Celtic Connections on 3rd and 4th Feb. All tour dates are here.

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Roseanne Reid gears up for her debut album release

rr copyThere’s a fair chance that if you’re a regular attendant at shows in the central belt then you’ve probably already encountered Roseanne Reid. The Leith born singer/songwriter has rapidly established herself as a rising star in the Scots folk/roots firmament to the extent that she seems to be the person to go to to add some local colour when major artists are hitting town. Now she’s ready to really step out on her own, a debut album on the cards with a plan to run a Kickstarter campaign over the month of October in order to fund the recording.

Reid has certainly captured the imagination of the audiences and local media with The Scotsman describing her thus, “Her singing and song craft displays a talent and maturity awesomely beyond her years” while she also has the cachet of being admired by none other than Steve Earle who has said she is, “An outstanding song writer.” Certainly one listen to her excellent song,  I Love Her So, proves that Earle is right on the button as Reid, sounding far older than her years, jerks at the heartstrings  with the song coming across as if it could be a deep cut from Lucinda Williams.

Poised to press the button to launch her Kickstarter campaign,  Ms. Reid was kind enough to take some time out to talk with Blabber’n’Smoke and we started by asking her about her background.

I was born in Leith but I live in Dundee right now. I guess I really started to get interested in music when I saw Martha Wainwright in concert when I was only 12. Rufus was actually the headliner but when I heard Martha it changed a lot of things for me and I really started to listen to things after that. But it was a couple of years later when I discovered Steve Earle for the first time. My brother had the Copperhead Road album and I think I was about 15 or 16 when I first listened to it. After that it was just a natural progression from Steve to Townes Van Zandt who was kind of like Steve’s mentor and that just led me onto a lot of other artists.

Going to a concert aged 12 seems like an awful early start but then you come from a musical family. It’s not something that you talk about but I’ve read in one interview you did a while ago that your dad is Craig Reid of The Proclaimers.

Well it’s not a secret and if anyone asks then I’m happy to talk about it. I did keep it quiet for a time and it’s only recently that people have begun to comment on it.

So when did you start wring and playing your own songs?

After seeing Martha I wanted to play guitar so I got one and my mum taught me a few chords and things and then I started writing some songs a year or so later. I can’t remember any of them, I haven’t kept anything from that time. I’d say I started to get a bit more serious about it when I was around 17.  I played at things like school assemblies and that but when I turned 18 I started to play in bars and folk clubs. Leith Folk Club were really good to me giving me my first support slot and it really just kicked off from there. They were the first to really support me as an artist and it gave me the confidence to move further afield and I started doing open mic nights in Glasgow in places like Nice’n’Sleazy. They had a really good open mic night and it was a great opportunity to improve your song writing and performance. Open mic nights aren’t easy, they can be really hard gigs to do, to capture the audience’s attention but they’re great places to cut your teeth and it’s an opportunity to meet more established acts and to make connections.

Talking of connections you seem to have established a good relationship with our local promoters, The Fallen Angels Club, I think most of the shows I’ve seen you play at were promoted by them.

Kevin Morris runs that and I actually got in touch with Kevin via email at first. I was wanting to get into a more Americana folk-based thing and when I looked that up on Google Kevin’s Glasgow Americana Festival was the first name to come up so I got in contact with him just saying I was looking for opportunities to play and Kevin was good enough to get back and offer me some slots. He’s been really brilliant for me and the shows I’ve played for The Fallen Angels have been with really quality acts. It’s been a great experience and I’m really looking forward to playing a couple of shows at the Glasgow Americana Festival next week.

You were nominated for a Radio Two young Folk Artist Award.

That was in 2015. My mum had heard about the awards when listening to the radio and she suggested I go for it. So I sent in a couple of demos and I was lucky enough to be selected by them to go down south  for a Young Folk weekend and then four acts from that were officially nominated and I was one of them.  It was a great experience, I played a live slot on Radio Two and it stood me in very good stead for making more contacts and getting my name spread around.

The year before that you attended Steve Earle’s Camp Copperhead, the song writing workshop he holds in the Catskills.

That was the first year it ran and I was really keen to go as I’m a huge fan. It was actually my 21st birthday present from all my family to send me off to it. It was brilliant, just the opportunity to spend a few days being able to listen to him talk about his songs and song writing. There were about 120 campers that first year and I sang one of my songs there and he must have seen something in it as in the years since I’ve been able to get scholarships to go back and help out so I’ve been to them all. It’s quite intensive over five days, you’re getting up early, he gives a two hour lecture every morning and in the afternoon it’s workshops looking at various things, poetry, guitar playing, writing and then there’s an open mic every night. We’ve had guest lecturers in like Shawn Colvin and Dar Williams.  And again I’ve been very lucky and Steve’s been really supportive helping me out with the scholarships so I can go back and assist with people attending for the first time. He wants me to learn, I know that for sure, so that’s been the deal for the last three years.

So when did you start to record.

After the Folk Awards I recorded an EP called Right On Time. I had quite a few songs together by then but I didn’t feel it was the right time for an album so I thought that releasing four songs was just about right. Happily, the CD run has sold out, I’ve only got one copy left but it’s still available as a download on Bandcamp.

So now you’re ready to record an album.

Well, I’ve kind of held off until now for a variety of reasons, working different jobs, various things happening in my life. There was no way I was ready to do this before now if I’m being honest but recently everything’s taken a turn for the better with me and now I’m really looking forward to it.

Teddy Thompson has offered to produce it and hopefully, if I can raise the money I’ll head over to New York to record it with him. I still wasn’t sure if it was the right time to do this but I’ve spoken to folk about it, asking for advice and Ross Wilson (of Blue Rose Code) said, “Well, it’s the album you’ve been writing your whole life and if you feel that Teddy’s the right guy for you then go for it.” I mean I’ve been writing these songs for the past ten years and they’re all sitting there ready to go.

Your EP is just you and a guitar. Will the album be more fleshed out with regard to instrumentation?

It’s going to be quite low key, maybe a bass player, some pedal steel and a few harmonies, quite basic, I just want a bit of a backbone to support me and the guitar.

And how do you describe your music?

The great thing about the Americana tag is that it’s quite a wide umbrella so I usually go with Americana Folk, I’m not purely folk, not wholly Americana, it’s about a 50/50 thing.

Who are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke as I want to try and get a more soulful element into my voice but my current favourite is definitely Blue Rose Code. Their new album is going to be phenomenal.

October looks to be a busy month for Ms. Reid as she launches her Kickstarter project while she appears at two shows in this year’s Glasgow Americana Festival in addition to her usual schedule of live gigs. The Kickstarter goes live at 6pm on Sunday 1st October and there will be incentives for those who sign up while she promises some surprise news regarding the project sometime next week.

Kickstarter page

Picture courtesy of Carol Clugston

 

 

 

 

 

The Honeycutters’ Amanda Anne Platt takes centre stage

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From Ashville, North Carolina, The Honeycutters’ last album, On The Ropes, was on several best of lists at the end of last year with the majority of reviewers homing in on singer and songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, the de facto leader of the band. On the eve of their first tour of The UK, they will release their newest, self-titled, disc. Self titled perhaps but Ms. Platt has decided to step up to the plate with this one, the result being the newer moniker of Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Amanda last week and we started off by asking her about the name change.

I’m sure that you’ve been asked this by everyone and it’s mentioned in the press release but can I ask you why you’ve finally put your name out front before the band? I mean you’ve always been the focus of the band and you’re singled out in reviews and I was wondering if it was a way of you reminding people that, with the great wave of female artists that are about now, that you are one as well.

It’s been a topic that has come up with every album we’ve put out. Should we use my name or the band name? Even on our first album back in 2009, we considered it but in recent years there have been some changes in the band line-up that made me think more about it. To be honest, my co-founder and ex boyfriend who played guitar in the band until 2013 came up with the name so after he left, it’s felt a little odd using it. However, I think it’s a good name and as the band has grown and changed that name has grown new significance, so I don’t want to part with it completely. Nevertheless, putting my name out there has at least given me the feeling of more freedom from the past. It does also feel as though I’m claiming some girl power, I suppose. Instead of just being “the chick from the Honeycutters.” 

Your last album, On The Ropes, seemed to be less reliant on mandolin and Dobro with pedal steel, electric guitar and organ more to the fore with something of a soulful feel on several of the songs. I think that this is continued on the new album with an even “rockier” touch on Diamond In The Rough.  Are you becoming more “country rock” than country or folk as you progress?

I think that’s a fair statement. Although who knows, the next album might be all acoustic! I’ve definitely been enjoying the “rockier,” more soulful feel of the band. When I first started playing my songs in front of people I was really in a period of backlash against all the punk rock that I got into in my teens. I grew up listening to country, folk, and blues at the hands of my parents, then rebelled against that in my teens, and then rebelled against myself by getting really heavy into old time country music like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers. So when I put my band together I had more of an ear for the acoustic instruments. It’s not that any of that appreciation has waned, but throughout my twenties I started listening to a lot of rock ‘n roll from the sixties and seventies and let that leak into my songwriting a little. 

I’ve noticed in several of your songs that you sing about love’s bitter twists and its general unfairness regards women. Songs like Me Oh My, Not That Simple, Blue Besides and Golden Child. I was reminded at times of the likes of Loretta Lynn. Do you think that all is not fair in love and war?

Well, sometimes it’s not fair. With Me Oh My, that’s a song that I wrote when I was feeling the impossibility, as a woman,  of having a good home and family life and also being a touring musician. I was 25 then and I had a lot to figure out about what I wanted and what my options really were. It’s not that I’ve figured all that out here at 31, but I think I see things a little clearer. A couple of those songs– Blue Besides and Golden Child, are also less about heartache (at least for me – I like a listener to be able to take away their own meaning) and more about accepting the grey areas of life and not giving up on a dream because you hit a rough patch. But to really answer your question, I think women do have a tougher go of it in love and in business sometimes. But there again, what does not kill us makes us stronger. In addition, you might get a song out of it. 

The new album has songs about getting older (Birthday Song) and bereavement (Learning How To Love Him). Do you find yourselves thinking about “time being a gift” as the years go on?

I do, absolutely. This past year I’ve been confronted with several acquaintances losing their spouses and, more recently, the death of someone young that I’d worked with. It just puts things in perspective. Birthday Song was written on the eve of my thirtieth birthday when, instead of feeling panicked about the end of my roaring twenties, I found a patch of gratitude for being older and wiser, wise enough to know that I still don’t know anything and that’s OK. When I wrote Learning How To Love Him I was writing a love song, not a death song. I was imagining the whole of a life spent with someone in love, the ups and downs, fear and faith. We should all be so lucky to stick it out that long. 

The Guitar Case is about life on the road, the ups and downs of touring and playing and although the refrain (the sun is shining…) seems quite optimistic overall, you paint a pretty grim picture of repetition and almost boredom. Is this your life on the road?

That was a very particular moment on the road. Not an isolated event by any means, sometimes the road just sucks. But the payoff of that is that when we hit the stage and I’m making music with people I love, it’s fucking fantastic. Nothing can top that. We’ve had many ups and downs and it’s easy to be bitter and I indulged that bitterness just enough to write that song. As we’re talking however, I’m staying at a beautiful hotel in Telluride Colorado with a panoramic view of the mountains. We’re all going to go for a hike before soundcheck today. This is also the road. Sometimes that dim light becomes blinding!

Eden is an exceptional song and the fate of the woman, stranded in Indiana after losing her job and her husband reminded me a little of The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan, the character looking back and regretting things, realising she’ll never get to do the things she really dreamed of, exiled from Paradise. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to write this one?

I’ll start by saying that I was not raised in a religious household nor do I feel any affiliation with organized faith now. But I have always been fascinated with this idea of the Garden of Eden, the Fall from Innocence, and especially with it somehow being Eve’s fault. To me, I was writing a story about a woman who feels like I have felt at times living in this country, that she wants to get out into the middle of nowhere and let life be SIMPLE. There’s a lot of noise these days, and the “American Dream” gets shoved down our throats more and more while attaining it gets more and more impossible. Even faith gets convoluted with power and politics. It’s tempting to stop trying to make anything better and just escape and feign ignorance. 

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I believe that originally you are from New York. How did you end up in Asheville? I read somewhere you wanted to be a luthier and that’s what led you there, and how did you get into song writing and performing?

I did move from New York to Asheville to be a luthier, or to learn the trade. I built the guitar that I play, but haven’t finished anything since! Music got in the way, Ha! I also had recently dropped out of college and needed to put some distance between that whole situation and myself.

 I started writing while I was still in school. I lived about two miles off campus and would pass by a music shop when I walked back and forth and, as I mentioned I was really into early country music at the time and I noticed a banjo in the window one day. So I bought it. I think I started writing songs as a way to sort out my feelings about leaving home and everything I had known for the first 17 years of my life. Also, I wrote a fair number of songs instead of doing homework. I started playing them at open mics in the area and got some encouraging feedback. Since then it’s just been a series of small, logical steps. 

You mentioned some of the musical styles and artists you were listening to in the past but can I ask you who has influenced you as a writer and singer and also who have you been listening to recently?

I sometimes feel like I’ve been influenced by anyone and everything ever but that’s a cop out. Like I said, I was brought up listening to a lot of earlier country artists like Earnest Tubb, Patsy Cline, The Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams. My dad is a huge fan of the blues, so artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins were well represented too along with folk music of the sixties like Joni Mitchell and Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. My parents met and married in Austin, Texas in the seventies so the songwriters of that time and place were part of my upbringing too. I remember being a little older and listening to Lucinda Williams and Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker. The first CD I remember having for myself was the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks I’m a Stones over Beatles girl if pressed to choose (luckily no one ever really has to). In my teens I loved punk rock and grunge – Rancid, Gogol Bordello, Green Day and I was a huge Radiohead fan but I also liked straight ahead rock like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. Then there came the string band stuff and classic country. I developed a great love for Creedence Clearwater Revival in my 20’s then The Eagles, JJ Cale, Nina Simone, Warren Zevon, and all the stuff that now passes for “classic country,” Georges Jones and Strait and Conway Twitty and Charlie Pride and Tammy Wynette and Loretta and all of that. That’s the short version, I’m leaving so much out! Right now I’m totally hooked on Bruno Mars’ latest album 24k Magic. I think he’s a force for good in the pop music world. And anything Chris Smither ever does I think is brilliant. 

Finally, you’re coming to the UK in August for a lengthy tour up and down the country. You don’t have many days off but is there anything you are particularly looking forward to doing or seeing?

I’d like to see some castles! And some honest to goodness British Pubs. We have a lot of what I think are good imitations in this country but I want to have a pint and eat some fish and chips – the real thing. Mostly I just love meeting people and swapping stories, so I’m excited to get out of this country for a minute and hear some different perspectives. 

The album, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. is released on Organic Records on Friday 4th August and the tour commences on the same day, all dates here.

Winchester Texas? The Evolution of SC4M

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

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

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

So this year is the eighth festival?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lachlan Bryan & the Wildes

slicks_folderlachlan_bryan_and_the_wildes_the_mountain_0915Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes pioneered the alt-country and Americana music movement in Australia. Their 2010 debut album Ballad of a Young Married Man was a critical and fan success and was followed by a Bryan solo album (Shadow of the Gun, 2012) before their third band album, Black Coffee, won several awards  including Country Album of the Year  and Best Alt Country Album at the 2014 Australian Country Music Awards. Abroad the band have completed two lengthy tours of the US with their appearances in Austin, Texas particularly feted while they have formed a solid bond with the music fraternity in New Orleans.

Now it’s the turn of the UK to hear songs from Black Coffee and its follow up, The Mountain, live as the band head over here for their first dates in this country culminating in an appearance at Maverick Festival. The tour kicks off this Friday in Glasgow with an Edinburgh date the following night before heading south and we took advantage of an opportunity to speak with Lachlan Bryan as he prepared to fly over. I had dug out my copy of Shadow Of The Gun (which has an amazing duet with Kasey Chambers, Whistle & Waltz) and saw that the press release of the time had mentioned that Bryan would play in the UK in 2012 so the first question I asked him was why he hadn’t.

Well the simple answer is that I got distracted by touring the States several times over the past few years. We’ve been through the East Coast, the Midwest and Southern States at least twice and people really seemed to like us so we’ve spent a lot of time over there. But I’ve been wanting to come to Europe for ages and particularly the UK although I have been there before. When I was a teenager I stayed in England where I played cricket for a year but I haven’t been back since then so it’s been a long time coming. It’s interesting that we open in Glasgow because my grandfather came from Glasgow and he played cricket while he was there for a team called the West of Scotland before he moved to Australia.

Growing up in Melbourne how did you get interested in American music?

It was a bit of a family thing. I was the youngest child of a youngest child if you know what I mean so I had aunts and uncles who were 50 years older than me and they were all like, Hank Williams fans. A couple of my uncles had been playing in bands in the sixties and back in those days a lot of Australian bands would cover songs that were hits in America and the UK and effectively pass them off as their own. This was way before the internet of course and the globalisation of music but they were obsessed with cowboy music so when I first picked up a guitar I would play with my uncles quite a bit and the songs that they taught me were by the likes of Hank Williams and Leadbelly. I suppose that’s why what I play isn’t strictly country music, Americana kind of covers it as it’s got some blues and folk music in there. Then when I was a teenager a lot of people my age were getting into Ryan Adams and although I didn’t get on that bandwagon for a while, a lot of my friends bought his records and went to see him when he played Australia. All of a sudden it was OK to play music that had a bit of a country flavour and I got caught up in that. I liked the storytelling aspect of it and it kind of suited the way I played guitar. Up until then I wasn’t really listening to the same music that people my age group were listening to. I was either into real old stuff that my uncles had taught me or singer songwriters like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, not music of my generation. But when the Americana thing started to take off I felt that I fitted in.

I read that you were a big fan of Tom Waits in particular.

When I was at school, my English teacher gave me Bone Machine. And after that, well some folk talk about the first album that really excited them, and for me the first album that I was really excited about and couldn’t wait to hear was Mule Variations which came out in 1999. I was still a teenager and it was the first album I bought with my own money. The beauty of that music was that it was a bit rough around the edges, it wasn’t pop music or country music. It just seemed really honest and sincere and no matter how weird he got his music just speaks to me.

Your last album, The Mountain, reflects the time you’ve spent in New Orleans particularly in the lyrics of Dugdemona and then the barrelhouse blues of Til We Meet Again. What attracted you to the city?

When you’re touring the places that stand out are those places where you really hit it off and for some reason we really did that in New Orleans with a group of people and we’ve kept going back there. It’s our base when we go over to the States and I spent Christmas and New Year there. It’s strange because our music doesn’t have much of a New Orleans feel to it and they’re not too well known for the Americana thing but we just had a really good time there and so we’ve kept going back. I’ve been doing some recording over there with The Roamin’ Jasmine who are also coming over to Europe in a few weeks. They’re more of a traditional New Orleans jazz  band and we thought it would be a good idea to make an EP together. They’re doing some of my songs in a New Orleans style and we did some traditional songs as well and we hope to release it sometime later this year.

So who’s playing with you in the band on this tour?

There’s Damien Cafarella who plays guitar and drums but on this tour we’re doing an acoustic set so he’ll be on the Dobro and guitar. And on bass there’s Shaun Ryan. Shaun’s the guy I’ve played with for the longest, he’s an original member of the band. We’ve just recorded a new album and we’ll be playing some of the songs from that along with stuff from The Mountain and Black Coffee.

It’s quite a varied tour. Halfway through you jump over to Europe to play in Germany and Switzerland before coming back to play at The Green note in London and then Maverick Festival. You’re also doing a house concert.

I’m really looking forward to Maverick, there’s a lot of great acts on there and I hope to be able to see some of them. But we’re also playing in some small clubs and pubs and I’m really looking forward to seeing a few British pubs and having a pint or two. We’ve done a few house shows in America but they’re not such a big thing over here in Australia. Rob Ellen told me about the concept some time back and it’s good fun doing them. We did one in Tulsa, Oklahoma and it seemed the whole neighbourhood came along to see us. And there was this huge guy who came up to me at the end and asked if I didn’t mind hanging around a while as he had something to give me, he just had to go back to his house and get it. He went off and then came back with a giant stuffed rattlesnake that he wanted to give us. So for the rest of the tour we had this huge snake with us in the tour bus kind of like a mascot or souvenir. We didn’t think we had much chance of getting it into Australia so we gave it to a friend in Nashville!

The tour starts this Friday at Glasgow’s Howling Wolf (with the band appearing around ten I think).

Tour dates

June 9 – The Howlin Wolf, Glasgow

June 10 – Athletic Arms, Edinburgh

June 11 – Woodend Gallery, Scarborough

June 13 – Bluesfest, Ingolstadt, Germany

June 14 – Restaurant Stockli, Berne, Switzerland

June 17 – The Pig and Pastry, York (with Dan Webster & Rachel Brown)

June 22 – The Green Note, Camden, London

June 25 – The Caledonia, Liverpool

June 30 – The Railway Inn, Billinghurst

July 1 – Maverick Festival, Suffolk

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