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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My Darling Clementine – Rewriting The Good Book (Of Love)

4-mdc-waist-up-_-lou-cigarThe course of true love has never run smoothly and never more so than in Country music. Back in the 1920’s The Carter Family were singing of a married woman rocking a cradle and crying in Single Girl, Married Girl before Hank Williams wailed that his son called another man daddy while Jim Reeves was inventing phone sex back in the sixties with He’ll Have To Go. The pinnacle of this war of the sexes was reached with the classic male /female country duos who flourished in the sixties and seventies. Some of them were married, others just business partners but the likes of George and Tammy, Dolly and Porter, Johnny and June (and Bobby Bare with a succession of partners including one album, 1966’s The Game Of Triangles, where he shared two women) fell in and out of love, kissed and made up, divorced and drank all to the delight of the listening public. This public sparring sparked some classic country songs and it was those sounds that My Darling Clementine sought to celebrate when they recorded their first album, How Do You Plead ? in 2011. Married couple Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, both successful musicians, adopted the persona of a troubled, loving and warring couple on the album and subsequent live shows, Dalgleish led to the stage like a bride, a heart shaped teardrop painted on her cheek.

Their second album, The Reconciliation, was in a similar vein, the pair reinvigorating the genre with wit and a genuine regard although that didn’t stop them from remarking on the subservient role for women that was oft expected back in those days. A successful collaboration with crime writer Mark Billingham found the pair soundtracking his stories about a waitress in a rundown bar on The Other Half which led to a long run of multimedia shows based on the album before they embarked on their third album, Still Testifying, which comes out this week.

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On Still Testifying King and Dalgleish are still the quintessential country duo but they’ve moved on from the pedal steel and string swept weepies of Nashville to add some soul to their country with  horns and Hammond organ moving them closer to Memphis this time. Recalling the reinvigoration of artists such as Elvis and Dusty Springfield who made some of their best music with the Memphis Cats along with the southern soul sounds of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham with even a little bit of Bacharach and David thrown in the album is a fine progression.

On the eve of a major tour supporting the album release we spoke to King and Dalgleish about the album and started off by asking them about this step into the world of country soul.

MWK. Well we didn’t really want to carry on making the same record. When we did the first one we knew what we wanted to do and we really weren’t thinking that in a few years time we’d be up to album number three so it’s evolved somewhat. We’ve kind of stepped away from the classic country duet type of thing and in a way it seemed like a natural progression. It’s kind of strange really that recently a lot of artists are starting to work in this country soul vein, folk like Danny and the Champions Of the World, Emily Barker and Cale Tyson, all their recent records have been kind of country soul releases. It’s a long overlooked style but I’ve been listening to Dan Penn for over 20 years along with Donnie Fritts and Spooner Oldham, the originators, and I thought it was about time we let some of his influence seep into the music. You’ve got to try and keep things fresh, try to do something a little different and creatively it seemed right for us to head off in this direction. 

Although there’s a shift in the music from those classic country duets the themes are pretty much the same, people falling in and out of love and the fall out. The pair of you are still duetting and that’s the essence of the drama in the album I think.

LD. Well I’m particularly partial to the drama. When I’m writing the story tends to be more dramatic but if we stay together (laughs) and continue to write for each other then there’s an inevitability that we’ll write songs about couples. We’ll write about things we know and we’ll never run out of stories whether they grow out of things we’ve experienced or that we might imagine could happen to us or indeed any other couples in love. 

I read that Friday Night At The Tulip Hotel came about when you saw a couple acting somewhat furtively in a car park when you were on tour.

MWK. Yes. That grew from me seeing a couple in a car park and just imagining what was going on with them. Whether any of it is real or not we don’t know of course but we just wrote what we thought was happening with that couple. 

On a couple of the songs you’re referencing or, in the case of Jolene’s Story, answering an earlier song.

MWK. That goes back a bit to No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand By Him) (on The Reconciliation) where there was a very poignant, almost protest message. 

LD. I just thought I should write a reply song to Dolly’s kind of in the same way as I wrote that one about Tammy. I just thought that Jolene probably had a story that needed to be told. There are two sides to every story and so I told Jolene’s. There’s no blame or fault here, I think maybe it’s just love and destiny and the way things turn out. 

Talking about both sides of the story on I’m Just a Woman you’re again looking at it from the viewpoint of the “wronged” woman.

LD. Here I wanted to reflect that line in Tammy’s song where she sings, “after all he’s just a man”, to put in a subtle reference against that song. Sometimes I can’t help myself when I’m writing a country song; the feminist in me just can’t keep quiet about that sort of thing. 

Two Lane Texaco isn’t a relationship song but more about faded communities and the loss of the ties that bound them, industries closing down and such. You sing here of the power of radio back then and as such it reminded me thematically of Dave Alvin’s Border Radio.

MWK. It’s a similar tale. The Shreveport tower I mention was one of the first to have that high wattage allowing it to broadcast across the southern states, shows like The Louisiana Hayride and The Grand Ole Opry. But the place I mention in the song, Megawatt Valley,  is actually an area in the north east of England with power stations and such and I just liked the name and it seemed to fit in with the song. It really all harks back to a time when radio was key with everybody listening to it and OK, it’s an American theme but at the same time a lot of small towns across Britain have lost their industries and community. When I was young I listened to the radio a lot more, it’s really a nostalgic song looking back to what maybe was a better time. 

I particularly enjoyed the lyrics on Since I Fell For You which have a lot of lines taken from other songs with a whole middle eight dedicated to songs that have the word walking in them.

MWK. I had written the first two lines and then realised they were actual song titles so I thought it would be kind of quirky and an interesting exercise to make all of the lines in the middle eight be song titles. There were plenty I could have used that feature walking – walking the floor over you, don’t walk away Renee, walk on by … the list goes on- but I settled on the ones you hear so thanks to Jimmy Bland, Ray Price, Helen Shapiro and The Searchers for the loan. On stage I refer to this section of the song, and how we “ran out of words so just used 60’s song titles” After we have played it we sometimes ask the audience how many they recognised? One thing we learned from our recent tour in the USA is that …. Helen Shapiro never had a hit over there!

Two of the songs, Friday Night At the Tulip Hotel and The Embers And The Flames, were on The Other Half album. Why did you rerecord them?

LD. On that album Mark Billingham picked songs from our first two albums that he thought would fit in with his story but we needed some more and so we wrote those two specifically for The Other half with Mark co-writing The Embers and The Flame. And then when we started on Still Testifying we thought that they needed more exposure as they were so new.

Was that because the originals were acoustic and you had the opportunity to add the band arrangements?

MWK. Well all the songs start that way. They’re written on acoustic guitar or piano. Tulip and Embers as you say were acoustic and we thought they could benefit from a fuller arrangement. We didn’t want them to kind of get left on that album so we decided to use them again.

The Embers And The Flame in particular gets the full bells and whistles production with the horns really driving the song along while the guitars and pedal steel give it an almost Flying Burrito Brothers’ feel and it fits right into the country soul aspect of the album. I was wondering if when you were writing the new songs for the album you were consciously trying to fit into a country soul bag?

LD. Well the new ones do lend themselves to more of a country soul approach. You can obviously hear that it’s country soul because of the horns and the organ but at the end of the day the song itself will give you the flavour of where it’s coming from. When we play them live, whether it’s with the seven-piece band or just the two of us this country soul edge will come through. Of course it will sound different but we’ve always been quite passionate about being able to deliver the songs fully just as a duo and we don’t hide behind the band. It’s the songs that dictate the genre more than the dressing up they get on an album or a band gig. 

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The album ends with Shallow which is a more stripped back affair and features your daughter, Mabel, singing.

LD. She’s very talented and becoming quite the multi instrumentalist. She been coming on the road with us for years and she knows all our songs and now she’s of an age where we thought we could put her to work! It’s not just us saying, “oh it would be nice to have our daughter on the record“, she has something to contribute and it was actually our producer, Neil Brockbank who said, “I think we should have Mabel on this” and afterwards I thanked him for being so nice to her he said, “I wasn’t doing it to be nice. She was the perfect fit for the song”. 

Well he did a great job with the production, the band sound great.

MWK. Neil’s got a great deal of experience and he and the band have worked with people like Elvis Costello and Van Morrison so they have a good understanding of soul and country. We had planned to record some of the album in America but that fell through but I don’t really think it matters if its Tooting or Tennessee as long as you can get that feel. It is much more of a mixed bag than the other records and hopefully that adds to the interest. We’re really proud of it and we’re really looking forward to going out on tour with the band. 

Finally can I say that the album packaging is excellent. The pictures of the pair of you are really evocative with something of a southern gothic touch and the photos of the religious items inside the cover are kind of spooky.

MWK. The photographs of us were taken by a well-known Dutch photographer, Marco Bakker. We always pride ourselves on the packaging of the albums. In these days of downloads the nicer and more tangible something is to hold and look at is important, it’s part of the creative element to making a record. As for the pictures inside the sleeve, one night we played in The Hague and the promoter put us up in what basically was a monastery. It was kind of scary really, long corridors full of dusty old religious iconography so I ran around taking pictures of it and we decided to use some of them inside the album cover as it kind of fits in with the whole Testifying gospel vibe we were looking for.

Still Testifying is released on June 2nd and My Darling Clementine tour through June and July, all dates here

Website

Photography by Marco Bakker

Neil Brockbank:  Just hours after this interview was published it was announced that producer Neil Brockbank had died. The band and many others are devastated by this news and Michael Weston King paid tribute to Neil with some touching words on his Facebook page. He produced numerous albums for many artists but is probably best known for his lengthy body of work with Nick Lowe. Our condolences to his family and his many friends.

Static Roots Festival takes off

sr posterBack in the sixties Immediate Records (home to The Small Faces, The Nice, Humble Pie and others) had a neat little slogan which went, Happy To Be Part of The Industry of Human Happiness. Reason I mention this is because I recently had spent some time in the company of a German friend of Blabber’n’Smoke who just about epitomises that epithet especially with regard to music. Dietmar Leibecke is a tall (very tall) and wonderful human being who may be known to several readers given his habit of turning up all over the place whenever there’s some good music to be heard.

Dietmar lives in Mullhelm An Der Rhur in Germany and for the past ten years he’s been promoting Americana and roots music in Germany with a host of house concerts along with booking tours for bands we’re all familiar with. Last year Dietmar ventured into the dangerous waters of setting up a music festival which he called Static Roots. Held in Oberhausen it was a two day event that featured Leeroy Stagger (Canada), The Wynntown Marshals (Scotland), John Blek & The Rats (Ireland), Malojian (Northern-Ireland), Meena Cryle & The Chris Fillmore Band (Austria), The Midnight Union Band (Ireland), and Anna Mitchell (Ireland). By all accounts, it was a great time and he’s set to do it again this year. Intrigued by the thought of setting up such a venture from scratch Blabber’n’Smoke wanted to hear more so we spoke to Dietmar to learn his story.

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The first Static Roots was held last year. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you did it?

Well last year was a year of anniversaries. First off, there was my Silver Wedding anniversary and it was also my 50th birthday. It was also ten years since we had started to promote shows and on a personal note it was five years since I had received a kidney transplant so there was a lot to celebrate. My wife and I wanted to do something special and we decided on the idea of setting up a small festival. Where I stay there wasn’t anything like that going on and I was completely influenced by the Kilkenny Roots Festival. They always have a great line up and it’s so much fun. Wherever you go you see great acts and it’s not just the music but it’s the people as well, a real community. So we were thinking about that and decided to go for it and we got in touch with some of our friends in the music business and asked them to come over and play and we got a great response. Artists we had met in Kilkenny like John Blek and The Rats, Malojian and The Midnight Union Band agreed to come and then my friends from Scotland, The Wynntown Marshals signed up. And then there was Leeroy Stagger from Canada who has become one of my best friends, I’ve known him for around ten years now. The one act we got who I didn’t know personally was Daniel Romano. I’d seen him live and thought he was great but in the end his satnav took him to another town called Oberhausen which was near Munich. He called and offered to come the next day but by then the festival was closing so we didn’t get to see him.

It sounds like quite an adventure but you’ve been promoting shows for around ten years now. How did that start?

It was another birthday, my 40th. Steve Wynn has been my biggest influence since I was young, his album with The Dream Syndicate, Days Of Wine and Roses was really the first record that blew me over and made me think that this was music that was made for me. It opened up a completely new world for me and it’s still one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to.  So I got in touch with Steve and asked him to play my 40th birthday and he said yes! He came with the Miracle Three and put on a fantastic show and that’s really how we got into the business of putting on shows. When Steve came over he introduced me to the idea of doing house concerts.  I hadn’t  really heard of the concept up till then but then I looked it up and found a couple of American bands who were open to playing house concerts so a little while later I invited Leeroy Stagger over to play our house. He was the first artist to play there and it was just so touching and so intense so we’ve continued to do it and so far we’ve hosted about 50 house concerts. We started off with solo acoustic shows but then we had Easton Stagger Phillips (Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips) come to play and we had to get a PA system for that. From then we went on to have full bands like Danny & The champions of The World and The Wynntown Marshals playing in our house. I think that Leeroy has been here the most, about five times. It’s great fun and nowadays I occasionally book tours in Germany for bands I want to see in my house. The house concerts, even with a full band are very intimate and it’s great to see the audience being so attentive and the acts can take their time and tell their stories behind the songs, it’s so much more than playing in a bar for them.

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So how many people would you normally have at a house concert?

Well they always sell out and we have space for around 65 people there but it depends on the size of the band. If it’s a six-piece band we only let in 60 people but for a smaller band we can squeeze in maybe five more people.

You must have quite a large room

It’s not so big but we have a couple of beer benches, you know the traditional lederhosen and sauerkraut German beer benches so we have space for about 30 to 35 seats with the rest of the audience standing at the back of the room.

OK, you’ve got a full band, amplified, playing in your house. What do the neighbours think?

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They are all invited! Last summer we had John Blek and The Rats over and it was loud but it was so hot we had to open all the windows and leave the door open and some folk came over to see what the noise was and ended up staying. We converted a few people that night and made some new friends. Sometimes it’s been so loud I’ve wondered if the police might show up but so far so good.

 

Back to Static Roots. Can you tell us a little more about that?

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It’s held in an old zinc factory which has been converted into a theatre. It was built I think in 1904 and it’s a lovely building with old brick walls and some of the original fixtures. It looks really cool with huge windows, a big stage and a great sound and a great crew. It’s a nice big venue with a beer garden out front, burger stands and all and it really worked well last year. It holds around 300 people which I thought was a good number. I didn’t want to go for a bigger place because I knew it would be hard to fill it. Again I was thinking of Kilkenny where I think the biggest venue holds around 400.

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Have you gone again for acts you know?

Danny and The Champions of The World, Peter Bruntnell and John Blek are good friends but we’ve also got David Corley who I saw last year at Kilkenny and Erin Rea and The Meanwhiles, both of them making their first appearances in Germany.

Hopefully this is not an insensitive question but do you expect to make any money from this?

Well last year, because it really was a celebration of our wedding anniversary and such it was an invitation only event in the main. We did spread the word around friends in the music world and asked them to donate to a fund we had set up for Doctors Without Borders (AKA Médecins Sans Frontières) so there was no ticket fee, just a donation and we collected around 9,000 Euros for the campaign. We covered the artists’ fees and the cost of the venue out of our own pocket. This year it’s a public event and we’re selling tickets for the show and so far it’s going fairly well with more than half the tickets already gone. We are getting some press coverage and we’ll see how it goes but I’m sure that the festival is going to be a success some day along the line. It will need some time to get established but it was so much fun last year and the audience was great. We had a bunch of folk who came over from Kilkenny, the Kilkenny Roots Family we called them and there’s a great bunch of Scottish people who came over as well. A lot of people I had met at shows before, there were so many friends there. It’s quite funny but also important that wherever you travel music wise you meet people, like minded people and you keep in touch and it’s such a great community of open minded people interested in music, peace, love. I love the idea of music bringing people together, I’ve been to Rambling Roots in High Wycombe, March into Pitlochry and Kilkenny Roots so far this year and I can keep all those memories for ever and I hope that Static Roots will be as good. I’m going to have the time of my life at it even if it’s been lots of work in setting it up but once the last note is played I’m going  to say, “Man, this was brilliant” and then it will be looking forward to next year’s festival.

Static Roots takes place on the 9th and 10th June at Oberheim  with the following line up

David Corley

Peter Bruntnell

John Blek & The Rats

Danny & The Champions Of The World

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles

Torpus & The Art Directors

David Ford

Nadine Khouri

Jack Marks

Tickets are available here. It’s only a hop and a skip away.

Festival pictures by Klaas Guchelaar

 

 

 

Rising star Courtney Marie Andrews Discusses Melancholia and “The Crying Machine”

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When Blabber’n’Smoke spoke to Courtney Marie Andrews at the tail end of last year we were awaiting the release of her album Honest Life with the promise of a tour to follow. Four months later and Ms. Andrews is the talk of the town. The album’s been a great success, reaching the number one slot in the Official Americana charts and her performances on her tour with The Handsome Family received critical acclaim. A measure of her success is that she was back in London for a two day stop last week to perform on the BBC’s Later…with Jools Holland, quite a coup for an artist on an independent label given that this show is just about the only televised music show on the Beeb these days.

The day after she recorded her appearance Courtney was gracious enough to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke during a brief coffee break before she set out to perform a short set at Rough Trade West later that afternoon.

 

First off, we should say congratulations to you. The album’s taken off, the tour was a success and finally you get to appear on prime time TV.

Thanks. It’s just been great. I really enjoyed touring with The Handsome Family and loved meeting so many people and then getting on to the show last night was brilliant. They only showed one song last night but we recorded two with Jools playing piano on the second one.

And you were accompanied by BJ Cole on pedal steel, a man who many folk would call a legend.

Yes, he was tremendous. Did you know that he played on Tiny Dancer?

He’s been on so many great records but that’s a great one. I love that scene in Almost Famous when they sing along to it on their tour bus.

Yeah, that’s a classic film.

It’s funny that you mention Tiny Dancer because Bernie Taupin apparently wrote that about his and Elton John’s experiences in California in 1971 and many folk have mentioned how your music reminds them of that time. Just yesterday I saw that you were asked by Albumism to pick a favourite album and you chose The Band’s The Last Waltz. You explain your choice there but I was going to ask you why this period of music talks to you.

Well, although I love classic country songs and singers my influences are mainly in that early seventies sound. The Band took stuff like the blues and old time music and Levon Helm influenced the other guys to write those country type songs. I really think that they were the first “alt country” or Americana band as they were doing this even before Gram Parsons when they sat down and did The Basement Tapes.  And the guys I play with in the band, we all kind of come from that rootsy background that comes across on their records so The Band resonate with me a lot.

Looking back over the past three months it seems you’ve been incredibly busy but you had the time to record a song with Will Oldham, a cover of Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Is To Be Free.

There’s a project called Our First 100 Days and I wanted to do something with them. I’ve always loved that song and I wanted to do it as a duet and I really like Will Oldham so we called him and he agreed to do it! So the band and I recorded the song and then sent it over to Will and he did his vocals.

So you weren’t together in the studio? I thought that maybe you would have jumped into your old tour bus and searched him out.

That would have been great but we’re too far away from each other for that.

I’m only kidding. I saw the van in the video for Put The Fire Out and it looks really funky but not altogether roadworthy.   Do you really go on the road in that?

Yes, sometimes we do.

Well you need to fix the license plate at the front, it’s falling off

I know, it’s still like that.

In that song, Put The Fire Out you sing that it’s time to let down your hair and have a good time so has this year been fun?

Yes, I’ve been having a lot of fun. It’s been hard work but I’ve been feeling good about it. I’ve been so busy since the beginning of January but when I fly home I have two weeks off.

Some of Honest Life was written in the aftermath of a break up and the album has a somewhat melancholic air about it. In the wake of what’s happened since can we expect the next record to be a happier affair?

I think people will be surprised when the next album comes out, I’ve been writing for it a lot.  I think that I inherently have that melancholia in me regardless but I’m not afraid to explore other emotions. I think it’s important as a songwriter to really go with your feelings and not to stick with just one hyper sad song. Bob Dylan’s written about a wealth of emotions and I really respect it when people can do that so I never put that type of barrier on myself. I hope I can write songs that are not so melancholic but which are still great. I think that if I were to write Honest Life over and over again people would get quite tired of that so it’s important to kind of push yourself.

I was looking at your tour schedule and it looks pretty daunting. Tours of Canada, Australia and New Zealand before you come back to the UK in August and then zoom around Europe.

Well I’ve got a bit of time before I head out again and that will be time to write for the next album but after that I’ll be on tour until the end of the year. I’m really excited to get back to the UK and let folk hear the full band sound and we’re playing again in Glasgow at a place called The Hug & Pint.

Well everyone I know who saw you earlier this year is going to that although it’s such a small venue that once you and the band are on stage there might not be room for the audience. We’re looking forward to the full band experience although your show with Bryan Daste on pedal steel was wonderful. A  Blabber’n’Smoke acquaintance who also plays pedal steel was quite impressed with him and they’re now Facebook buddies.

Yeah, everybody loves the pedal steel and that’s kind of how the pedal steel world works. They have their own little forum where they talk to each other.

One of your label mates on Loose Music, Danny Champ, calls the pedal steel the ironing board of love.

That’s great. I’ve heard so many great terms for it but I call it the crying machine.

And with that we left Courtney to enjoy her coffee before heading off to do her instore show at Rough Trade. You can read a short review of her performance over at Americana UK. In the meantime I’d recommend that if you want to see her later this year to grab your tickets now as it’s unlikely she’ll be performing in such intimate venues again.

Website

Tour dates

Update: 24/4/17. Due to a huge demand Courtney’s Glasgow show has been moved to a larger venue and she is now appearing at st. Lukes.

 

 

 

 

 

Western Centuries UK and Ireland Tour

Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer

Western Centuries head over to the UK and Ireland for the first time later this month with 18 shows penned in over a four week stretch. Exciting news given that their album Weight Of The World was a fixture in many of last year’s top ten lists with this fine quote summing them up quite neatly.

“If it seems crazy to compare any band today to giants like the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers, then call me crazy, but Western Centuries is the country supergroup we’ve been waiting for: three first-rate lead singers, each of whom writes solid, heartwarming and heartbreaking country songs, together in one band.”    —Kristin Cavoukian, Exclaim! Magazine

 Comprised of Seattle-based country musician Cahalen Morrison, jam band veteran Jim Miller (co-founder of Donna the Buffalo) and bluegrass-by-way-of-punk rock songwriter Ethan Lawton, Western Centuries grew out of a solo project of Morrison’s called Country Hammer. Having enjoyed both the Country Hammer album and Weight Of The World Blabber’n’Smoke was glad to be offered the opportunity to speak briefly with Cahalen Morrison as he was  preparing for a show in North Carolina last week.

Acclaimed as one half of  acoustic roots duo, Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, Morrison’s solo debut Country Hammer, released in 2014, surprised many given that it was a full blown country album with a band in tow. Regarding this apparent change in direction Cahalen explains, “That’s music I’ve played really since I was a kid and when I was in bands back home in New Mexico we played country music. I felt it was just a fun thing to change from an acoustic set up to rock and roll a bit”.  While Country Hammer was a solo project with all songs written by Morrison, Jim Miller played on the album and sang two of the songs and pretty soon it evolved. “Well Ethan was in the band as well playing drums and singing and we started bringing in tunes that both Ethan and Jim had written. So we decided to change the band name so it didn’t look like it was me and my band with some other folk just sitting in and singing some stuff. With Western Centuries it’s equal duties for the three of us.”

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There’s a great deal of variety on Weight Of The World with honky tonk songs, beer stained laments and cosmic cowboy observations all jostling for space. With three singers and songwriters on board reviewers have often made comparisons with The Band particularly with regard to Miller’s songs. Asked about this Cahalen replied, “I can see the comparison and it can be useful for people to hear that and get a hold of it and say, “Well I like The Band so maybe I’ll like these guys.” And we all love The Band and that kind of vibe of three writers and three singers all sharing and collaborating so I’d say that the comparison is pretty accurate. It makes the show great fun for us. To get to do all this different stuff, to be able to sing lead then have a break and sing harmony and then I’ll jump behind the drums and Ethan will get up on guitar and sing his songs and throughout the show we all switch around on electric and acoustic guitars”.  As for other influences that reviewers have mentioned such as seventies country rock bands including The Burritos and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band he stated, ” it’s hard to say what has influenced us because we’ve all heard bands like those. But we all listen to George Jones and things like that so it just all kind of seeps in and happens.”

When Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed Weight Of The World I mentioned that Philosophers and Fools was perhaps the first country song to mention the dating app Tinder thinking it to be a cunning pun that fitted in with the song’s imagery about love burning out but this theory was blown out of the water when I asked Cahalen about this. “I didn’t realise it when I wrote it but it does work out to be a funny little thing that accidentally happened. So I wasn’t singing about the Tinder app but it’s a funny coincidence”. And while some of Morrison’s lyrics are meaty such as “I’ve seen the weight of the world crumble with an easy equation. I’ve seen the weight of a man gone to hell, cryin’ he don’t understand,”  (he draws from writers such as Gabriél Garcia Marquez,  cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and Cormac McCarthythey’re delivered with an undeniable sense of good time freewheeling fun so I asked Cahalen what the live shows are like. “We generally have a lot of dancers and most of the places that we play they’ll clear the chairs for a dance floor. We definitely have a good time on the stage and I sure hope the audience does too. They seem to.” As for the band’s debut visit over here, Cahalen is looking forward it. “I’m excited to be coming over with the band. I’ve been over so many times with Eli and I’ve got lots of friends that I’m excited to be seeing again. I really love Scotland, it’s my home away from home so to speak and I’m really excited about playing at Kilkenny Roots, I’ve heard really fun things about the festival. We’ll have Leo Grassi from Nashville on pedal steel and Travis Stuart from North Carolina on bass playing with us.”

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We ended our chat with Cahalen talking about future plans, “In August we plan to be recording in Louisiana for a new album which will probably come out next year. It should be fun, we’ll be down in Cajun country and I reckon some of that will rub off on the music.”

Western Centuries’ tour commences on 19th April in London and will include two shows at Kilkenny Roots Festival and five Scottish dates. All tour information is here.

Website