Talkin’ to Mr. Jukebox : Joshua Hedley

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They call him Mr. Jukebox and apparently if you catch him playing in downtown Nashville he more than lives up to his nickname. But right now Joshua Hedley is in the international spotlight following the success of his debut album which is called, surprisingly enough, Mr. Jukebox. Hedley is the latest of what one might call a new wave of country stars – Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Austin Lucas and Jason Isbell – who are exploring country music’s roots and restating them in their own particular fashions.

Hedley’s album is a bona fide country album which is steeped in the traditions of the 1960’s Nashville sound with its strings and backing singers along with a healthy dose of honky tonk numbers. It’s music he’s been listening to and performing for years and after a lifetime of playing in local bars in Nashville along with being an in demand fiddle player, touring with Justin Townes Earle and Jonny Fritz, Hedley has stepped into the limelight with a sure grasp of what makes a true country song. Possessed of a fine lugubrious voice and able to wring out all the emotion from a broken heart on a song such as Counting All My Tears, he nails the glory days of Nashville before the country outlaws opened the doors to a more raucous scene. And while he told Rolling Stone magazine that  he writes, “sad songs for sad people,” there are some more upbeat moments on the album as on the honky tonkin’ title song while Weird Thought Thinker is a fantastic amalgam of syrupy strings and hard bitten lifestyle lyrics.

Those of us in the UK will have a chance to see and hear Hedley bring these songs to life as he sets out on his first headlining tour of Europe in September ending with a slot at The Long Road Festival. Just back from a lengthy tour of Australia last week he took some time out to speak to Blabber’n’Smoke and we kicked things off by asking him about his preparations for the upcoming tour.

Well right now I’m just chilling, taking some rest time as I’m just back from Australia and we had some travel mishaps on the way home. But I’m looking forward to the tour, the next few months are going to be crazy as we’re doing Europe and then back to the States for shows up until November but you guys will get me at my freshest as we start off with you. We’ll be working hard at putting the set together. I like to say that it’s the set which makes the show. Any Joe Shmoe can get up there and sing songs but you got to give the people a show. Anybody can listen to the record at home so I like to give them something to watch as well so we’re working on making it a really good show so it will be something to see along with a great bunch of country music.

I see you call your songs country music. You don’t like any of the labels that are thrown around these days such as Ameripolitan.

It’s just country music to me. That’s what is was called when I was growing up and when people first started to take notice of me when I was singing Ray Price songs, they all said I was singing country music. All I’m doing now is write songs that I would pitch to Ray Price if he was still alive. If he was still alive I wouldn’t be a performing artist, I’d just be writing for him.

You’ve really honed in on that Nashville sound on the album without falling into a nostalgia trap as it’s really fresh and vibrant.

Definitely. I think the sound of my record was heavily influenced by what I was listening to at the time and I was listening to a lot of mid sixties music, I’ve already mentioned Ray Price but also early Willie Nelson, Billy Sherrill, Tammy Wynette and stuff like that. As a result I had that string section sort of in my head. The next album should be interesting because I’ve been listening to all kinds of  stuff. I think it’s a product really of how long I’ve been learning all these songs all my life. When I started to write that was just what I knew how to write.

I was wanting to ask you about your reputation as a human jukebox, Mr. Jukebox in fact. Is it true you can play just about any request that’s thrown at you?

Yeah, pretty much. I’ve got my touring band but I also have a band that I’ve been playing with downtown for a long while in Nashville. We do a honky tonk thing at Robert’s Western World, basically a covers show. I love to do it and in fact I’d be doing it today if they weren’t closed for renovations. We have three singers, me, my guitar player Kevin and our bass player Bill and between the three of us on a Monday night we can pretty much sing you any pre Garth Brookes song.

Has anyone requested a song you couldn’t do?

Not at Roberts but sometimes I like to do it when I’m on tour. I’ll go on stage by myself and ask, “Who’s your favourite country singer? ” and normally I’ll get someone like George Jones or Merle Haggard shouted back but over there in Australia recently they were shouting out all kinds of crazy shit that isn’t in my repertoire. I mean stuff that really is a bit too new for me, things like Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, the eighties and nineties harder edged stuff. I reckon I’m going to have to learn how to do Guitar Town.

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Up until now most folk would probably know you as the fiddle player for Justin Townes Earle and Jonny Fritz amongst others while when you’re in Nashville as you say you’re a fixture at Robert’s Western World playing for the locals and tourists in what presumably is an excellent bar band. So what set you off on writing your own songs?

It’s a weird story really, it all just kind of fell into my lap. I’d written some pretty shitty songs when I was younger and a little bit angstier. I thought of myself as some kind of Ryan Adams character and I’d a lot to say for someone who hadn’t done too much living. Later on I was pretty content being a fiddle player and touring around, that life was kind of tailor made for me to pretty much skate through as easily as possible. It’s there in the words to Weird Thought Thinker where I sing, “I’m a little bit lazy,” I mean that’s true.  I liked that life a lot but then I just had this idea for a song and I wrote Weird Thought Thinker and I played it for Jonny and he really liked it. He liked it so much he started having me sing it at his shows and so I found out that other people liked it too. So I thought, well, maybe I’ll try writing songs again and see what happens. I wrote a couple more which were alright but once I quit drinking that changed everything, it really opened up everything. It was like it opened a part of my brain which had been locked up and I just suddenly could write songs and they just kept on coming. I must have written 20 songs in two months whereas usually I would write a couple of songs in 20 months.

The album’s released on Jack White’s record label, Third Man, their second country signing after Margo Price.

I’ve been working with Jack for a long time, I’d played fiddle on a couple of their Blue Series records and then I sang harmony on Hurtin’ on a Bottle on Margo’s first album. I’ve know Margo for years and she called me and asked if I wanted to sing on her record. It took me longer to drive to the studio than it did to play the session and I didn’t think any more of it but next thing there she is playing on Saturday Night Live!

Well Margo’s done really well but I believe that you have also had some special achievements such as playing at the Grand Ole Opry.

Yeah, I’ve played it four times now. It’s been incredible. The first time I can hardly remember, it was just a blur. They say you’ll always remember your first time there but for me it was the second time. At the back of your mind you’re thinking, “Well I got to play at the Opry, they might not call me again but at least I got to play it once,” so when I got that second call it meant that they liked me and that was special getting asking again. To do it four times is just amazing. It’s just something I hadn’t ever thought would happen.

Finally I just wanted to ask, given that you said that you’d be happy just writing songs for singers such as Ray Price, is there any particular song from back then that you wish you had written?

Well if we’re talking about Ray Price there’s a song which Bill Anderson wrote for him, City Lights. Bill was like only 17 or 18 years old when he wrote that and to be able to write a song like that at that age is pretty enviable. So yeah, that’s the song I’d have liked to have written.

Here are the UK tour dates including an appearance in Glasgow courtesy of The Fallen Angels Club. All other dates are here

MON 3 SEPTEMBER  – The Old Blue Last London, UK
TUE 4 SEPTEMBER – The Crofters Rights Bristol, UK
THU 6 SEPTEMBER – Admiral Bar Glasgow, UK
FRI 7 SEPTEMBER – The Sage Gateshead, Hall 2 Gateshead, UK
SUN 9 SEPTEMBER – The Long Road Festival Lutterworth, UK

And here’s that Ray Price/Bill Anderson song…

photography by Jamie Goodsell

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Rab Noakes: It all joins up in the end

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Photograph by Carole Peacock

Blabber’n’Smoke recently reviewed Rab Noakes‘ latest album, Welcome to Anniversaryville, an album which celebrates his 50 years as a performer and which was recorded with the band he assembled for his 70/500 concert at last year’s Celtic Connections. It’s a wonderful disc featuring old and new songs, originals and interpretations with many of them having some connection with landmark events in Noakes’ life while stylistically it roams around with folk and rock rubbing shoulders while there are Gaelic deliveries of traditional songs and a dash of old time tin pan alley songs.

In the midst of preparing for the official launch of the album in Lochgelly in his native Fife on the 29th August, a show which will see the concert band reconvene for the first time, Mr. Noakes was kind enough to take some time out to  speak to Blabber’n’Smoke. It was a fascinating conversation as he spoke about his career and about the new album,  displaying an encyclopaedic knowledge of folk music along with a fierce and proud sense of his working class heritage. Now well after treatment for tonsillar cancer he can look back on a career which, while never achieving chart success, nevertheless saw him at the forefront of Scottish folk music along with the likes of Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly back in the late sixties and early seventies while recording albums in Nashville and having several of his songs covered by Lindisfarne when they were hitting the charts. With around 20 albums to his name he also carved out a second career as a highly successful radio producer working with the BBC before going independent.

We started off by asking him about the album which, as its title indicates, celebrates a host of anniversaries but often in unexpected ways.

Well, it did start off with the concert I did for Celtic Connections which we called 70/50 as I was turning 70 and had been performing for 50 years. The album is a reflection of that but I don’t really like to look back in an indulgent way, I prefer to embrace the past and use it, it’s an information source but I always want to do things in the here and now. The 70/50 title just came to me, I didn’t plan it but it seemed like a good idea although of course it’s branding in its most crass sense but there you go. On the album I tried to create a narrative of sorts which made some sort of sense. I’m old enough to remember that when you made an album that you sequenced two sets of songs, about 20 minutes for each side of the album but nowadays with CDs you’re looking at maybe putting together an hour’s worth of songs and I like to think that if you want people to invest in the album and stay interested for a whole hour then it’s worthwhile spending time on the sequencing and not treating it as just a bunch of unrelated tracks. So it was a case of using what I call “landmark songs,” I never had any hits so I can’t do a greatest hits album but I can celebrate songs which have some significance to me. The inclusion of a song such as Gently Does It (written in 1985 and available on the 2004 album Standing Up) is a fine example as one of the musicians in the band, Lisbee Stainton, was someone I met back in 2014 when I did the Red Pump Special show at Celtic Connections. I was invited to do a Radio 2 show and she was there playing banjo for Seth Lakeman banjo and I quite liked her playing and thought we could do some things together. Anyway she really liked Gently Does It although she had no connection with the song or its history, she didn’t know anything about Alex Campbell for instance, but it was interesting to me as a songwriter that it could resonate with her despite her not having any specific reference point for the song. Later on Lisbee was on a Bob Harris show and was asked to pick some favourite albums and she chose an album of mine, Standing Up, so when I got the opportunity to put the band together for the show she was one of the musicians I asked along.

I was going to ask you about the band. How did you decide on whom to invite?

Once Donald Shaw gave the go ahead for the show and we agreed on a budget I was able to select the band. I consider Celtic Connections  as a patron of the arts because for an artist like me having the wherewithal to hire a large group of musicians doesn’t really happen often. I wouldn’t be able to manage that financially so when Celtic Connections gave me the go ahead it was an opportunity to put a big band together. Initially I asked people I’d worked with before such as Jill Jackson, Kathleen MacInnes, Una McGlone and Stuart Brown to join in. I’d been watching Innes Watson for some time after playing with him in the Grit Orchestra and I really wanted another female singer so I asked Lisbee who of course could also bring in her banjo along with her really interesting eight string guitar playing. Christine Hanson kind of invited herself as she was at Celtic Connections anyway and asked if she contribute and of course I jumped at that and her cello turned out to be a really nice addition to the line up. It’s a bigger band than usual but it’s not a massive or flashy sound and it worked well on stage and then in the studio an attempt to get a full band sound without me layering vocals and guitars to flesh it out and I think that we captured that. Anyone who makes records will know how elusive it can be to get that specific sound and feel that you want that but I think that we managed it. Getting a bunch of people into a room to make music together is great and although I don’t want to evangelise and say that’s the only way to make a record it’s the way I like to do it. We were squeezed into a front room with me singing live and that’s the core of the record. There were a few songs where I did do the vocal afterwards but doing it this way it gets into the groove so to say.

You recorded the majority of the album in the week after the concert.

Yes, of the 17 songs I think about 14 were almost completed in that time. There were a few I hadn’t quite got the lyrics done so I had to revisit them but although the album has taken some time to come out most of it was recorded back then. 

There’s an excellent loose limbed raggle taggle feel to many of the songs which to my mind recalls the likes of Ronnie Lane and his Slim Chance band but on Still in Town, an old Hank Cochran /Harlan Howard song you veer into a classic country rock sound from the mid sixties.

It’s interesting you mention Ronnie Lane as I opened for him many times back in the seventies and I think we plough a similar furrow at times, old timey blues and such although as I recall his starting point was Fats Waller. Still in Town however ties in with the thread in the album which pertains to me back in the sixties when I started out playing professionally with Robin McKidd. Robin was slightly older than me and really well informed and he introduced me to what you could possibly describe as the bohemian life in Dundee in the early sixties. He was a banjo player and we formed a duo and although there were a lot of those around then I always thought we were slightly different because of Robin’s knowledge. He had the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk music and he could do all those Clarence Ashley/Doc Boggs’ like things which added some depth to the music. When we went to London we stayed with a chap called Sandy James who was a big Johnny Cash fan. I was aware of Cash but I had no idea of just how wide and deep his repertoire was. Sandy had all of the themed albums which Cash had recorded about Native Americans, the old west and the working man but there was one  album in particular called Old Golden Throat which had Still on Town on it and it really resonated with me and I’ve carried that with me since then. I really like the song writing from Nashville around that time. People like Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, The Bryant’s and Cindy Walker. It’s just such a concise way of writing, simple but very effective. Just look at a line such as “I made it to the edge of town and turned around.” It’s so simple but it opens up a whole world of imagery and possibilities.

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So you arrived in London in 1968 but presumably you were listening to and playing music for some time before that.

I have always been a singer even when I was a kid, I loved songs and singing and back then it was a combination of the Scottish home service which would play things like Robert Wilson singing A Gordon For Me along with songs like Westering Home and then on the light programme you started to get some American songs such as Allentown Jail by Jo Stafford which I really loved. And then rock’n’roll and Elvis happened although with Elvis it was his late fifties songs which grabbed me in particular, when folk like Lieber and Stoller were writing for him. I also loved Dion and Cliff Richard and The Shadows but when The Beatles and The Stones came along they were like gatekeepers for the likes of me. The Stones’ first album was full of songs by the likes of Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and Marvin Gaye so we got into that and I then read that John Lennon had said that folk should listen to Bob Dylan so I did. That that got me into going to folk clubs and crikey, it opened up this whole repertoire of Scottish songs which had been hidden from us. This was about 1964 and I was fortunate enough to see the likes of Jimmy McBeath and Jeannie Robertson who were still singing on the folk circuit back then, their songs were immensely interesting. And of course there was this other connection with Dylan who was singing Woody Guthrie songs such as The Grand Coulee Dam which we had heard from Lonnie Donegan so things all seemed to start to connect. Dylan has always retained that sort of interest for me because he refers to that European ballad tradition and he’s done so from his first album with Pretty Peggy O, which is essentially the Bonnie Lass of Fyvie, up to the present day.

There are a couple of fine examples of that ballad tradition on the album along with some elements of that cross fertilisation across the Atlantic which you just talked about. I’m thinking in particular of Tramps and Immigrants along with The Twa Corbies/An Dà Fheannaig and Long Black Veil, the first two sung in Scots and the latter more in keeping with versions such as The Band’s.

Well again I’m very interested in Dylan’s use of British and Irish folk songs and melodies. I’ve done a couple of BBC shows looking into his songs which have an identifiable origin in these islands and I Pity The Poor Immigrant, from the John Wesley Harding album, had as its basis the Scots song Tramps and Hawkers. When I started working with Kathleen MacInnes we decided to put those two songs together although we went against expectations as I sing the Scottish part and Kathleen sings the Dylan part. It was a fine creative exercise which was really satisfying to put together and it’s great to perform. When we first met up though the Gaelic initiative, Ceòl’s Craic, I sent Kathleen a bunch of songs which I liked just to give her a sense of where I was coming from and one of them was the Everley’s Down in the Willow Garden and she really liked that one. I found that interesting because it’s a murder ballad of probably Irish origin which found its way to the Blue Ridge mountains so we decided to put murder ballads at the heart of the show we conceived and two of the songs we did are on the album. Long Black Veil might sound like a traditional song but it was written in the fifties. The Twa Corbies is a really interesting one because the theme turns up in lots of cultures although our version probably comes from the borders. It has an interesting narrative which has that cycle of life element in it with the two crows using the dead knight for food and his hair to feather their nest. Kathleen knew the Gaelic version and so we wove that in also and it worked really well.

Going back to the sixties folk scene there was a strong connection to left wing politics and protest songs were all the rage.On the album you sing about the working class on TCB (Working Man and Working Woman) and about immigrants working in a car wash in The Handwash Feein’ Mairket while Jackson Greyhound salutes the civil rights movement in the States. I know you’ve always been a strong advocate for the Trade Union movement and that you sit on the executive committee of the musicians union but I wanted to ask how important is it to you that music has an awareness of politics and do you have any comments on the current state of politics?

I grew up in a political house, my dad was a trade unionist and I’m a product of the practical socialism that came in after the war, the NHS and such, and I’ve never seen why that has had to be devalued to the extent that it is these days in order to preserve a rather ugly form of capitalism. I’m of an age now where I accept that capitalism isn’t going to be overturned and I understand that in situations where it was overturned as in the Soviet Union it had too many dark aspects to it. But I utterly fail to see why we should be in thrall to this rather ugly, avaricious, driven and divisive form of capitalism that we have now. I’m not party political but I am involved with the union movement and that’s where my political activities take place. There’s a way of gently influencing decisions here and there, not in a major way perhaps but I’m still trying to uphold a set of values to do with liberty and equality which are often rubbished and devalued these days. That angers me greatly. As for the state of the western world, and I’m sure I don’t have to name names here, if you pay attention to the news you should be tearing your hair out at the self serving nature of what is going on.

As I said my politics were engendered in the home when I was growing up but when I got into the folk scene in the sixties it was very political and it’s where many of us got to know about things like the civil rights movement while many of the older folk songs themselves were about the conditions of work, both agricultural and industrial, and that was a real education to me. Jackson Greyhound came about when I went back to Nashville in 2013 forty years after recording Red Pump Special there. We toured around several places associated with the civil rights movement and we visited this old bus station where many freedom riders were arrested. It’s a museum now and several words of the song were taken from the information sign outside the building. I’m not one to stand on a soapbox so it’s wrapped up in what I hope is an attractive musical style so there are references in the finger style guitar to Gary Davis and John Hurt so that it’s a bloody good record to listen to and not dependent on its message to have value. I’ve always thought that it’s far more valuable to fling in a strong apposite line rather than having a chorus driving a point home. TCB (Working Man and Working Woman) came about after a visit to the RCA studios in Nashville where Elvis recorded and I was reminded that Taking Care of Business was one of his catchphrases. The concept of the working man is seen as something heroic but I wanted to add working women to the title to be more inclusive. The song is about the concept of being working class. Nowadays class is seen very much as a matter of economics but for me it’s more a set of values. I grew up in a working class culture where the values were that you do your best, the aspirations are of expanding your knowledge and have some meaning to your life. In terms of money I’d be considered middle class these days but I’m not a middle class person because I still adhere to the values I grew up with and in a sense the song is trying to uphold that, a defiant message that I’m not going to be put in a box I don’t fit into while I also wanted to address that gender imbalance which is becoming more apparent these days.

As for The Handwash Feein’ Mairket it was actually a commission from Hands up for Trad who are doing some great work at bringing the song back into focus in the trad world as for a long time instrumental virtuosity has been at the forefront.  There was a brief to use Scots language and to reference Robert Burns which is a difficult thing to do without the song becoming a pastiche. Anyway I was a regular visitor at a local car wash and each time I went it was different men who were working there and one time I saw the gaffer picking out the ones who would be picked for the day which reminded me of the way people were picked for work back in what was called the feein’ mairket and it seemed to me to be a pretty exploitative way of handling workers. So that was the germ of the song and I when I wrote it I tried to use Scots language in the way that I use it everyday with words like thole and thrawn and others put in rather than set it in some archaic fashion.  I even was able to use a line I recalled from a Jimmy Mcbeath song, a bothy ballad, and I was quite proud to be able to slip that in.

You’ve talked earlier about connections and cycles and I thought it was interesting that the album artwork is by Celie Byrne who is the daughter of John Byrne who did album artwork for your buddies Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly.

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I knew Celie when she was a wee girl but I became aware of her work as an artist and also a musician through work she did with The Grand Gestures. Anyway, I was thinking about the artwork for the album and I saw a portrait she had done of Emma Pollock which was really striking. Celie lives in Fife and had an exhibition in Lochgelly at the time so we went through there to see her there and that was strange because I’d played a show there years ago with Billy Connolly for the miners and of course as you say her dad had painted covers for Billy and Gerry so it is a bit of a cycle.

So the album’s out and there is an official launch gig at the Lochgelly Arts Centre on the 29th August with the full band line up. Anything else in the offing?

I’ve got some new songs kicking about. I actually did a kickstarter for the end process of the album and that was an interesting process. I just needed that wee bit of money for the pressing of the album and we got the funds but I’ve decided to add a reward to the people who backed it and I’ll send them a download of six new songs. The launch show will have all of the band together apart from Jill Jackson who can’t manage to be there and it will be a one off as we can’t all get together easily. After that I’ll be back on the road doing some more shows with Jill and later in the year with my old pal from Lindisfarne, Rod Clements.

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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

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.