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.

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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

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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.

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Todd Day Wait on Serendipity and the Art of Busking

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At the tail end of last year I heard this album from a guy from New Orleans called Todd Day Wait. It was an unassuming listen, no flash or fandango, just some very fine folk, country and blues which, incidentally, was the name of the album. There wasn’t that much info on Todd on the old interweb thing but lots of video of him and his band, Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen, busking around America. I described the album in a review  as ” a bit of a gem in the vein of a down home Leon Redbone or a pared back Pokey LaFarge with its roots in the pantheon of American roots legends” and it’s been on regular rotation over the months. The album, Folk-Country-Blues,  was released on a German label, Blind Lemon Records, which indicated some European interest and sure enough Todd announced a couple of months back that he was swinging through the continent over March and April. Strangely enough I heard about that via Ags Connolly, a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke and who turns out to be a buddy of Todd so when I eventually was able to talk to Todd on a day off in Vienna the first thing I asked him was how he knew Ags.

I met Ags when he and Jack Grelle did a tour in the States a year or so back. They came to New Orleans and stayed at my house, Ags is really good, he’s got a great voice and great songs, he nails it. And then when I was in the UK last year I played a couple of shows with him.

I was really taken by your album Folk-Country-Blues and thought that it was your debut but looking at your website I see that you have an earlier mini album, Travelin’ Blues available.

 

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Yeah, that’s six songs I did in Georgia with upright bass and fiddle, no overdubs, just a couple of mics, the bare bones but I like to just capture the performance. Before that I had some demos I used to sell at shows but I’ve stopped printing them now I’ve these two discs.

So you recorded your first official disc in Georgia but then went to Germany to record Folk- Country-Blues?

 

Yeah, the owner of Blind Lemon Records saw me playing in North Carolina a few years back and after the show he came over and asked if I’d like to go to Germany to record an album so I said, “Sure, if you pay for it” and he said, “Of course!” And then at the start of this tour before we got on the road we went back into the German studios and recorded four songs which we’re planning to put out as a 45. And then when I get back to the States I’m going to record some more songs and again release them on vinyl so by the end of the year I’m hoping to have two 45s out.

You capture a fine old time feel and you mention folk like Jimmy Rodgers,  Charlie Poole and Lefty Frizzell as inspirations.

I really like stuff going back to the 1920’s when you had people like Jimmy Rodgers and Riley Puckett. You know white guys playing blues stuff and black guys playing white stuff and then there’s folk like Bob Wills and his Texas swing and then you go into the 1930’s and there’s Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman and I think that they all kind of started out from the same place and a lot of it goes back to Jimmy Rodgers.

So when did you start listening to music like that

I’m not really sure. My grandma played piano in the church and her aunt was a travelling vaudeville musician. So my grandma learned stuff from her and would not only play church tunes but would also play songs from the old days so I heard a lot of songs through her. The first show I went to was a Willie Nelson show in the nineties back when he was doing a lot of shows in farming communities as a part of Farm Aid. He played a show next to my grandma’s property and I really liked him and if you like Willie Nelson then you can backtrack with him into Texas music until you hit those singers like Tubbs and Frizzell and again back to Jimmy Rodgers. And through liking Willie I heard Merle haggard and that took me into the guys from the sixties. And listening to them I wondered what they liked, what they were listening to and so I looked into their influences. So really how I got into this music was really just backtracking.

When did you start playing?

I started playing guitar in my early teens but I remember writing little songs when I was just a kid. I remember singing little songs and writing them down and showing them to my sister and her then making fun of me. I’ve always thought that music and songs are a cool language, you know, writing your thoughts down and singing them and adding a melody. I’ve always loved doing that since I was young.

I read that you were living in Missouri but in 2009 you just decided to up sticks and go on the road so you just put all your possession on the kerbside and left.

Yeah. I’d been playing music for a couple of years by then. I’d quite often just travel. You know, jump in a car with my guitar and just go some place and I’d been doing that for several years but in 2009 I kind of just realised that I had to jump in all the way. There was no point in doing it just halfway so I just said that’s it. I took everything out of my house, put it on the kerb and within like five hours people came and took it away and I was ready to leave.

So did you have like a yard sale to get enough money to get up and go?

No, I just gave it away; it was just old furniture and stuff. I didn’t think about selling it but now you mention it maybe I should have. I’d saved up about $1200 but just a week before I was set on leaving I saw a Fender Rhodes piano on sale. It was $600 so I spent half my money buying that and I went from Missouri to California with the 600 I had left. I had an old white Chevy van and I loaded the piano, an amp and some other stuff and went off. I had a buddy who came along for a little bit. We went to California, spent some time out there and then I headed down to New Orleans.

So why New Orleans?

Well I went there in 2006 and then another couple of times before 2009 and I realised that you could make some money just playing in the streets in New Orleans, you don’t get harassed or arrested. And there’s just so much music there. Coming from Missouri, OK, there’s music there but nothing like what was going on in New Orleans. There’s music in the streets, all the nightclubs, and I realised I could live there pretty cheap. First year I was there I lived in my buddy’s kitchen. He had an apartment which was one room and a kitchen and a bathroom and he let me sleep underneath his kitchen table.

I’ve seen several videos of you busking. Do you have a regular group of people you play with or is it just whoever turns up?

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I knew what I wanted to do but it’s kind of hard to convince other  people to do it for basically no money so what happens is when I’m in New Orleans I use people who live there, when I’m in California I use people who live in California. I’ve just developed this thing where I can claw people in when it works for them. It’s a lot easier for someone in New Orleans to just play locally rather than ask them to travel all over the mid west for next to no money.

What about this tour you’re currently on? You’re going through Germany, Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland. Have you brought a band with you on that?

Yes. This is my fifth time over here and I’ve brought a fiddle player (Lyle Werner) and a steel guitar player (Nikolai Shveitser). We’re using local upright bass players for some of the shows and then for the last two weeks we’ve got a bass player from Italy. So some shows as a three piece but most as a four piece.

The pictures I’ve seen on Facebook look as though the shows are going well.

Well I just love playing Hillbilly music and we throw in some country, jazz and swing.  I mean basically it’s all the same stuff and we’re playing songs from the twenties through to the fifties, songs with lots of lyrical content and then ones you just want to dance to. So I think that if you’re young or old, no matter what your background, you can come along and enjoy the show.

On the album you have two cover songs, one by Jimmy Rodgers, and one by Gus Cannon. How did you go about picking those?

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Well I just love playing Jimmy Rodgers’ songs so there had to be one of those and the Gus Cannon song, well, Thomas had heard us play it and he wanted it on the record and if the boss man says he wants something I guess we gotta do it. It’s always good to have the boss man on your side.

And as you said earlier it was Thomas Schlieken who heard you play in a bar in the states and invited you over to record the album.

Yes, you never know how this crazy world works you know. Some of the biggest opportunities I’ve had have been in the most unlikely circumstances. I met the producer of my first disc at a farmer’s market in San Diego. His name is Mark Neill (producer of The Black Keys and Los straitjackets amongst others) and he’s helped me out ever since. It was just the sort of place where you’d never expect to meet someone like that. We were playing on a Thursday afternoon at this crappy farmers market. I’d found out that you could make some money just playing these farmers markets across the country, some are good and some not so good but this one was really terrible, we were standing in the glare of the sun in the dirt and sand and Mark saw us, you never know how this world works.

Serendipitous indeed. You must make a good impression if these guys just happen across you and say, “Hi, let’s make a record”.

Well I’m a big baseball fan and I just grew up knowing you can’t hit the ball if you just sit and wait. You got to get up to the plate and take your swing and you never know how it will work but you just need to give it your best swing and then you never know. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I was playing on my own and then as a duo, a trio and now there’s four or five in my band and the more people who see you  play and then maybe book you allows you to get more money to hire more people for the band and play more places. And people seem to like country music, the reason I’m in Vienna right now is that last time I was over here someone saw me and said, “I want you to come to Vienna next time”.

Any plans to come back to the UK anytime soon.

I’d love to. I plan to come to Europe at least once a year and I know that folk like Jack Grelle have a great time when they’re playing in Britain so I’d hope to come back hopefully next year. I’m hoping that these singles we’re bringing out get a few spins and spread the word. They’ll have a digital download code but I’m hoping people will like the singles themselves. That’s the way I listen to music, I don’t have a CD player so I listen to records and I think that more and more people are doing that. It’s a great experience, having your friends over and they go through your collection, to me that’s an ideal Friday night, let’s listen to records. It’s so much more tangible, singles, ten inchers and albums, I think people just like them.

So you’ve got a couple more dates in Europe and then it’s back to the States.

When we get back we’re going up to Cincinnati to play a Merle Haggard tribute and then it’s back to the west coast for a six-week tour so it’s a busy time of the year coming up.

We left Todd there but followed his tour adventures including two sold out nights in Paris. Hopefully he’ll make it to our shores in the not too distant future and there’s always the prospect of a couple of cool 45’s to look forward to.

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The working man’s blues – a chat with Nathan Bell

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Nathan Bell’s album I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love, released midway through 2016, featured heavily in many year end top ten lists, for a virtual unknown this side of the water an impressive task. Bell has a firm grasp on a folk roots sound with hints of country folded in as he sings of the dignity (and the plight) of the modern day USA working man. Following in a line from Woody Guthrie to Dylan, Steve Earle, Guy Clark and Springsteen, Bell’s songs burn with a smouldering sense of injustice and hurt, the American Dream laid bare, factories closing with folk having a hard scrapple existence. Despite the tribulations however there’s still a sense of dignity and pride, the victims as heroes.

I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love is the third album from the 56 year old Tennessee resident. Along with its predecessors, Blood like A River and Black Crow Blue it constitutes what he has called The Family Man Trilogy examining life today as a 50 something man, a family man and a working man. While the first two featured primarily Bell and his guitar on I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love he is accompanied by Missy Raines & the New Hip adding new dimensions to his sound. At its heart however is the voice and experience of a man who had a shot at Nashville back in the 80’s recording albums with his first wife before hanging out with the likes of Earle and Townes Van Zandt. It didn’t work out and Bell moved into white collar work forsaking music, remarrying and raising a family until the tectonic plates of capitalism shifted him into the ranks of the unemployed once more, the shifting ground finally settling when he once again picked up his guitar after almost two decades of silence.

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With such an intriguing story topped by the excellence of I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love, Blabber’n’Smoke was delighted when it was announced that Bell would be making his UK debut at Celtic Connections. An opportunity to speak with the man came up and we grabbed it with both hands so here is a conversation with Nathan Bell.

Hi there and congratulations on your album, it’s been really well received over here.

It’s done better across the pond than in the US and I appreciate that. Done well in the UK and also in Europe where they’re very keen on lyrics based music. Most of them speak English in the financially well off countries but it still surprises me that my albums seem to do best in countries where English is a second language.

You’ve played in Europe before so do you try to reciprocate and learn any of the languages over there?

Well, Dutch and German are so close together, when I was over there I was trying to speak in Dutch but I was pronouncing it like a German. My family line is Ukrainian and Dutch-German with something else in there somewhere.

But the Celtic Connections show is the first time you’ve played in the UK?

Yes. I’ve been to Edinburgh before but on a holiday. I had a tour in Holland and then my family came to meet me in Amsterdam and we got over to the UK. I have a friend who directs for the BBC in London so we came over and hung out and other than the fact that you can’t set foot in London without giving them all your money we had a great time!  We then came up to Edinburgh. Where I come from on the East coast of the States a lot of the people come from Scotland.

 I don’t do a lot of touring. I made a decision early on that I wasn’t going to do a lot of small shows and be away for several weeks. Partly it’s because I’m too old to do that, I mean put me on the road for  20 days and I’m dead, after two weeks I need a day off. And my music, it’s wordy, dense and there’s only a certain kind of audience who will come to that so if I can find that audience then I’ll book a short tour around them so I get to play really high quality places. But the life of a 19 year old in a band, that’s not me. I’m up there on stage on my own and I’m not bragging when I say I’m quite an accomplished guitar player and I know what will do well in front of an audience that’s paying attention.

I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love is said to be the third part of a trilogy of albums.

It is a trilogy of sorts. Record companies and PR folk tend to shy away from the use of that word because we’ve become such a short-term society that people are only interested in what is current but I started these records as a trilogy and if there was an over arching title for it would be the Family Man Trilogy. It starts out with Black Crow Blue which is about the single man in America, Blood Like a River is about the family and this new one is about working and it’s been about a four or five year process.

Much of the new album seems to be about people working or not working in what I suppose we call the rustbelt, the steel industry and such, people who have been having such a rough time of it recently.

Yes, these are jobs which will never come back. People say they will but they won’t other than in a boutique sort of way. There’s a company called Nucor Steel which recycles steel but the big plants are gone, we’re never going to make the level of steel that they do in China. We’re in a funny position in that the money moved up and it didn’t get replaced by anything. I’ve worked since I was eleven years old and I’ve experienced that first hand.

I know that you were in Nashville in the 80’s but that didn’t work out and you eventually ended up working in the telecommunications business.

In 1991 I came to Nashville. It didn’t work out but I kind of knew that from the moment I got there. I had a publishing contract and I was working with the producer Richard Bennet who worked with Steve Earle on Guitar Town. Richard became a good friend. But even in the process of getting all these things together, contacts and such that for some some people takes years of work to get hold of,  as soon as I got to Nashville I realised that this wasn’t necessarily what I was wanting and that they had a business model that wasn’t for me. It wasn’t their fault that I couldn’t be in their business model and you can only blame them if you did exactly what they told you to do and it didn’t work out. I never did that. So after about six months I was treading water and after two years I was out.

I accidentally ended up in telecommunications working with cell phones right at the point when everybody was starting to buy them. Then the company downsized as they always do so I was out for about a year. I got back then into the same business doing a different job but the parameters had changed so much and there were some ethical compromises I wasn’t willing to make. I tried to hold on to the job for as long as I could as I had a family growing up. If you have to make a living you make a living.  I mean they weren’t asking me to do anything that was evil or illegal it was just getting harder and harder to be successful without going into some gray areas which I wasn’t willing to do.

And all this time you were away from music, not playing or performing. I read some story about your wife one day setting up a guitar in your garage.

I didn’t play from around 1994 until 2008 and then a friend of mine, a songwriter called Don Henry invited me to a show he was doing and called me up on stage to do two songs. I could barely dredge them up, I was terrible; you know people always tell you it wasn’t that bad but it was that bad. And then after that I had to go on a business trip and when I got back my wife had a set up for me in this closet under the stairs, a tape player and a guitar and I’ve made most of these albums in that closet. It’s like a half closet with an angled roof but it’s got the sort of sound you would get in a $50,000 studio, I mean I couldn’t recreate this set up and sound for less than 50,000 bucks. And you know it’s like an aging football player, you put him in an over 50’s league and he starts thinking his glory days are going to come back and that was me.

Well according to a lot of folk over here those glory days are happening right now for you.

Yeah, I like that but I’m not as quick as these young guys anymore.

OK, but young guys, unless they are very gifted don’t have a lot to sing about. You’ve got a lifetime of experiences.

Well, the young ones are probably going to sing about girls or boys. For me, I come from a literary background and I would have liked to have written long fiction or long journalism if I wasn’t so bad at it. So I ended up writing short. I wanted to be Steinbeck or Jack London but you could only be those guys if you have experience. It was probably good for me to be out of it and doing everything else. Plus I love my life; I’ve always said that if the business had stayed relatively the same and I was able to do what I wanted to do then I wouldn’t be doing this because those years were wonderful, just wonderful. This just happens to be the next step.

The next step perhaps but folk are comparing you to the likes of Van Zandt and Earle and I thought that many of your songs inhabit the same territory as the likes of Rod Picott.

Wonderful compliments. Anytime anyone wants to compare me to writers like that or to some literary figures then I can handle that. As for Rod I know him, I bump into him from time to time. He’s the genuine deal, he comes from a real working man’s background so him and Slaid (Cleaves) know what they’re talking about. I respect what he does a great deal.

In terms of that your working career was in selling cell phones and working in middle management. So what gives you the insight or the ability to write about steel mill workers living in a rusty shack with their lives falling apart?

Well I didn’t have very much money most of my younger years. I mean I wasn’t poor, I had enough to eat but I wasn’t able to spend money like someone who was middle class. I spent about 19 years with the phone company and that’s about half of my adult life. The rest of that time I was doing jobs in the docks and in construction and in hotels and then later with the phone company  I have always been around people doing different jobs so all those conversations alone have been helpful in what I’m writing about now. I’ve been there working 80 hours a week picking up heavy stuff but I’m too old for that now, it’s cost me a shoulder and a knee.

You mentioned wanting to write like Steinbeck or Jack London. What draws you to writers?

My father is Marvin Bell and he’s at least a relatively well-known poet, he’s 79 now and he just drove off from here a few minutes before we started to speak. So I grew up around the writing department at the University of Iowa, it was my school so to speak and I guess that’s one of the reasons I didn’t go to University as  it had been such a big part of my childhood. My father and all his friends were writers and most of my friends outside the music business are writers.

I believe that you knew Studs Terkel.

Yeah. When I met him he was older of course and we weren’t what I would call close but he was in the Chicago folk circle which was very vibrant back in the eighties. I would run into him and talk to him. There aren’t that many people that I think of as being larger than life but  his book (Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, 1974) changed the way that everbody looked at the study of work. It was a real pleasure just to have known him and to have talked to him.

Terkel worked very much in an oral tradition, is that what you’re trying to do?

Well, I’m trying to tell my stories honestly. If you look at them then you’ll see that almost none of them take the arc of promising something, well, ethereal. I’m actually a really happy optimistic guy but I see the life we’re living, the jobs we do, the reality of it.  Part of what we’ve lost in the world and with social media especially is that we’ve lost the way the oral tradition protected us, the way the folk world told stories that fostered a sense of community. If you listen to an Irish band, a Scottish band, a Cape Breton band or a blues band they’re playing music that you can understand in a form that’s fairly similar and their stories are just their own stories and I think that the folk tradition of songwriting is critical. My next album will be the first one that talks expressly about love but it won’t talk about love like say, Gerry and The Pacemakers (who I quite like), it’ll be my own weird dark version of it.

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On I Don’t Do This For Love you’ve got Missy Raines and her band playing with you. How did that come about?

I’ve known Missy for a long time, since 1986 or so, and she and her band came through our town and I heard them play and I thought this was one shot at getting a band like this on a record. These days bands don’t stick together, they have to be off earning somewhere all the time so now Ethan Ballinger, the guitar player is playing with Lee Ann Womack and Jarrod Walker is playing with Claire Lynch. But I got to have them for a couple of days in the studio and we recorded everything but the harmony vocals so for the most part it’s the five of us playing live in the studio. They’re wonderful musicians so all I had to do was stand there and get my part right.

As you said earlier, the songs are honest tales about working men. I was particularly taken by Jesus Of Gary, Indiana. Just reading the lyrics is impressive.

Thanks, I appreciate that compliment, it’s one of my favourites. I do work very hard to make the lyrics stand up without the music. They’re not poems but I think if you read them the cadence is there, the rhythm is there, the story is there and if it’s not then I won’t record it.

Speaking of poetry what are your thoughts on Dylan’s Nobel Prize?

Dylan is so important to what happened to song writing and the oral tradition. The only reason people are mad at him is because writers get mad when they don’t win awards so they’re all pissing ad moaning because it wasn’t one of them that got the award. The truth is that what Dylan did was exceptional, extraordinary. Some of his lyrics, if you go in and listen to them and read them it is literature.

America’s about to enter the Trump age. Are you still optimistic about the future?

Always. You know half of my family is Jewish so even us being here means that I’m optimistic. It’s only been 60 to 70 years since they stopped chasing us out of every country in the world. Optimism isn’t about everything’s going to be great. It’s if you do the work and you fight the fight and you’re honest and don’t pretend that things aren’t what they are that you can advance the cause of humanity.

I get that in your songs. The characters, despite the hardships, they are survivors.

Well, the way I see it, here’s an example. Leicester City wins the premiership and they won it with a bunch of guys everyone else had given up on. The secret is, if you’re here, you got a chance, if you show up you got a chance. If you hide in the corner and complain all the time then you got no chance.

Nathan Bell makes his UK debut at Celtic Connections on Thursday 2nd February at Oran Mor. He’s also performing on these dates.

Mon 6: Woodend Gallery Scarborough
Tues 7: The Green Note, London
Thurs 9: Drovers Arms, Puncheston, Haverfordwest
Fri 10: The Forge, Anvil Arts, Basingstoke

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