Glasgow Americana Festival opens today

ga-and-creative-scotland-logo-2018-webThe 12th Glasgow Americana Festival kicks off today as Bristol based Yola Carter brings her hi-energy mix of soul and country to Cottiers Theatre. Carter, winner of UK artist of the year and Song of the Year at the AMA UK awards is just the curtain raiser for a splendid roster of acts pouring into Glasgow over the next five days. Emily Barker, well known to many for her theme song for the BBC drama Wallander and for her spot in the opening ceremony at the London Olympics, will be showcasing her Memphis influenced soulful blues album Sweet Kind of Blue while Kimmie Rhodes, a true red dirt Texan legend is also coming along.

Nathan Bell, winner of the performer of the year award in 2017 by the influential website Americana UK returns to the city which he took by storm at Celtic Connections some 18 months ago and another singular performer, Anthony D’Amato is at the HIP place to be on the south side, The Glad Cafe. Also coming to the Glad Cafe are the UK “supergroup” Bennett Wilson Poole for their first Scottish appearance. This trio of seasoned and bloody brilliant musicians have dominated the UK roots Americana scene ever since their album came out earlier this year and this gig is definitely worthy of “bucket list” attention.

There’s plenty of home grown talent on show as Martha L Healy and Starry Skies both have album launch shows (with Healy’s show apparently sold out, sorry folks) while The Hellfire Club’s show at The Hug & Pint promises to be a hot and sweaty intimate shindig. And for an interesting mix of local and American acts there’s the ever popular Hazy Recollections revue which includes Woody Pines and Adriana Spina on the bill which this year is being hosted by Glasgow’s answer to Whispering Bob Harris, our very own Mike Ritchie.  In addition to the main acts there are some great supports adding to the experience and the whole line up can be found here.

Check the links above for Blabber’n’Smoke’s thoughts on some of the acts and see some video evidence of the avalanche of talent coming this week. Get thee down there.

 

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Static Roots 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who else is on the bill?

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

Aside from the music what else is going on?

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

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

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

Bennett Wilson Poole. Aurora Records

largeIt’s difficult to be objective about a record that, since its announcement a few months back, has had one panting in anticipation to hear the music inscribed in its groove. Hearing that Danny Wilson of Danny & The Champs, Robin Bennett from The Dreaming Spires and Tony Poole, the estimable 12 string maestro of Starry Eyed & Laughing Fame (and a true Blabber’n’Smoke hero) had joined forces was somewhat equivalent to being told that everyone had lied and that Santa Claus did exist. Well, maybe some exaggeration there, but the concept was exciting and intriguing and as some songs and videos emerged along with reports of their initial live shows the die was surely cast, this might be something special.

How did three songwriters, all steeped in American music, two of them with a particular penchant for the west coast variety and one of them armed with a particularly lethal 12 string Rickenbacker, get together? Wilson, an inveterate songwriter, had teamed up with Bennett writing songs together over Facetime and they decided that Poole, who has produced both of them in the past, was a perfect fit for the songs. So, roped in, Poole had a bunch of songs in his own grab bag which were added to the mix and he recorded the basic tracks in his home studio over a bunch of weekends. The result is this 11 song collection which, for several reasons (a trio, the name of the band, the album cover) has seen them being compared to Crosby Stills & Nash (and Young although there are only three of them) but we’d hazard that a more apt comparison is to The Travelling Wilburys, another talented bunch of blokes who kind of came about when George Harrison just wanted to make an album with “some of my mates.”

The Wilburys’ influence is evident from the opening rush of Soon Enough which has a sheer joie de vivre in its Tom Petty like power pop jangle but the band transcend any such comparison as the song powers on with references to Junior Parker’s Mystery Train and a blistering 12 string raga rock solo which blasts the song into the 5th Dimension. And so it goes throughout the album. It wears its heart on its sleeve pumping a rich stew of influences – Beatles, Kinks, CS&N, Byrds – throughout, but the whole is greater than the parts as the trio’s songs stand up well on their own two feet, there’s not one dud here and the musical architecture supporting them is just the icing on the cake.

It would take a hard heart not to appreciate the chiming beauty of Funny Guys with its backward guitars, Searchers like Merseybeat beat and Wilson’s soulful voice as he takes the song on a left field turn into outer space. Elsewhere they deliver some delicious low key delicacies draped in a mild psychedelic fuzz with The Thing That You Called Love approaching Gene Clark’s baroque folk rock melancholy and The Other Side of The Sky recalling Lennon circa 1970 while Hide Behind a Smile goes further back quoting The Beatles’ In My Life on guitar towards the end. Meanwhile there’s a nod to The Kinks’ unique take on whimsical psychedelia on Wilson General Store.

The band do lean towards the west coast on several numbers.  Ask Me Anything weighs in with a chunky riff and lyrics redolent of the idealism of the late sixties with the guitar solo as tortured as anything Steve Stills came up with while the harmonies (as throughout the album) are classic. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the political assassination of MP Jo Cox, is an almost direct lift of Neil Young’s Ohio (a lift Poole readily admits to), his anger and dismay the equivalent of Young’s way back then leading to a fiery blast of disgust borne out with some ferocious guitar work. Finally there’s the closing Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), a song written by Poole after reading an article about refugees which was next to an article on the selfie phenomenon. The indignation at the absurdity and implied equivalence of disaster and life style choice burns brightly here as the band wig out on this lengthy outing with the spirit of David Crosby hovering close by. Imbued with the apocalyptic vision of Wooden Ships and bolstered by the broiling guitar broth and mantras which informed Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, it’s a monumental song and one which the band apparently turned into a 15 minute epic on their run of shows in London the other week.

Despite the plethora of names above, Bennett Wilson Poole rise above their antecedents. The album talks to today as much as it talks to the past and the band are to be congratulated for such an endeavour. A certain contender for album of the year.

Website

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