Dean Owens brings the spirit of Johnny Cash back to Fife

cashback posterCash Back In Fife is the latest addition to the Scottish roots music calendar, a weekend of music celebrating Johnny Cash’s links with the Kingdom of Fife. It’s the brainchild of Dean Owens who has always acknowledged his debt to the man in black. Taking place at The Woodside Hotel in Aberdour, Fife, the weekend extends the spirit of Owens’ album Cash Back (Songs I Learned From Johnny) and his resulting show which was a hit at the Edinburgh festival.  Aside from Owens, the weekend will feature musicians (many from Fife) who were equally inspired by the giant of country music.

Owens’ a busy man these days. So far, in 2020 he’s been to Tucson to record with Calexico for his next solo release,  appeared at Folk Alliance in New Orleans and then jetted back to the UK to play with his latest line-up, The Southerners, at the AMAUK awards in February, revisiting his triumph of 2019 when he won song of the year for Southern Wind. He’s now gearing up to tour with The Southerners to promote the release of The Man From Leith, his career spanning collection which is released in March with a sold out launch gig in Leith. Before that however, there’s the simple task of curating Cash Back In Fife. In the midst of this whirlwind of activity, Dean took some time to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke on a wet and windy afternoon. We kicked off proceedings by asking him how he came up with the idea for this weekend of Cash inspired music.

Really, it all started when I played a gig at The Woodside Hotel in Aberdour last May. I’d never been there before even though when I was a kid we used to holiday further along the Fife coast. After my sound check I went for a short walk and was really impressed by this quaint little village and so after that I kept coming back just to enjoy the place. I’d take my dog, Alfie, there for long walks and both my wife and I just fell in love with the village. Anyhow, I came across an article about Johnny Cash’s association with the area, how he discovered that one of his ancestors came from Fife and so he became a regular visitor and even recorded one of his TV shows in Fife. Something clicked and I thought it would be nice to celebrate Cash’s connection with the area so initially I spoke to John McTaggart who owns The Woodside Hotel about it. He’s a passionate music fan and has been putting on some great shows at the hotel and he was up for it so, along with Morag, my manager, we started to see if we could get folk interested in playing.

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I suppose we should make it clear that it’s not going to be a tribute weekend of people playing and singing Johnny Cash songs.

No. We thought quite a bit about this. We wanted folk who had links with Fife but we also wanted to widen it out to others who just were appreciative of Cash in their own writings. It’s not a tribute band weekend, instead I’m hoping that it will just show that Cash’s influence reached out to so many performers over here but with many of the artists coming from Fife we’re going to highlight that specific connection.

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I rooted around YouTube and saw some clips of Cash in Scotland and he seemed quite chuffed to have discovered that he might have some Scottish blood in him.

Yeah, it’s quite funny I suppose but it’s more that we Scots like to grab folk for our own  and claim them as Scottish so the idea of having Johnny Cash as an honorary Scot makes me smile.

So, who can we expect to see and hear over the weekend?

There are several folk who actually come from Fife, Rab Noakes, Ian Rankin, Fay Fife of The Rezillos (who is fae Dunfermline), David Latto and The Marriage featuring Stuart Adamson’s daughter, Kirsten. But we reached out a little further afield to people who have a fondness for Cash’s music so we have Hannah Rose Platt coming up from England and there’s Martha Healy and obviously I’m doing a couple of things. It’s small but as it’s the first time we’re doing it we wanted to keep it that way. It’s all under the one roof which is nice and it should be a fun weekend. People in the area are quite proud of the Cash Connection so we’re expecting a lot of local folk will be attending especially as John has been building up the hotel’s reputation by booking a lot of well-regarded acts.

On Friday night I’ll be playing with The Celtabilly Allstars who are people I’ve played with over the years including Amy Geddes on fiddle and Kevin McGuire, my old bass mate from The Felsons. We’ll also have Martha Healy playing. It’s a nice and easy way to open the weekend and there’ll definitely be a few Cash songs sung as it ties in with my album and show about Cash. On Saturday afternoon, Ian Rankin will present a talk about his favourite album by one of Fife’s greatest artists, Jackie Leven, the album being Elegy To Johnny Cash. It was actually Ian’s idea to do this and and I’m really happy that it’s happening. If Jackie were still with us I’d have definitely asked him to play. Then that evening we have a Nashville styled songwriter’s circle with me, Hannah Rose Platt and the legendary Rab Noakes. I’ve known Rab for a long time and of course he’s one of these guys who has been around for ever and is still making great music. He’s got a lot of knowledge of growing up in Fife just as Cash and these guys were starting out and it will be interesting to hear his stories on the night. Finally, there’s what we are calling Sunday Afternoon Coming Down with David Latto, Fay Fife with her country rock band The Countess of Fife, and The Marriage. I’ll just be hanging around and lending my support but it’s a lazy brunch in a lovely place so it should be great fun.

Cash back In Fife runs from 6th -8th March at The Woodside Hotel in Aberdour. Weekend tickets and tickets for individual shows are available here.

David Latto. Show Me How To Feel

a1394778543_16It was back in 2014 that Blabber’n’Smoke last encountered David latto when we reviewed his band’s last EP. The David Latto Band were up and coming in the UK Americana scene with a fine album already under their belt but soon after, Latto kind of disappeared. According to the man, he had hit some kind of creative wall which led to him taking a couple of years out. Working away from the music scene for a couple of years, he was eventually tempted to dip his toes in the water again with a brace of new songs which veered away from the alt country he was known for, being of a more personal songwriter persuasion.

Re-establishing his presence via live gigging over the past two years, Latto now has the first fruits of his recent labours on show in this five song EP. It’s a polished affair, sometime a bit too polished for ears more accustomed to a rootsier approach but there’s no denying Latto’s songwriting skills and his warm honeyed voice. He opens with the title song, a shimmering confection of jangling guitars which strays a little bit too far into pop territory for this reviewer with its soaring chorus, although a close listen to the words reveals a song which is packed with emotional pain and, at times, despair as Latto sings of being, “A dead man walking.” We’re much more comfortable with the pedal steel layered lament of Blood & Whiskey and the feather light tones of Haunt Me which features some excellent percussion. Better Ways avoids the pitfalls of the opening song although sharing many of its sentiments. There’s some gritty guitar midway and the polished finish does just what it’s supposed to do, showcase an excellent song. Losing You closes the disc with a flourish as Latto, still somewhat despairing, harnesses the full power of his musicians and Mally Smith’s excellent backing vocals on a song which builds to a grand climax with a powerful percussive drive and soaring electric guitar. It’s a song which strives for greatness and, with its hints of Prefab Sprout and even U2, it could achieve that if it got onto enough radio playlists. All in all, a welcome return for this songwriter from Fife.

Show Me How To Feel was released at the end of October but there’s a live launch gig next Saturday, 30th November, at Brig Below in Edinburgh with vinyl copies of the EP on sale. Details here.

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