Gig Reviews

Gig Review: Dexeter Four Thousand Miles to Nashville Album Launch with Liv Austen

Just when I thought I’d stopped writing articles on 4000 Miles to Nashville, something happens to pull me back in. That something was the album launch of Four Thousand Miles to Nashville, a year in the making for one of the most popular acts in UK Country; Dexeter. Not only was it a chance to see the culmination of a lot of a hard work from a band I’ve come to know pretty well, but they were being supported by Liv Austen, someone I’d long been wanting to see live. So off I trotted to the Camden Barfly, on a very hot July 3rd Friday evening. Apologies for the awful photos – turns out my new phone isn’t the image creating powerhouse I was led to believe.

Dexeter Four Thousand Miles to Nashville Album Launch with Liv Austen

First to perform was Liv, whose EP Working Man’s Dream bowled me over back in January and I’ve listened to it many times since. A change in plans meant I missed her performance at Country To Country, so here was chance to finally make up for that, and I made sure to be near the stage. Liv started with Working Man’s Dream and it was obvious straight away that what I’d heard on her CD was not a trick of clever production, but a truly amazing voice that I was witnessing before my very eyes, and ears.

With effortless grace her vocals were as equally powerful as they were tender, as she sung through a varied set of both upbeat songs and ballads. What made Liv stand out from a lot of UK acts, and indeed many around the world, is her storytelling. In between songs we got an insight into who Liv is and why she wrote the songs she was playing. She spoke with confidence, but also with an air of vulnerability and is every bit the country singer song writer that you hope to see at a live show.

Dexeter Four Thousand Miles to Nashville Album Launch with Liv Austen

New to Liv was playing the guitar, something she did in one of her new songs. There was a point towards the end of the song where her guitarist Lee stopped, and looked across at Liv playing and signing on her own. As she did both faultlessly, I saw a look of pride on his face – job done. When I reviewed Liv’s EP I said of The Guts You Always Had, and I quote This is one of the song’s where I visualise (if you’ve read my reviews before you’ll know the visualisation is a big part of music for me) Liv sitting at the piano with a spotlight picking her out on an otherwise dark stage. Much to my delight I got this at the end of her set, and I got goosebumps. Okay, the stage wasn’t in full darkness, but everything else was there and the performance was stunning.

I had an inkling from listening to her EP, but after seeing Liv Austen live I firmly believe she’s the best female country singer in the UK right now, and has very tool at her disposal to go a very long way. Chatting to her later in the evening it was great to see that’s she’s as charming and endearing off the stage as she is on. She also has no idea just what a special talent she is, and I say that without even the slightest hint of hyperbole. She’s back in London with Luke & Mel and Gary Quinn for a Think Country In The Round session on August 13th – I think I’ll have to make the trip into the big smoke for that one. There’s also a new EP coming later this year and hopefully a launch party there – count me in.

Next up was Lucy May who’d I’d seen supporting Striking Matches back in May and she’s not for me, so instead I caught up with luminaries of the UK country music scene at the back of the venue.

Then it was time for the main event and the band of the moment, as Dexeter took to the stage and my first time seeing this version of them, with new session guitarist Craig. They kicked things off with Breathe, which also hapens to be the first track on new album Four Thousand Miles to Nashville, and it was clear straight away it was party time as the band sounded bigger and better than they have to date. They’ve definitely upped the rock part of their act and for me that’s a good thing, and actually fills a gap in UK Country.

Dexeter Four Thousand Miles to Nashville Album Launch with Liv Austen

One big difference was Paul on bass, yes that’s bass, not the usual double bass that we are used to seeing him strumming. This left him free to have a lot more fun stage, and he took advantage of that. Who knew that behind the coolest hat wearing dude in country music was an axe wielding rockstar? Well we do now, and what a difference it makes. You see, Dexeter have been through a few member changes over the past 12 months, but now they seem to have their strongest line-up by far, with everyone contributing something original and necessary to the sound. Jim on drums is often overlooked as all drummers are, but his contribution is unmistakable, as was new member Craig who played both guitar and piano.

It almost goes without saying that at a Dexeter gig Dee will sing and she’ll sound great, but it still needs saying and I never fail to be surprised at just how good she is, in spite of seeing Dexeter perform live many times before. Along with her scintillating vocals is her chemistry with writer and guitarist Gareth, who together sometimes perform as a duo. When halfway through the gig we heard from manager Annette that the album had cracked the iTunes Top 40, huge smiles emerged and they hugged on stage. It was an in the moment honest reaction, and there’s nothing more country than that. As I write this Four Thousands Miles to Nashville is on the verge of cracking the country top 10 – with eyes on that number one spot. Garth himself has a cheeky charm that makes it impossible not to like him in an instant, as he masters his guitar and adds vocals that harmonise with Dee so very well.

I have to admit, it was quite surreal to hear them singing Four Thousand Miles to Nashville, a song (and album) whose name’s beginnings came from this very website. It sounded great though, and those 4000 miles will be traveled later this year as the band will be making a very special trip to the home of country music. The new songs from the album blended perfectly with old stalwarts like Grey, one of my personal favourites and one I heard at the very first Dexeter gig I attended in May last year. Slow It Down was a massive crowd favourite after being around for almost a year, as we all sang along to what has become the band’s anthem.

Dexeter Four Thousand Miles to Nashville Album Launch with Liv Austen

Later in the gig there was here was an announcement that Dexeter are supporting Angaleena Presley at her London gig on July 30th – lucky for me I already have tickets. A little after this they were joined on stage by Laura Oakes for a great rendition of Hey Ho, a song made famous by The Lumineers and later Maddie and Daphne on the Nashville television show. This was my first experience of Laura, someone I’ve heard touted by many within the UK country community, and rightly so. She was back again for the second song of the encore, as were Liv Austen and Lucy May as they all joined Dexeter to sing Country Roads, which brought the house down and finished off great set in style.

It’s quite incredible to think that Country to Country 2014 was their second only gig as a band, and just how far they’ve come in that time. The new album has delivered everything we hoped for and more, and as a live band they have only stretched the gap between themselves and every other band to hold on to their title as the best live band in UK country music.

Well done to the aforementioned Annette from Think Country who put all this together and what a great job she did. It was this, and Liv earlier in the night, that has me once again writing on this website. When I see or hear something great I just want to tell the world, that’s all I ever wanted to do with 4000 Miles to Nashville. Last night epitomised what I like in live music – may there be many more nights like it.

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Gig Review: Striking Matches – Union Chapel, London – 8th May 2015

It was only two months ago that I last saw Striking Matches, albeit for one song, at the CMA Song Writers Series as part of Country To Country at The O2, and here they are, back again. Last night they were supported by Lucy May who I knew nothing of before the gig, and she didn’t leave much of a mark on me. She has a good voice, but her whole act is just unremarkable, and for someone who has been around for a few years, she has little in the way of stage presence. She seemed to get a good response for the crowds, so she’s pushing the right buttons for others.

Striking Matches themselves came on with a band, adding a drummer and bassist. This had me worried straight away, as their recent debut album is also with band, and has a more produced and less organic sound than the acoustic maestros I’d come to love. Straight away it was evident this was going to be a very different show to to the one I saw at The Borderline last year, and the two times I caught them at Country in Country in 2014 also. The drums were set up way to loud, so much so that they drowned a lot of the guitars from Justin and Sarah, the latter whose mic was set up too low and made her vocals really hard to hear. Four songs in and their passion and endearing personalities kept me interested, but the new full band set up just wasn’t working.

Striking Matches at Union Chapel London, May 8th 2015

It was at this point that the drummer and bass player left, and on stage with just their acoustic guitars were Sarah, Justin and the kind of performances that I had been hoping for. They were joined for one song by a guy I hadn’t heard of and can’t remember the name of (shoddy reporting I know) for one song, and then The Shires joined them to sing I Ain’t Leaving Without Your Love, a song that The Shires cover at their live shows. This worked really well, and after not seeing The Shires for 12 months, it was clear to see that a once nervous Crissie is perfectly at ease on stage now. It was during this acoustic stage that we were treated to some of the guitar wizardry that they have become famous for, and definitely got the biggest reaction of the night. When the Right One Comes Along was beautifully performed, with lots of crowd involvement, and resulted once again in an emotional Sarah Zimmermann.

Unfortunately, for me, it was then time for the drummer and bass player to return, and back to not hearing Sarah’s vocals and parts of the guitars. There was one specific part where Sarah was laying out some great looking slide tricks, but the drums came in at such a crescendo, that we could only watch, as the sound of her guitar was drowned out by the percussion. The gig ended with an acoustic cover of Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love, which was the perfect way to finish.

Striking Matches with The Shires at Union Chapel London, May 8th 2015

It was a fractured set, with Striking Matches themselves seemingly knowing that people want the acoustic material, and they themselves wanting to play it, but having it sandwiched between the full band sections making it all feel a bit disjointed. I suspect that they have been told that too further their careers they must go with the full band sound, but with their hearts lying with the acoustic they truly love. I could be completely wrong on that, but it’s their acoustic sound that makes them stand out as something very special. It didn’t help that the set-up was all wrong in places, and maybe with less drums and an audible Sarah, it’s very different. They are back in November and I will probably end up going, as the acoustic parts and their personalities are so good that they make it worth the trip – I just hope we get more of them, or at the very least a decent sound set-up.

On a side note Union Chapel is a gorgeous venue, and seeing their shadows dancing on the walls of the building added a great deal to the atmosphere. The only downside are the hard wooden pews – could have done with prayer cushions to sit on. The king of gig photography Flex has published online some exceptional photos from last night which you can see here.

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Gig Review: Gretchen Peters – Kings’ Place, London – 25th March 2015

Two years ago I didn’t know who Gretchen Peters was, but in June 2013 a buddy of mine invited me to see her play in a barn, actually called the High Barn, in Essex – you can read about what I thought of that gig here, but needless to say I’ve been a big fan ever since. Gretchen’s latest album, Blackbirds, came out a month ago, but I didn’t listen to it until the day of the gig – a treat for being such a good boy during my blood test earlier on the day 😉

It was my first time at King’s Place and it’s a really nice venue, decked out with lots of wood and being intimate but not too small. I’d read on the website earlier that the venue did not allow photography, but I didn’t think they’d mind me taking a snap of the stage before the gig started.

Gig Review: Gretchen Peters - Kings' Place, London - 25th March 2015

Gretchen’s band consisted of Barry Walsh on piano and accordion, with Christine Bougie on electric guitar, drums and lap steel guitar. I expected these two, but wasn’t expecting the 4th member, who was Northern Ireland’s Conor McCreanor on bass and double bass, and a fine addition he was too. They went straight into Blackbirds, the title track of the new album, and a song co-written by Ben Glover. I was familiar with Blackbirds, and not just because I’d heard it earlier in the day, you see, it’s also a track on Ben Glover’s own album, Atlantic, a song on which Gretchen sings too. It sounded great, with every bit of emotion and pain that we get from the song on Ben’s album, and set the tone for the night.

Blackbirds was followed by another two songs from the new album, which saw Christine play a different instrument with each one. To say they are a talented bunch would be an understatement, with Barry being somewhat of a virtuoso on the piano and his accordion playing adds a lot to the atmosphere of songs, none more so than on The Matador from Gretchen’s Hello Cruel World album. As well as the aforementioned emotion that you feel in Gretchen’s voice, it is beautifully controlled, from subtle whispers to belting high notes. With songs sewn together with witty and moving stories from her life, it’s an evening of complete musical entertainment.

With no support the gig was split in two, and after the intermission Gretchen started the second half as powerfully, some would argue even more, as the first. Sat alone on stage at the piano, she sung the song that in her words changed her life, and we were treated to a stunning rendition of Independence Day. It was a tingles down your spine performance of a song that Gretchen wrote, but was made famous by Martina McBride 20 years ago and won CMA Song Of The Year that year in 1995. I personally prefer Gretchen singing it, and last night only went to reinforce that.

At one point Gretchen actually left the stage, and let Barry, Christine and Conor take the spotlihght, as they combined to play a magical song of Barry’s called Silencio. It’s an instrumental number that you can hear over on his website and captivated me last night, so much so that I intend to buy the album. With Gretchen back on stage they played a few more songs from her new album, including The House On Auburn Street, a memory of when she was young and her Mum took her and her sister down the road to watch a neighbours house burn down, as was the done thing. Now of course people would be taking photos and positing them on Twitter.

Gig Review: Gretchen Peters - Kings' Place, London - 25th March 2015

We got a three song encore which ended with just Gretchen and Barry singing The House On Auburn Street, a song by John Prine which they sung with him when they did some shows together. Watching them sing together it’s obvious they have a very close relationship, both musically and personally, and it was a perfect way to end the night, with it’s equal moments of humour and tenderness. There’s a definite darkness to a lot of what Gretchen sang, but sung like she does, you feel a part of the story of each of those songs and privileged to be in that position.

Back in July last year, Mary Gauthier said that you can’t describe Americana, but you know it when you hear it. That’s how I feel about Gretchen, with incredible song writing, a world class voice and a band that complete it all perfectly. There’s so much fluff being put out these days, it’s so nice to be reminded that real music is still being produced and performed, and in this case at the highest level. Gretchen Peters should be listened to and watched live by anyone who considers them self a fan of music – if you are yet to do so, go now, you owe it to yourself.

Website: gretchenpeters.com
Twitter: @gretchenpeters
Facebook: gretchenpetersmusic

Be sure to subscribe to Gretchen’s mailing list for news and stories plus a free song download each month.

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Gig Review: CMA Song Writers Series – Kix Brooks, Brandy Clark, Sam Palladio, Jessi Alexander & Jon Randall – The O2 Indigo, London – March 6th 2015

Last year I could only listen in awe as people regaled stories of how great the likes of Striking Matches were at the CMA Song Writers Series, a now traditional event that takes place the Friday before Country To Country (C2C) kicks off. I say traditional, but now C2C has been announced as a 3 day festival in 2016, starting on the Friday, the future of the CMA Song Writers Series is unknown. I can only hope the sell out crowd last Friday was proof enough that it should be continued, and scheduled for the Thursday before C2C starts next year.

Speculation and uncertainty aside, I wasn’t going to miss such a well regarded night of music this year, and as soon as Brandy Clark was announced I booked tickets. Brandy sat right at the very top of my wish list of artists to come over to the UK so her involvement was a dream come true. Friday March 6th was to be my only flirtation with C2C this year, at least up until that very date when a few plans changed, but that’s another story for another time.

I think coming from a background of rock music, from the 60s through to the 80s and some of the 90s, the concept of song writers, known and utilised by many acts in a genre, is quite alien to me. I’ll be the first to hold my hand up and say I didn’t really know who Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall were, or any of the other big name song writers in country music. I did know of Brandy Clark as a songwriter, but only because I was such a huge Kacey Musgraves fan and Brandy’s co-write credit of Follow Of Your Arrow was well publicised. I came to know much more about Brandy when she released her debut album 12 Stories, and Sam Palladio I knew from the Nashville TV show and seeing him support Striking Matches last year. Kix Brooks was also new to me, knowing of Brooks and Dunn, but not their music.

Kix Brooks was the host of the evening, and within minutes my ignorance of his career melted away as he felt like an old friend, such was his warming personality and engaging delivery of his stories. One such story told of how he’d been chatting with a guy who wanted to propose to his girlfriend on stage at a Brooks and Dunn show and had been chatting back forth with Kix leading up to the concert to get everything organised. When it came time to get them on stage it seemed both the guy and his future fiancee had both changed their minds and were mortified at the mere thought of joining Kix. Being the strong personalty that he is, Kix got them up, got him to propose and the gig continued. It wasn’t until the next day that he got an email from the original guy wondering who it was that Kix got on stage, because it wasn’t him and his girlfriend!

Kix Brooks - CMA Song Writers Series - The O2 Indigo, London – March 6th 2015

Kix Brooks is a performer through and through, and his voice has moments of tenderness and others where the gravelly tones tell a story of many years on the road. You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

 was my particular favourite of the four songs he did, and his songs and stories were enough for me to want to check out more of his work, a familiar trend for the evening.

Brandy Clark was the most familiar to me, having played her 12 Stories album a lot over the last year, and she added another level of charm with her unassuming presence and an aura of someone who feels utterly blessed to be in the position she is. She was softly spoken as she played Mama’s Broken Heart with a minimal introduction, but opened up a lot more when talking about her second song, which we soon realised was to be Follow Your Arrow – the song she co-wrote with Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves, the latter of which went on to record and make it famous. I say famous, but I think it’s more well known in the UK than the US, as Brandy seemed to think it wasn’t a big hit and was pleasantly surprised to see we both knew the song and sung a long with her.

Brandy Clark - CMA Song Writers Series - The O2 Indigo, London – March 6th 2015

As brilliant as her album is, Brandy Clark is an artist that is even better to see and hear sing live. Her voice is flawless, and though it’s a cliche I no doubt overuse on this website, Brandy does get lost in the music when she is on stage. Though she didn’t play Stripes as I was hoping, I was pleased to hear Get High, which led to Kix joking we were all potheads as well as drunks, as he’d mentioned earlier. I don’t think anyone on that stage was expecting to be playing to an audience of people who like country as much people back in the States.

I already knew from seeing him last year that Sam Palladio was as much a musician in real life as his Gunnar character that he plays on screen in Nashville, so I knew what to expect. He kicked off with Fade In To You and If I Didn’t Know Better, both from the Nashville show, and I still marvel at his ability to get those high lingering notes with such ease and control. As delicate as some of those moments were, he put absolutely everything into Lightning Bones, one of the three of his own songs that he sung. It was a rockier number with a lot of soul that saw Sam play his guitar to within an inch of its life.

Sam Palladio - CMA Song Writers Series - The O2 Indigo, London – March 6th 2015

Even though Sam was a musician before his acting break on Nashville, he still seems quite unsure of his own songwriting talents, something he has absolutely nothing to worry about. Jessi Alexander said what we were all thinking, in telling him to cut an album so that we could all buy it. Well, she actually said download it, but I still physical copies where possible, so I’ll take a CD thanks Sam, or even Vinyl if you’re feeling adventurous. It was the second time I’d heard Wake Me Up In Nashville and the story that inspires it tugs at your heartstrings, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s yet to hear it – just go see him live when the opportunity arises.

Jessi Alexander was the one person I came out of this show marveling at the most, and she’s every bit as good as any artist making waves in the charts today, and then some. The voice, the poise, the guitar playing and the undeniably world class writing ability – that’s the important part, but she’s also a pretty lady too, so absolutely no reason for her not to be played hourly by country radio and TV stations the world over. She sang a couple of songs she’d written for Blake Shelton, Drink On It and Mine Would Be You, both of which went to number 1 in America, but it was her Lee Brice track that had me welling up.

Jessi Alexander - CMA Song Writers Series - The O2 Indigo, London – March 6th 2015

I Drive Your Truck is the song inspired by of a guy who was on the radio talking about his son who had died overseas fighting in the services. The interview was on Memorial Day and the interviewer asked what he was going to do that day, to which the father said he was gonna ‘drive his truck’. It was one of the co-writers, Connie Harrington, that heard the radio interview and immediately pulled over and phoned Jessi. They actually went one step further and when the record went to number 1 then tracked him down to tell him ‘we wrote this song about you’ and invited him to the number 1 party, which he attended. It’s obvious just from the way she tells stories, why she’s such an amazing songwriter.

Jessi’s last song was one she said was was recorded by Joe McElderry, and being that we are Miley Cyrus fans in our house, I immediately connected the dots and worked out it was The Climb she was talking about. I’m a big fan of this song anyway, but to see it sung by its creator, and with such passion, well it just took my breath away.

Jon Randall was the last to play each time, and he said that it was tough having to go after Jessi and her number 1 hits every time. However, being one of Dierks Bentley’s buddies and song writing partner meant he was no stranger to successful songs himself. Because I was sat on the left and Jon was sat far right on the stage, and with him wearing a cap, the lighting I meant I never saw his face all night (the camera had a better zoom than my eyes!). I didn’t need to though, as the emotion in his voice and the passion in his playing shone through on their own, and like Jessi I am sat there wondering why he’s not a huge star in his own right.

Jon Randall - CMA Song Writers Series - The O2 Indigo, London – March 6th 2015

One secret weapon Jon does have in his arsenal is that of being the co-writer of Whiskey Lullaby, with songwriting legend Bill Anderson. It’s a song that was cut by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and won CMA Song of the Year in 2005. Jon’s singing of this was the highlight of his participation for me, being that it’s an incredible song and he along with wife Jessi Alexander sung it effortlessly and sublimely. Jessi and Jon accompanied each other throughout each others sets and added an extra layer of depth to the performances.

You may remember I mentioned Striking Matches earlier? Well I’d heard a whisper that they may turn up, and they did just that, singing one of the songs from their new album, namely Make a Liar Out Of Me. As much as I like the lyrics and vocals that they provide, it’s always the guitar wizardry I look forward to most in their performances and they didn’t disappoint. I saw them play 3 times last year but I think they’ve actually managed to take things to an even higher level. I get visibly excited watching them do things with a guitar I have never seen before, grinning from ear to ear as they seemingly grew extra arms to do what they almost impossibly appear to do. They played just the one song, but I have their London gig in May to look forward to seeing more. This video of their performance is from Nashville Over Here who has lots more videos on his YouTube channel.

The whole evening was breathtakingly good from start to finish, and the combination of acoustic music with superb singer / songwriters is unparalleled. I think, even more than the big arena performances, it’s become my favourite part of Country To Country, and live music in general, and I dearly hope it returns again next year.

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Gig Review: Ward Thomas at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – 8th October 2014

When I got invited to this showcase for Ward Thomas it couldn’t have come at a better time. The world contrived such that I had to cancel all the gigs I had planned to go to at weekends for a few months, which meant no Yee Haw UK last month and no Fort San Antone Fest next weekend. That also meant two chances to see Ward Thomas perform gone.

So this past Wednesday I made my way to the very ornate and quite massive St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, and joined a throng of media personnel in front of a Ward Thomas themed stage in the Booking Office Bar. As they did when I saw them in July, they started the set off with a cover of Loretta Lynn’s Take My Man. Finding out a bit more about Catherine and Lizzy, it’s nice to discover it’s because they are huge fans of the lady herself that they sing this song, and not because someone has told them this would be a good song for them to perform.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel - 8th October 2014

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – 8th October 2014

I think that’s one of the things I like most about Ward Thomas and their music – they know what they like, they know what they want to write about, and they do just that. Far too often these days, and especially in the mainstream country music scene, artists are writing for record companies and to ride the waves of trends they see being successful for others. Ward Thomas manage to have a sound that sounds fresh and modern, whilst staying true to their own values and passions. Even more encouraging is that success is coming with that, having spent 5 weeks as the number 1 selling country music album in the UK, and 11 weeks on they have only slipped to number 4, ahead of recent releases from Nashville heavyweights such as Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney.

At Tuesday’s showcase they kept it predominantly upbeat, filling the historic location with the sounds of their UK country music number 1 single Push For The Stride, previous release The Good And The Right, and current single Way Back When. We didn’t get either of the two standout ballads from the album, From Where I Stand and Try, but we did get the new ballad Cartwheels, which I heard for the first time back in July. If his is indicative of their second album, we have one every bit as good as From Where We Stand coming at some point in the future.

On stage the girls were as natural as they always are, and that’s a huge part of their charm. Watching Ward Thomas perform you can’t help but smile, as their vocals are sublime, while their happy personas are hugely infectious. Around me I could see reporters and writers swaying to the tunes, whilst hearing them comment about how good they sounded. I felt proud, as both a fan of Ward Thomas and the UK country music scene, that they were received so well.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel - 8th October 2014

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel – 8th October 2014

There were a couple of feedback issues, and though she did ask for the level to be raised, Catherine’s mic was never quite loud enough. Aside from that it was 45 minutes of crowd impressing modern country music, performed with class, energy and those telepathic harmonies that only the Ward Thomas sisters can pull off. They finished the set with Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, making sure to get us all singing along too. The bar was buzzing with post gig chat, and I’d imagine Ward Thomas are now firmly on the music press radar. Job done.

Set List

Take My Man (Loretta Lynne cover)
The Good & The Right
Way Back When
Footnotes
Push For The Stride
Budapest (George Ezra Cover)
Cartwheels
Guest List
Take That Train
Town Called Ugley
9 to 5 (Dolly Parton Cover)

Music-News.com caught up with Ward Thomas after the gig, and chatting about a number of topics, we get some insight into the new Way Back When video and the song writing fortnight they have just had with writer friends Rebekah Powell and Jess Sharman. One thing they did mention is being big fans of Simon and Garfunkel, so I’m putting my request out there now – a cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water please!

Chatting to them after the gig, Lizzy and Catherine seemed overjoyed with the evening, and touched at the turnout, who may have been invited on a professional level, but enjoyed their music on a personal one. From Where We Stand is still the most played album in my house, and Ward Thomas are still top of my list of acts to catch live. I can’t see that changing any time soon.

Click here for a full album of photos from the gig.

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Gig Review: Ward Thomas, The Black Feathers & Jess Roberts at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

The Green Note in Camden, London is a very intimate and very special venue, which I first visited to see The Toy Hearts back in April. I can’t think of a better venue in which to see Ward Thomas for the first time, as they ride the crest of a very fast rising wave of success. Just two days before the gig, their debut album From Where We Stand was listed at number 20 in the midweek charts. This would be a big achievement for one of the big hitters from Nashville, so for a relatively new act from the UK, it’s nothing short of remarkable. This is no fluke though, as anyone who has heard Ward Thomas’ album will attest to its exceptionally high quality.

Jess Roberts

After hearing Jess’ EP a few months ago I was keen to see her perform live, so when it was announced that she would be supporting Ward Thomas, well, all the pieces fell in place for me. Jess was the first of the three acts to take the stage, and from the very start of her 4 song set she was the picture and sound of class and serenity. When Jess sings the whole room is silent, captivated by a voice that feels every single word of every song.

Jess Roberts at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

Jess Roberts at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

It was great to hear a couple of songs from Jess’ EP, Rose Coloured Glasses and What You Never Had, and to hear them sounding so fantastic. Jess sung so beautifully that I completely forgot a conversation we’d had on Twitter 48 hours earlier, where I discovered Jess had lost her voice. This is why her set was cut down to 4 songs, but she was so good that it never entered my head that she wasn’t at 100%. This leaves me wondering what a fully fit Jess Roberts sounds like, if she was that good last night with a poorly throat? I’ll find out at the inaugural YeeHaw Festival in September.

The Black Feathers

This married duo I knew least about going into this gig, other than listening too their EP whilst at work earlier in the week. It didn’t take long for me to become a fan of Ray and Sian last night, as just like Jess before them, they oozed passion and got completely lost in their music. There’s some folk, some roots and some southern rock in there too, and while Ray is great on guitar, it’s their harmonies that shone through the most. They describe them as tight as blood, and that’s pretty spot on.

The Black Feathers at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

The Black Feathers at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

If you are looking for gushing love songs you’ve come to the wrong place, and they even joked at one point that they had written a love song called I Hate You, but in fact it was a song titled You Will Be Mine, I think! When they weren’t wowing us with their music they had us in stitches, with the kind of humour that can only come from a married couple. It’s obviously a very strong relationship that they have, and you can see that when they turn to look at each other during the aforementioned harmonies. According to Sian the album will depend on her success with scratchcards, so let’s hope she gets some good luck as an album from these two is something to look forward to.

Ward Thomas

It was exactly two weeks before this gig that I heard From Where We Stand for the first time, and I’ve listened at least once a day since, usually two or three times actually. It’s got to the point where I have other singles and album stacking up to review, but I can’t bear to take their album out of my CD player. Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park was the last album that had me so entranced, and it’s without a doubt my favourite album of 2014. To put that into perspective, that ranks it above Eric Church’s The Outsiders, which for anyone who knows me will understand how highly I must rate From Where We Stand.

Catherine, Lizzy and band took to the stage, and started to sing a song that wasn’t from their album, or even one of theirs! That shocked me somewhat, but their a capella version of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” was a great way to kick things off, before going into The Good And The Right, which I know well from their EP and album. I had a bit of nerd moment when I said to myself, “that’s track 2 on the album” – told you I’d been listening to it a lot!

The girls sung with such energy and excitement, that the songs were practically bursting out of them. I’m pretty sure Catherine had maybe only a few moments where she wasn’t moving, and the love for the music and the fun they are obviously having is incredibly infectious. As for their sound – it was absolutely perfect, and their harmonies I described as telepathic. There are times when they are either looking away from each other or have their eyes closed, and it seems almost impossible for them to be so in tune with each other, but they nail it, each and every time.

From Where I Stand is my favourite song from the album, and live it took my breath away and gave me a spine tingling moment. I found myself completely lost in that track, as the live performance brought even more emotion. I got a similar feeling during Caldeonia, which seemed to be even more stripped down than on the album, and sounded sensational. By contrast their upbeat songs like Push For The Stride and Town Called Ugley gave us a party atmosphere as Lizzy and Catherine showcased their versatility in spades.

As well as singing they also play guitar on many songs, and when not performing they regale us with stories behind the songs. It seemed like a night of comedy and music, as like The Black Feathers before, these twins from Hampshire were hilarious, and sometimes intentionally so 😉 We also got some new songs, with one called Go To Plan, which may be about Paris, or maybe it’s a Parisian atmosphere, or maybe it was written when they’d just been to Paris – okay, you had to be there! It’s a great song, as is Cartwheels, which wasn’t a definite for their set but they sung at the very end, with no mics and their guitarist behind them. This was another goosebumps song, and left us all in awe of this exceptionally talented duo.

Ward Thomas at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

Ward Thomas at Green Note, London – 25th July 2014

Catherine and Lizzy have such endearing personalities that you’d be willing to forgive less than 100% performances, but you don’t get that, no. From the very start to the last second, Ward Thomas are a superb live act. Credit to their band who back them up brilliantly, and especially Dan on guitar who pulled off some fantastic solos. If I didn’t have plans to see them at YeeHaw, Fort San Anyone Festival and Midwinterfest I’d be disappointed, because Ward Thomas are the kind of act that once seen live, you want to see them again and again. I got to chat to them after the gig and for a couple of 20 year olds who have just recently become the talk of BBC Radio 2, featured on ITV Weekend with Aled Jones and seen chart success, they are incredibly grounded and humble. They are the kind of people that anyone lucky enough to call them their friends, will be all the better off for that. In fact Jess and Black feathers members Ray and Sian were also a delight, and it was lovely to be able to see them play and chat to them too.

The Green Note is to my mind the best venue in London, with an incomparable atmosphere, and last night it was done proud by Ward Thomas, The Black Feathers and Jess Roberts. All three of them had me coming away wanting to see them again, and looking forward to the release of more music. A fantastic night of country, folk, roots from three of the UK’s finest.

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Reviewing Maverick Festival 2014: Larkin Poe, Mary Gauthier, Holly Williams and more

Maverick Festival 2014

I’d heard of the Maverick Festival, but never actually been, so when this year’s seventh incarnation presented me with the opportunity to be there in person, and see the likes of Holly Williams, Larkin Poe and Mary Gauthier – I was in, for the Saturday at least. I had Kacey Musgraves in London on the Sunday, so staying for the whole weekend and making it to Shepherd’s Bush Empire in a state anything less than zombification, just wasn’t going to happen.

So off I set, at around 11.15am on Saturday July 5th, and by 12.30pm I was driving down thoroughfares that describing them as roads might be little flattering. I was quick to blame my SatNav, who’s mission it seems is to take me to places where bunnies rule the land, and watch in bewilderment at the foolish human and his ill equipped vehicle. Turns out this was the way to Easton Farm Park, the very far removed location of this feast of Americana in the most rural of Suffolk.

Walking into the Maverick Festival for the first was like getting to the secret hidden level on a computer game – I assume, I’m not actually a gamer. To my left was a barn, The Barn actually, with live music and to the right was a bar. Looking further down there were food stalls, including The Duck Truck, which I’d read about and lusted after a few months ago. Opposite this purveyor of fowl filled wraps was another stage, in front of which people sat on chairs, coats or even the just the grass. There was a feeling of relaxation and contentment, something that swept over me almost immediately and stayed with me until I left, to go down those windy roads once more.

Facilities, Food and Drink

I will get on to the music, but anyone going to a festival wants to know about the really important stuff first – the loos! For starters, they were proper toilets, which were clean and working all day, albeit for a short period when the water stopped working in that building. However, there were portaloos elsewhere, and those to were clean and functioning properly too. Not only that, but even during this time of toilet block shut-down, there was no queue for the portaloos – decadence!

The food was plentiful, ranging from the aforementioned duck wraps to curry or noodles, vegetarian and stone baked pizzas. I ended up being really boring and having two duck wraps, on different occasions – not all at once. These were £5 each and the girls serving put as much duck as is humanly possible inside those wraps, and then threw on some hoisin sauce, cucumber and spring onions too. Am I waxing just a little too lyrically about these wraps? Maybe, but they were fantastic and worth every penny. Water cost me just £1 a bottle, and I say just, because at other festivals I’ve paid 2, 3 and 4 times more than that. There was plenty of beer, cider and lager on sale, and all cheaper than my local pub. Had I not been driving I’d have sampled a few.

Maverick Festival 2014

Maverick Festival 2014

The grounds themselves, even after being subjected to a night of rainfall, showed no signs of mud and thus my wellies stayed in the car, an unnecessary accessory. To get from the entrance right to the back of the entertainment area was just a few minutes walk, and on the way there were a couple of other indoor venues playing a wide range of music, and I think there was even a small busking / open mic stage near the loos.

In the 11+ hours I was at Easton Farm Park for the 2014 Maverick Festival I encountered only friendly staff and visitors, well looked after facilities and more quality food than I’d have time to try if I stayed for three weekends. I was in the overspill car park and even that was directly opposite the entrance. When we did have rain, those that din’t stay put regardless, found shelter in the roofed venues, but the extra influx never made them over crowded. The only thing some might struggle with is the lack of network connection. But to be honest, after I’d recovered from the initial panic of being disconnected from the outside world, I embraced the chance to just enjoy the music and actually talk to people, face to face.

The Music

My first taste of the buffet of fine music on offer came when I sat in The Barn, the main venue, to get away from the rain. I know, what a wimp! I sat myself down at the very front, to the side, and got 2 of my 3 cameras out ready to snap whoever it was that was about to take the stage. I turned out to be Marty O’Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra, and I couldn’t have had a better welcome to Maverick Festival as these guys put so much effort into their bluesy songs that Marty himself must have lost a few pounds during the performance, as sweat streaked his beautiful guitar by the end. Anyone who thinks music isn’t physical just needs to watch these guys, and you’ll see a guitar, fiddle and double bass played to within an inch of their inanimate lives.

Marty O'Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra at Maverick Festival 2014

Marty O’Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra at Maverick Festival 2014

Marty’s voice is strained to the very limit, but never so far that’s it’s painful or forced. Chris Lynch on fiddle maneuvered his trainers off whilst still playing towards the end, and I never did catch up with him to ask why. With Jeff Kissell on double bass, Marty and Chris put on 40 minutes of raw musical excellence, that really set the tone for the rest of the day.

After a stroll around the grounds I was back in The Barn for The Goat Roper Rodeo Band – yes, that’s the actual name of a band, and what a cool one at that. I’ll admit, when they were warming up I was a dubious about whether they would be my cup of tea. However, once they’d started their country blues, with lots of energy and great skill, I was drawn in completely. Never let it be said that a double bass can’t be wielded around a stage like a guitar or fiddle, because that’s exactly what Tom did, while Jim and Sam made their guitars purr. The vocals were almost nasal, but incredibly distinctive and perfect for their sound. Definitely a band to look out for.

One duck wrap later and I was stood to the left of the new for 2014 Sweet Home Alabama Stage to watch the Rainbow Girls – a band I knew nothing about other than Marty from earlier had talked about being on tour with them. It is getting harder and harder to put acts into genres, but I couldn’t even put any of their songs into one. They bring such a mix of styles and influences that for anyone else it would be a mess, but for them it works, and only them. Their mix of folk, funk, stomp and the kazoo made for perfect Saturday afternoon music.

Rainbow Girls at Maverick Festival 2014

Rainbow Girls at Maverick Festival 2014

For a start I’ve never seen band members move round and play different instruments like these 5 girls from California. Cheyenne Methmann played 5 I think, including the washboard used more effectively than I have ever witnessed. They had so much fun on stage but at the same time making beautiful music – I smiled throughout their whole set and their happy aura is hugely infectious. I came away with their CD which they happily signed, and have been playing it over the last few days. It’s just as crazy and brilliant as seeing them live.

There was a break in the music as I interviewed Larkin Poe, which will be published at a later date. All I will say is that they were utterly delightful and it was both fun and informative – what more could I ask for? I did manage to catch the very last of Ward Thomas‘ set, which sounded really good, and they seemed to be having a great time performing. I’m seeing them at The Green Note on July 25th, so not long until I get the full Ward Thomas experience. Only one song, but I did manage to take possibly my favourite photo of the weekend.

Ward Thomas at Maverick Festival 2014

Ward Thomas at Maverick Festival 2014

Another duck wrap and it was off The Barn where I would stay until the end of the night. First up in this evening of four acts was Hannah Aldridge, who I hadn’t heard of but David from Three Chords and The Truth had recommended I see perform. Hannah made for a striking figure with her 50s inspired styling and skull adorned t-shirt. What followed was a set of songs that have been very obviously written from the heart about her life experiences, and delivered with a beautiful strong voice that screams honesty.

Hannah Aldridge at Maverick Festival 2014

Hannah Aldridge at Maverick Festival 2014

Hannah’s stories in between songs were both funny and heartfelt, and with her music make her someone that you want to watch perform, go for a drink with and be a just a tiny bit afraid of, but only if you piss her off. It was just Hannah, her guitar and her glorious voice, and a set that was a little more country than her album, so I was told. From the recently documented Muscle Shoals, Hannah is a captivating performer who once seen has to be seen again and again. She is planning a tour back to these shores in Autumn and you can count me in. I’ll also be seeking our her album, as I didn’t get one on the night for fear of losing my place to see the next act.

That next act was country music royalty, as Holly Williams took the stage, looking as serene as ever. She talked of her new album The Highway, though new to the UK it may be, it’s been out for quite some time in he US. Watching Holly sing was an almost surreal experience, as beautiful doesn’t do her voice justice. Though having the lineage, this is a young lady who hasn’t ridden the coat tails of her family name and talked of her farmyard upbringing and the other side of her family.

Holly Williams at Maverick Festival 2014

Holly Williams at Maverick Festival 2014

It was the title track of her album The Highway which was the highlight for me. At least of her own songs, as finishing her set with Hank Sr’s I Saw The Light was the dictionary definition of crowd pleaser, and a great way to end her time on the Maverick Festival Stage. When performing Holly would often close her eyes and you could see on her face how much the music means to her. As before I didn’t want to lose my place, and as such I lost my opportunity to buy her album on vinyl, and get it signed too – damn.

I have a confession to make – I didn’t know Mary Gauthier until hearing she’d been announced for this year’s Maverick Festival and hadn’t heard her music until this past Saturday. From the few bits I read I knew she was held in high esteem, by both her peers and fans. On stage to sort out her own set up, she looked quite unassuming, but once she started to play, it all became very clear. I love storytelling in music, and it baffles me when artists don’t see its importance. Mary is the epitome of what I love, and the songs she creates are poetry to music.

Mary has a voice of utter believability, so much that songs about pain strike a blow straight to your heart, and you feel the song like it’s a physical entity all around you. Quite often I talk of people being lost in their music, well that now needs to be referred to as the Mary Gauthier scale, for none do it quite like her. Mary’s rapport with the audience has me smiling just thinking about it. If ever she gives up music, which I hope doesn’t happen, then a career in stand up comedy awaits her. Mary is an engaging character, who when not singing had us all in stitches.

Mary Gauthier at Maverick Festival 2014

Mary Gauthier at Maverick Festival 2014

One of the biggest accolades I can give Mary, is that going in I didn’t know her music, but halfway through songs like I Drink and Another Train I was sure I’d been listening to them for years. You see, Mary Gauthier doesn’t just sing to her audience, she gets them involved and for those who might not know the words, she helps us out. After an hour of watching Mary perform on stage I knew I’d just experienced something very special, and seen one of the very best singer songwriters around. I now understand why she is so well-regarded, and you can count now me in as one those doing the regarding, if such an expression exists.

Last on were Larkin Poe, and after seeing and meeting them at their gig in Essex, and then interviewing them that afternoon, I felt like I was watching friends. After an extended sound check they were under way, and what a way to end an incredible day of music at Maverick Festival. Having seen them just a week previously. I knew what to expect, a brilliant combination of southern rock soul, performed by the ever brilliant Rebecca and Megan Lovell.

I had been listening to their new album KIN over the last week so knew the songs better than most in attendance. Tracks like Don’t, Crown Of Fire and High Horse sounded fantastic played in The Barn and the crowd lapped them up. Read the review of their Essex gig to read more in depth what I think of Larkin Poe live, but I do need to once again highlight the incredible skill of Rebecca on mandolin and guitar, and the virtuoso that is Megan on slide guitar, as well as their fantastic vocals too.

Larkin Poe at Maverick Festival 2014

Larkin Poe at Maverick Festival 2014

They had everyone singing and dancing and I was pleased to say their stories in between songs were not word for word what I’d heard 9 days earlier – hats off for that ladies. With Robby Handley on Bass and Marlon Patton on drums, Larkin Poe gave us the final hour that we all wanted and nobody else could have provided. they were so good that I forgot my legs hurt from stood in almost the same spot for nearly 6 hours!

Verdict

My first thought when walking away from The Barn and towards my car, as people drunk and chatted around me, was that next year I want to come back and stay for the whole weekend. Let me put that in to perspective – staying would mean camping, something I’ve not done for 23 years, but that’s how much I enjoyed Maverick Festival. The music choices were perfect, and I only got to see a fraction of what was on offer. Throw in an impeccably organised event, a whole bunch of well-natured and like minded music fans and you have as good a music spectacular as I have ever had the pleasure to experience.

Roll on Maverick Festival 8 – I’ll be going, and so should you.

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Gig Review: Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar – June 27th 2014

I first encountered Larkin Poe when a friend gave me their Spring EP, one of the 4 seasons EPs they released in 2010. I liked what I heard – really great modern folk music with a definite hint of Katie Melua, which is a good thing in my head. I always meant to check out more of their music, but for whatever reason I never did. Roll on a year or two and the same friend invited me to see Larkin Poe at the intriguingly named Zinc Arts Centre, in the just as interestingly named Chipping Ongar, in Essex.

Raevennan Husbandes

Before I get too the main act, let me talk about the support act, Raevennan Husbandes with Simon Lewis on guitar. I’d not heard of her before, other than a tweet I’d seen earlier in the day mentioning that it was her birthday – great way to celebrate. As soon as she started singing it was quite obvious this girl was special, as her vocals filled the hall like a magical spirit. Her vocals were absolutely beautiful, and combined with her finger picking guitar and Simon Lewis on cello, it was an acoustic masterclass of modern folk.

Raevennan Husbandes at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar – June 27th 2014

Raevennan Husbandes at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar – June 27th 2014

Her songs come from the heart and the passion with which she delivers them is as evident as the high level of musicianship she has achieved. Both her and Simon lost themselves on the music, while rarely a smile left Raevennan’s face. Between songs we got stories and humble expressions of gratitude, delivered with an infectious and endearing personality. We were told an EP is on the way, and it’s definitely one to look out for.

Larkin Poe

Now we move on to Larkin Poe, who had a drummer and bassist with them – a proper band as they had tweeted out earlier. From the relatively little I’d heard of their music, with the ringing endorsement of my buddy, I was really looking to forward to seeing them play, but I wasn’t quite expecting what we got.

Firstly, they have changed their sound to more southern rock – bigger and brasher, but still very playful and at times hauntingly elegant. Second, the guitar skills. In a week where 3 days earlier I saw Sarah Zimmerman of Striking Matches play live on London, I was treated to another two exceptional female guitarists in the form of Rebecca and Megan Lovell. These girls can shred with the best of them, but with such style and never feeling bombastic. Rebecca on a variety of guitars and mandolin, and her sister Megan on lap steel – I was mesmerised, with my eyes often darting from one to the other.

One such song was Wade In The Water which I was fortuitous in choosing as the one song to record, as you’ll see from this video just what an epic performance it was.

You’ll get some sense of their personalities from that video, and that’s one of the biggest contributors to what makes them such an enjoyable act to watch play live. If you didn’t know they were sisters you’d probably guess. In my mind Rebecca is the cheeky one that gets in strife, and Megan is the one that gets them out of said strife, with a smouldering look that warns people not to mess. They both have a vocal range that can go from gentle to powerhouse in a flash, with such incredible control.

Their songwriting is a mixture of tales, humour and moments of tear jerking poignancy. We got treated to quite a few songs from the new album Kin, and although I bought a copy last night (the second copy ever sold to the public – my friend got the first, damn him) I will not listen until I have finished this review, so as not to affect what I write. Ones that stood out for me where High Horse, Don’t (to be the first single from KIN) and Stubborn Love, which covers the aforementioned sisterhood. We also got too hear Jailbreak, which is a story of a relationship gone bad, and the guy being sent on his way. This has parts in the chorus where Megan was almost howling like a wolf – she seemed to be having a lot of fun, and it was fantastic to watch.

Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar - June 27th 2014

Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar – June 27th 2014

On stage these girls are fascinating to watch and seem to be able to play at the very top of their game, whist interacting with the crowd and each other. There was one point where mid song Rebecca had a string break. Without missing a beat she took the guitar off her shoulder, grabbed a second one, unscrewed the capo from a 3rd, screwed it onto the second, plugged the lead into the new guitar and all whilst making sure she was never away from the mic long enough to miss one word.

Their set seemed to go far too quickly, and not because it was short, but because we were all enjoying it so much. Luckily we did get a one song encore, which was just Rebecca, Megan and an acoustic guitar, and a great way to end the night’s entertainment. Not content with just putting on a first class show of live music, they came into the lobby afterwards and both signed and posed for photos. Classy, fun, humble and stupendously talented.

Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar - June 27th 2014

Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar – June 27th 2014

The venue itself, the Zinc Arts Centre, was a great setting for this gig, with a stunning sound set up and great seating. Being front row I fully experienced the former, but not the latter, but I do have eyes! All the staff were very friendly and on what seems like the first of these type of shows for Zinc Arts, I’d call a verdict of resounding success.

As I type this Larkin Poe are playing on the Avalon Stage at the Glastonbury Festival and next Saturday they will close the main stage in The Barn at the Maverick Festival. They are touring around Europe throughout July and you can see more details of that here. I can’t recommend them enough and urge you to both seek out their music and watch them live. I plan on seeing them at least one more time this summer – well, that’s the plan. I also want to seek out the rest of their music catalogue, including their pre Larkin Poe career as part of the Lovell Sisters. Larkin Poe – absolutely the complete package, and superstardom SHOULD be awaiting them.

Me (Steve) with Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar - June 27th 2014

Me (Steve) with Larkin Poe at Zinc Arts Centre, Chipping Ongar – June 27th 2014

Larkin Poe: larkinpoe.com/
Raevennan Husbandes: raevennan.com/

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Gig Review: Jill & Kate, Jeannine Barry and Hannah Jane Lewis at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

Not 1, not 2 but all 3 of these modern country music artists played at Country 2 Country earlier this year, and here they all were, back together again to play the very prestigious Borderline in London. It was my first time at The Borderline, which is just a short walk from Tottenham Court Road, and had a great vibe. It was a four date mini-tour of the UK for Jill & Kate, who specifically chose Jeannine and Hannah after seeing them perform at Country 2 Country in March.

Hannah Jane Lewis

Read through previous articles about Hannah and you’ll see an EP review and interview amongst other things, and she was the act I was most familiar with. She was on stage with her full band, and as always looked thrilled to be there, the place she feels most at home. Tonight’s set was actually different to the two I saw her play in The O2, as she played some new material that I’d not heard before. Stuck On You is a very upbeat song that had the crowd singing so loud at one point, that I’m certain Hannah had to sing louder!

Hannah Jane Lewis at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

Hannah Jane Lewis at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

The other new song was called Part Of My Heart, though that may change, and is a story of first loves. I had it in mind that this would make a great single, something Hannah confirmed as a plan of hers in the sit down video interview we did – coming soon! It has a fantastic hook and as popular as 17 Again has become (over 10,000 views on YouTube), I think Part Of My Heart could be a really big breakout song for Hannah. It was a great 7 song set, which also included songs from her EP and a cover of Hey Ho, which she sings with her sister Grace. Hannah just keeps getting better, both as a singer/songwriter and as a performer.

Jeannine Barry

I learned a big lesson during Jeannine’s set – don’t go to the loo right before someone starts playing if you intend to take photos of an act on stage. You got it, I lost my spot, and then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get into a good position to get some good snaps of Jeannine and band! Luckily I had seen Jeannine play just 6 days earlier at The Garage in Highbury, so I knew she could sing, and the acoustics in The Borderline are even better.

Jeannine Barry at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

Jeannine Barry at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

I wasn’t that familiar with Jeannine’s music before these two gigs, but I found myself singing along to What I Long For at The Borderline, and it’s been in my head ever since – that’s the mark of a great song. I’m not sure during which song it was, but at one point the mic failed – such is the power of Jeannine’s voice! A new mic was soon brought out and it was back to business! Jeannine is a class act on stage, but I feel sure there’s a sassy side just waiting to burst out, and I want to be there when that happens!

Jill & Kate

In case you didn’t know, Jill & Kate spent 6 years as backing singers for Kelly Clarkson, so they should be able to sing live, and boy can they ever. They also had quite the rabid pack of fans, who cheered their every word, something Kate both cottoned onto and played on, to the delight of that very crowd. Charming and funny, with Jill on guitar and piano, and Kate on lead vocals and mandolin, this is one very talented duo that seem to have made the right decision to go it alone.

Jill & Kate at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

Jill & Kate at The Borderline, London – 4th June 2014

They played hits from their catalogue, as well as from their new acoustic covers album. One such number was ROAR by Katy Perry, which is a song I don’t mind, but every time I’ve seen Katy sing live it’s been somewhat of a disaster. To that end it was quite refreshing to hear a Katy Perry song performed live, and sound good, really good! The crowd went bonkers for Since You Were Gone and I was delighted they played my own personal favourite: Skinny Jeans. They sang for over an hour and when they went off I actually thought that was that, but they came back on for a two song encore, including the very moving Hey Bartender.

Hannah, Jeannine, Jill and Kate, aside from sounding like the register at a girl’s school, all sounded fantastic and put on a great show to entertain all of us in attendance. I’d be very surprised if the audience didn’t go away both bigger fans of everyone’s music and keen to see them all live again soon. The Borderline is a venue rich in musical history, and all three acts did it proud. CMAFest may be going on in Nashville right now, but on Wednesday we had our own mini version right here in London.

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Gig Review: Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham – 17th May 2014

Back at Country 2 Country this year I met up with Dexeter, and though I missed seeing them play in The O2, I made a promise that I’d go and see them play at some point. Well this past Saturday I made good on that promise, as I travelled up to Rockingham with my little boy Lucas, for a day of car racing and to see Dexeter play on the main outside stage. I’d played their EP Brighter Skies a number of times, so it wasn’t a shot in the dark, I already knew I liked their music.

It was a scorching day, the hottest of the year so far, but country music seems more at home outside on a warm afternoon than anywhere else. So much so that it had me dreaming of an outdoor country music festival in the UK, but more on that another time. Dexeter on this day were a 7 piece band, and they seem to be growing by the month! Two guitars, a double bass, drums, accordion and two vocalists. Of the singers it’s Dee who takes lead and is being manoeuvred more into the position of band focal point. With a smile to match the sun and a voice that is effortlessly glorious, that looks to be a good decision.

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham - 17th May 2014

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham – 17th May 2014

Dexeter kicked the afternoon off with Tired (Of being Tired), which as one of the more upbeat songs on their EP, was a great way to start. It became evident straight away that as much as 7 may seem a lot for a band, they all had their place and the sound came together very effectively. Straight away, as soon as the music started, I saw a band who were having fun and who really enjoyed playing. I think that’s very important in a live performance, because if the band aren’t having fun, then it’s pretty likely I’m not as well. The song builds to a point about 3 minutes in when Dee takes it up a key and is required to hit some long high notes. Let me tell you, with the sun beating straight down in her face, she nailed it, superbly. I swear she has one of those voices that could fill a stadium.

Dee plays off Gareth, who is the main man on guitar and the song writing force of the band. Gareth has a cheeky charisma which shines through while he blazes a trail on guitar, whilst making sure to interact with the other members of the band, no matter where they are on stage. He has a past of hard rock/metal, and that showmanship is evident here. It was actually Gareth’s first outing with a new guitar from Daisy Rocks UK, which both sounded great, and had him looking like a kid at Christmas when first trying it out on stage.

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham – 17th May 2014

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham – 17th May 2014

It’s hard to pigeon hole Dexeter as having a specific sound, but then do we really have to even try? They are country music, and some of that is modern country, there are hints of traditional and they even get rocky at times. I think sometimes we can get unnecessarily obsessed with labelling an artists’ style – it’s music, can we not just enjoy it for what it is? This makes it easy for them to throw in a classic like Jolene and it not feel out of place. Taking on a song from the Queen of country is brave, but they did it justice, with Dee’s vocals once again showing why she is a singer to sit up and take notice of.

On their EP it’s Grey that stood out for me – a beautiful ballad that talks of moving on to new things, and looking to the future. It’s a song that showcases both the more gentle side to Dee’s voice, but as the song builds so does her voice. Listening to Dexeter sing Grey on Saturday afternoon sent shivers down my spine, and that to me is what it’s all about. A song that can effect you emotionally, and really connect, truly is the best kind. To have a song like that, and then have it played live so brilliantly is the pinnacle of live music for me. If I didn’t have a camera in my hand I’d have fist pumped the air – such was my delight in hearing Grey sound even more incredible live than it had on CD.

Speaking to Dexeter I discovered that they are a band who don’t like playing covers repeatedly, which makes every gig unique. When Gareth told me before their set that they would be covering Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol I actually groaned. A quiet internal grown of course, or that would have been rude! But really, who didn’t get sick to death of that insipid intro that seemed to be played constantly on radio a few years back? Had this not been my first Dexeter gig, and had I not got to know them more after meeting them, I’d have known to just be patient and just see what they offered yup. In the case of Chasing Cars it was Dexeterised (I’m claiming that by the way) and to great effect, as this fresh country version of I song I’d grown to hate, became a song I liked once more. So much so, that I now I want to see what they can do with other songs I’m not keen on. Could they really make the Shoop Shoop Song bearable? No, I think that may be even beyond on the capability of the mighty Dexeter.

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham - 17th May 2014

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham – 17th May 2014

I mentioned earlier that there were 7 members of the band playing on Saturday, and while I talk a lot of Dee and Gareth, I do need to mention Paul on double bass, Jim on drums, Rachel on vocals and Pete on accordion, and new Dean Plays guitar, slide mandolin and resonator. In fact Paul was playing an electric double bass of the sort I’ve never seen before – all neck and strings, no body! It sounded great, as did everyone else. However, within Dexeter there is an undeniable sub-unit consisting of Dee and Gareth, who have an almost Charles and Hillary of Lady Antebellum type dynamic. They have a great chemistry and seem to feed of each other, which inevitably leads to more energy and fun in the show – all good for us watching and listening.

They finished the set with Older, a song that isn’t on the EP, but a lot of the crowd actually knew, and so went down really well. There were definitely some people watching who have played this teaser video of Older a lot! Live it sounded great, and after the Brighter Skies EP, it’s evidence that what comes next for Dexeter will be at least as good as what I know and love.

It was a 3 hour round trip to see Dexeter, and the car racing, and it was well worth it. They are an absolutely fantastic live band, with an infectious energy and the endearing quality of not knowing just how great they are, especially in the case of Dee. Not that it really matters as much as the music, but they are also really nice people, and I came away feeling like I had a cracking band to add to my favourites, and some new friends to boot. Lucas has since kicked his first love Kacey Musgraves off the top of his ‘most loved’ country artists list, to make way for Dexeter. That right there should be all you need to know.

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham - 17th May 2014

Dexeter at Racing Rocks, Rockingham – 17th May 2014

I’m going to see Dexeter play again on Friday 30th May at a gig headlined by Jeannine Barry and also featuring Tom Price-Stephens, which is at The Garage in London. The tickets cost just £5, which makes it almost criminal to igonre – so get yours here, and I’ll see you there.

You can see more of Dexeter here:

Website: dexeterband.co.uk
Facebook: /DexeterBand
Twitter: @dexeterband
YouTube: Dexeter Channel
Bandcamp: dexeter.bandcamp.com

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