It’s the middle of January – the memory of Christmas has all but gone and it’s cold. It’s a pretty dreary time of year, or at least it used to be. That was before country music stallwart Alan West came up with Midwinterfest – a country music festival that debuts on the south coast of England from January 16th-18th 2015. I caught up with Alan a few days ago and asked him all about his music, and of course, Midwinterfest.
Before we get to Midwinterfest, tell us a bit about your career in music, which includes you as a solo artist and as part of a duo with Steve Black.
I have always loved country music, ever since I was a kid. When I was 6, I saw an English country music singer called Kelvin Henderson playing with his band and I was hooked!! I played a bit whilst I was at school and around 1985 I met a bass player called Steve Elliott. We worked together as West & Elliott until early 2007. Later that year I released my first solo, Nashville recorded album, “Songs from a neophyte”. That lead to a tour with Hal Ketchum and pretty soon after that I got together with Blacky. We have a great working relationship that is based on mutual respect and a very clear understanding that we always do things, whether together or not, for the greater good. It seems to work!!
You’ve been over to Nashville a few times to both record and play – what have those experiences been like?
I LOVE Nashville, it would have to be my second favourite place on earth, and every time I go, it gets better. It’s the finest place on the planet to learn, (assuming you want to!!) very quickly, every aspect, good and bad, of the music industry. Oh, and there’s some great live music there too!!!
How have you seen the country music scene change in the UK over the years, and has it changed for the better?
Of course I’ve seen it change…whether it was for the better or not is all about perception and that is different for everyone. I don’t believe however that the past can affect the future and I am very optimistic about that (the future). Country to Country (C2C), the Nashville TV series, Bob Harris’s love of the music and constant championing of the genre, along with recent significant national radio play for the likes of The Shires and Ward Thomas have really helped country music’s profile and respectability here in the UK. Long may it continue!!
So, Midwinterfest, a country music festival whose inaugural outing will be January 2015 in Torquay. What made you want to embark on such a project?
From 1989 until 2004 I ran a weekender called The Seaton Party at a Holiday Village in Devon. I did about 16 in total, and thoroughly enjoyed every one of them but all good things come to an end. It was on the Sunday of C2C this year when I arrived early and was sat in the green room thinking about some of the acts I’d seen the day before and the buzz that was clearly around the whole event and thought it might be the right time to put something on again.
Midwinterfest is different to other festivals in that it is held in a hotel in Torquay, where guests stay for the weekend, and even eat together. Why did you go down this route rather than hiring a venue just for the music?
I wanted to keep the basic format of The Seaton Party, because it worked!! The schedule for the weekend is:
Fri 16th January
4pm Check in
6 – 7.15pm Dinner
8pm Alan West & Steve Black with Adam Sweet and Dean Barnes
9.15pm Winter Mountain
10.30pm The Swing Commanders
Sat 17th January
9.30 – 11am Brunch
Midday – 1.30pm Songwriters in the round Steve Black, Raintown, Adam Sweet, John Taylor
2pm Alan West & Steve Black with Adam Sweet and Dean Barnes
3 – 4pm The Gary Quinn Band
6 – 7.15pm Dinner
8pm John Taylor Band
9.15pm Ward Thomas
12.30am Late Bar Jam
Sun 18th January
8.30 – 9.30pm Breakfast
11.30am Sunday morning finale
There’s a lot going on and having the event in a hotel means that everyone can relax and enjoy the whole weekend very easily….No taxis, trains or buses to separate accommodation. No designated driver required.No last orders.And, if you can find the time, you can make use of the rather splendid leisure facilities too.
When you started to think about Midwinterfest, did you have the bands you have announced in mind and why have you chosen them specifically?
Yes, pretty much. There was one band I wanted and haven’t got, but I think there may be a chance of adding them to the bill at a later date. Time will tell!!
I chose them first and foremost because I think they are all good at what they do. I also think that between them, they cover a good slice of the very diverse country music genre and will make for a balanced and very enjoyable show.
You’ve just announced a “Songwriters in the Round” show on the Saturday morning – what does that entail and who will be involved?
It entails a bunch of songwriters (Steve Black, Paul & Claire (Raintown), Adam Sweet, John Taylor & maybe others) sitting on the stage together with acoustic guitars and trading songs whilst sharing the finer details of the creation of those songs with the audience. It seems this format is becoming more & more popular here. I love it!!
There is also going to be a late night jam on the Saturday – tell us more
Not so much to tell really.The late night jam was always a very popular segment of The Seaton Party.It’s an opportunity for the bands that have played on Sat night and are staying over to make some music together in the late bar.At Seaton it wasn’t uncommon for it to finish at breakfast.Those were the days!!
Being both the organiser and also playing yourself over the weekend, that’s a lot of pressure. How are you coping with it all so far and what has the response been?
I’ve found a great little hotel (The Derwent) with an operations manager who totally gets want I’m doing and is happy to help with anything I need, the line-up is the one I wanted, my buddy John Taylor is taking care of the sound and I love playing music. If you work with people you trust and respect there needn’t be any pressure. I see it more as a challenge and the biggest part of that for me, was, and will be, spreading the word about a new festival. However something is working because the response really has been exceptional with nearly 50% of the rooms booked already.
If it goes well can we expect to see this return as an annual event?
If anyone is still making their mind up, what can you say to persuade them to book up for Midwinterfest?
I’m not sure if I’m being honest.I’d like to hope though, that if they were a serious country music fan, they could do a lot worse than join us in January.
I for one will be making the trip down to Torquay for the very first Midwinterfest. I love the idea of parking up Friday afternoon, and not getting back in my car until Sunday afternoon, having enjoyed a few days of great music and like minded people. See you there!