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.
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.
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.
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.
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.