Posts Tagged With: Striking Matches

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: 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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Country 2 Country 2014 – One Week On and it’s Pop Up Mania

This time last week I was is enjoying the second day of Country 2 Country, just getting ready to watch Striking Matches, to be precise at the time of writing this. So here I am 7 days later, and what effect, if any, has attending Country 2 Country had on me?

While it was the main stage acts that I paid to see, given that the pop up stage acts were free to all, it may be somewhat surprising that it’s those pop up stage acts that have left thew biggest impact on me. There’s no denying I was blown away by the likes Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and the Dixie Chicks, but it’s not these juggernauts of country music that have occupied my mind this past week. Over the course of the two days I saw quite a few acts on the pop up stages, and it brought to my attention just how much talent there is, right here in the UK.

Of the 28 acts that were on offer, I saw just 8, and 6 of those ply their trade in the UK and you can read about the ones I did see here. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube I’ve caught up with a lot more of the acts that performed last weekend, and without fail have been bowled over by just how good they are. The homegrown country music scene is bursting full of great signers, songwriters and musicians – they just need more exposure. I’ve found myself listening to and watching a ton of performances, both new and old, from acts I saw and those who I missed out on too.

It’s one thing to watch videos on YouTube, after all, that seems to be how the new generation consume music these days anyway, but what next? It hasn’t stopped there for me though, as I’ve also been looking at live dates, to see if I can watch as many of these acts in person as I can. I met the band Dexeter last weekend and have been listening to their EP this week, with a view of going up to the Midlands to see them perform. Being in North Hertfordshire it won’t be the longest drive know to man, but would I have considered it had Country 2 Country not crossed out paths – probably not.

Closer to home Lisa Redford is performing at the music shop I frequent for Record Store Day, just 3 miles from my house. How could I not to go to that? Thing is, had I not seen her at Country 2 Country last Sunday I wouldn’t have known who she was, and probably wouldn’t have gone, no matter how close it is to me. Ward Thomas are a band that played last weekend, and though I didn’t see them, I became more aware of them, and just this morning listened to them on Radio 2. Now I am keen to buy their EP when it comes out in April and see them live at the next opportunity.

Gary Quinn is someone I knew of before Country 2 Country, and since seeing him live, where I really enjoyed his set, we have chatted on Twitter and I have bought a ticket to see him perform a StageIt show. I’d never even signed up to StageIt before he announced his gig, but what a great way for fans to see live music without travelling to locations that are too far away. It has cost me just $5 which equates to £3.03 for a 30 minute set – a veritable bargain I’m sure you’ll agree.

Hannah Jane Lewis is someone whose music I knew the best before Country 2 Country, and I reviewed her self titled EP here. It was however Country 2 Country that gave me the opportunity to see her perform, twice, and now know she’s every bit as good live as she is on her EP. As such I’m considering going to see her play this coming Wednesday at The Water Rats Theatre. This is a venue that just happens to be near Kings Cross, which is the station the train from my town goes to, and at £5 it’s almost too tempting to resist. If I get over my cough, yeah poor me, then I will do just that. She has another gig in London the month after, so either way I’ll get the chance to see her perform again, and maybe grab an interview too if I’m lucky.

If we are talking non UK talent then Jill and Kate have a mini UK tour in June and will be playing The Bordereline in London – another gig from a Country 2 Country artist that I am strongly considering going to. Just a few hours after I wrote this it was announced that the aforementioned Hannah Jane Lewis would be supporting Jill & Kate – 2 pop up stage acts appearing on the same night! Tickets are available here. Of course there are also Striking Matches who I hadn’t even heard of before last weekend, wowed me, have just signed a record deal and will release an album later this year. I’ve since bought their EP and single on iTunes and will be first in the queue to get the album, along with everyone else who saw them.

So struck with the quality of the pop up stage acts, I have even been having thoughts of organising a festival to showcase all this talent as I want as many people as possible to experience the great music I have discovered. I’m not sure how that will happen and I think it might be better on the hands of the guys at, whose promotions guy Andy I have been pestering with the idea of a UKCMFest relentlessly!

These are just a few, there is a thriving country music scene in the UK, and that’s something that I only recently had my eyes opened to thanks to the Country 2 Country pop up stages. Imagine if every other country music fan in the UK knew about all these great acts too – how long before we’d hear more of them on the radio, see more of them on tour, and see more of their albums in shops? I’ve taken it upon myself to spread the word as much as possible about the great talent on offer – so expect more posts, more tweets and more Facebook updates about these acts in the coming weeks and months. It’s pretty exciting that I can see so much great country music in my own country, all year round.

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Country 2 Country 2014 Review – Pop Up Stage Acts

Country 2 Country 2014

Last year I went to just the Sunday of Country 2 Country and didn’t realise there would be pop stage acts. This year I went for the whole weekend and scheduled what pop up acts I wanted to see – no seriously, an actual schedule, look! I did keep pretty much to that schedule, with a few exceptions, and even added in a few more performances I hadn’t planned for. On Saturday night I managed a mighty 2.5 hours of sleep, and adrenaline saw me through Sunday, but to say it was one of the greatest weekends of my life would in no way be hyperbole or exaggeration.

If you’ve never been to Country 2 Country, you’ve never seen The O2 transformed into a mini Nashville, with a market area for traders and food stalls, but more importantly 4 pop up stages placed throughout the complex. These stages played host to 28 acts from all over the world and in many respects were the heart of the weekend, providing countless number of highlights.

Striking Matches at Country 2 Country 2014

Striking Matches at Country 2 Country 2014

I have to start with Striking Matches, who are a mesmerising duo of singer songwriters with an almost inhuman level of guitar wizardry. I arrived a bit earlier than expected so was able to see them within moments of entering The O2 on Saturday, and again on Sunday. They weren’t the only act I saw twice as Hannah Jane Lewis’ full band performance on Saturday was so good I had to see her acoustic set the very next day. Both were superb and Hannah seems like someone who was born to sing, and shines in the spotlight. These two acts came together as I chatted to Hannah as we walked over to see Striking Matches on Sunday. Yes, look at me, mingling with the acts 😉

Hannah Jane Lewis at Country 2 Country 2014

Hannah Jane Lewis at Country 2 Country 2014

It was great to see Maria Byrne who I’d been in contact with before the festival, and who brought a change of pace with her folk/country songs and impromptu joke session. I caught Emma Jade mid Sunday afternoon, and though suffering with a sore throat, that didn’t stop her performing songs such as The Dixie Chicks’ Travelling Soldiers that two girls near me had requested numerous times the night before, when the actual Dixie Chicks were playing. With Jill and Kate we got Christmas in March, and I even got my song request played when they sung Skinny Jeans, just for me, as they’d never play one of their most popular songs without me tweeting them, right?

Emma Jade at Country 2 Country 2014

Emma Jade at Country 2 Country 2014

What these pop up stages did showcase is what a hotbed of country music talent there is right here in the UK. As well as those already mentioned I finally got to see Gary Quinn and Raintown, though the latter only for one song as I turned up too late to a massively packed out Brooklyn Bowl Stage. That one song was enough to make me want to see them again, and I caught most of Gary’s set on Sunday, and saw a guy who I immediately wanted to see performing on an outside stage in the sun. Great songs, great voice and entertaining throughout. Then there was Lisa Redford who caught my attention as I was walking past the Armadillo Stage, so much so that I stopped and listened to her silky smooth vocals and forgot about where I had intended to go.

Gary Quinn at Country 2 Country 2014

Gary Quinn at Country 2 Country 2014

All that’s really just the tip of the iceberg of what was going on, but without cloning myself there’s no way I could experience it all. I do have to point out that astonishingly, all these pop stage acts were free to anyone who came to The O2 over the weekend. That’s free as in no charge, as in it cost not one penny to see these incredible singers, songwriters and musicians perform. Just ponder that thought for a few moments. Amazing, right?

I will be doing some individual reviews of some of pop up stage acts I saw, and I have a bucket loads of photos to share and even a few videos too. If ever you want to experience Country 2 Country but for whatever reason can’t get tickets to see the main stage acts, you have to visit The O2 during the afternoon for the pop up stage acts – it’s almost rude not to.

Credit goes to my very good friend Mark for the Striking Matches and Emma Jade photos, and also for keeping up with my crazy schedule where others fell to the wayside.

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