Posts Tagged With: Ward Thomas

Midwinterfest – Full Ward Thomas, Dexeter and Luke & Mel Sets, Photos, Next Year & More!

Midwinterfest is the country music weekender that took place in Torquay last weekend and by all accounts was a terrific few days of music. Organised by Alan West it’s already got a date for next year, that being 15th-17th January – so mark your diaries, nothing will keep me away from this one. Dart Radio were actually there interviewing and recording, and on Monday they broadcast a show that featured much of that footage, including the full Ward Thomas set. Don’t worry if you missed it because they uploaded the whole thing, in two parts to Soundcloud. At about 1 hour 40 minutes into part 1 the Ward Thomas set starts, and near the very start of second part you’ll hear the first of a few new Ward Thomas songs.

 
It doesn’t end there though, as David Steane was in attendance and recorded complete sets from Dexeter and Luke & Mel, which you can now watch. Thanks David! There’s even a collaboration with Luke & Mel at the end of the Dexeter set, so be sure to watch it all.

So that’s audio and video, what about pictures I hear you ask? Well that’s where super snapper Andy M Watson comes in, as he was the official photographer for the weekend and has very kindly allowed to use the following photos. You can see the full albums over on his Facebook page, and he has a website on the way, so keep a look out for that.

Alan West at Midwinterfest 2014

Alan West at Midwinterfest 2014

Luke & Mel at Midwinterfest 2014

Luke & Mel at Midwinterfest 2014

The Swing Commanders at Midwinterfest 2014

The Swing Commanders at Midwinterfest 2014

Dexeter at Midwinterfest 2014

Dexeter at Midwinterfest 2014

Ags Connolly at Midwinterfest 2014

Ags Connolly at Midwinterfest 2014

Ward Thomas at Midwinterfest 2014

Ward Thomas at Midwinterfest 2014

Raintown at Midwinterfest 2014

Raintown at Midwinterfest 2014

Sunday Finale Midwinterfest 2014

Sunday Finale Midwinterfest 2014

This last photo is one I had to include to as well, as it highlights just how good a photographer Andy is. This photo of Deeanne from Dexeter has it all – great composition, sharp and catching the moment perfectlly. Remember to check out all the photos from the Midwinterfest weekend at Andy’s Facebook page.

Deeanne from Dexeter at Midwinterfest 2014

Deeanne from Dexeter at Midwinterfest 2014

It all looks and sounds like the perfect weekend, especially when you realise it all takes place in a hotel, which you can stay in. So you can have 3 days of music, eating and drinking, without setting foot outside, if you so desire. Keep an eye on the official website for more details of next year’s line-up and booking details.

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Ward Thomas Announce New Single and Repackaged Album

Earlier today Ward Thomas announced the release of the next single from the their hugely successful From Where We Stand album, the upbeat and humourous A Town Called Ugley. This song is always a crowd favourite live and in case you were wondering, Ugley is actually a real place, and a rather picturesque one in Essex.

A Town Called Ugley

A Town Called Ugley

An animated music video is on the way, but for now you can stream the song on Soundcloud, where the accompanying picture gives us an idea of the animation style – looking good!

Also released on March 2nd will be a repacked version of the aforementioned From Where We Stand which in addition to the 12 original songs will also have a cover of Michael Jackson’s classic ‘Man In The Mirror’ (previously released on BBC Radio 2: Sounds of the 80s, if it’s the same version), ‘Who We Are’, a song written as an emotive tribute to their mother, as well as live versions of tracks recorded on last autumn’s UK tour.

I’m very keen to see what the live tracks are, and am hoping for the inclusion of the title track From Where I Stand, which for me is their best to date and gave me goosebumps when watching live at The Green Note in London last July.

The Ward Thomas headline tour kicks off in Bristol on March 11th, and to date tickets are still available here for all legs, but be quick, these Ward Thomas girls are becoming very popular.

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If UK Country Music Acts Were the Stars of the Nashville TV Show

This started out as a much more serious topic, of trying to figure where the Nashville equivalent would be in the UK, and what would be our Opry and Ryman? Don’t ask me how, but my mind took a tangent to thinking who from the UK country music scene would I have in place of the stars of the Nashville show. This is a very lighthearted article and some of these links are very tenuous, so please don’t take offense as an artist or fan, absolutely none is intended.

Raintown as Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler

Raintown as Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler

Raintown as Rayna Jaymes and Luke Wheeler

As the veterans of UK country music this was an obvious pick, and as a recently married couple, could Paul and Claire have done what Rayna and Luke are on the same track to do?

Hannah Jane Lewis as Juliette Barnes

Hannah Jane Lewis as Juliette Barnes

Hannah Jane Lewis as Juliette Barnes

Both are young, blonde and hitting the country pop market, but with traditional influences. Juliette could probably do with some of Hannah’s work with schools to improve her public image and from what I’ve seen Hannah isn’t as big a diva as Juliette…but who knows what goes on behind closed doors 😉

Gary Quinn as Deacon Claybourne

Gary Quinn as Deacon Claybourne

Gary Quinn as Deacon Claybourne

Another veteran journeyman of the UK country scene and often seen gigging with Raintown, much like Deacon is with Luke in the show. I don’t think the love triangle exists between these guys as does on the show though…

Jess Roberts as Scarlett O’Connor

Jess Roberts as Scarlett O'Connor

Jess Roberts as Scarlett O’Connor

Brilliant new singer songwriter who is quieter than her contemporaries and infinitely more talented than she realises. Jess or Scarlett? It could well be either, and we await new music from both with baited breath.

Richard Clarke as Avery Barkley

Richard Clarke as Avery Barkley

Richard Clarke as Avery Barkley

An artist in his own right and guitarist on Hannah Jane Lewis’ band. if you’ve watched Nashville you’ll be thinking how eerily similar this is, except for the tempestuous relationship part. Both Richard and Avery have a wild side though 😉

The Shires as Gunnar Scott and Zoey Dalton

The Shires as Gunnar Scott and Zoey Dalton

The Shires as Gunnar Scott and Zoey Dalton

Ben and Gunnar are both singer songwriters from the UK, not that you’d know from Sam Palladio’s accent on Nashville. Add in the gorgeous, almost angelic voices of Crissie and Zoe and I think this comparison works pretty well, relationship status aside.

Ward Thomas as Maddie and Daphne

Ward Thomas as Maddie and Daphne

Ward Thomas as Maddie and Daphne

The ages might be a little off, but other than that this a perfect match – sisters with gorgeous voices and fantastic harmonies. The question is – who is who?

Gareth Thomas and Deeanne Dexeter as Will Lexington and Layla Grant

Gareth Thomas and Deeanne Dexeter as Will Lexington and Layla Grant

Gareth Thomas and Deeanne Dexeter as Will Lexington and Layla Grant

This is where it gets a bit tenuous, but bear with me! Both came from relative obscurity and have made a name from themselves in the last 12 months. Will and Layla have a sham marriage while Gareth and Deeanne have a band marriage! Gareth and Deeanne have better voices though and Gareth prefers his wife to his personal trainer!

That’s as far as I got, and I stopped at casting Jeff Fordham for fear of ruffling feathers! So, what do you think – agree or disagree, I’d love for you to leave a comment and if you have any of your own suggestions, go for it!

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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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Album Review: Ward Thomas – From Where We Stand

Ward Thomas - From Where We Stand

Ward Thomas – From Where We Stand

I became aware of Ward Thomas shortly after Country 2 Country earlier this year, but unfortunately missed seeing them play at The O2 on the pop up stages. Soon after they started making waves at the BBC and were featured on Radio 2 with the one and only Terry Wogan. They released their Footnotes EP which I bought and loved, and then off to Nashville they went to record their album. On their return they released Push For The Stride and announced said album, which was to come out on July 21st – sooner than I was expecting.

I had plans to buy the album when I go to see Ward Thomas play live at the Green Note in London, so when I was asked to review it I jumped at the chance, but with a slight feeling of trepidation. Why is that you may ask? Well the songs on Footnotes are brilliant, all 4 of them – as is Push For The Stride, which also comes with an accompanying music video. So why is that a problem? Based on those 5 songs I had very high hopes for this album, and there’s a possibility I had set my expectations unfairly high. What if it turned out From Where We Stand was not as good as I’d hoped?

So that sets the stage for my first listen of the album, which happened on the way to work this morning – 2-3 hours of commuting every day gives me lots of time to listen to new music. The album starts with Push For The Stride, which I already knew to be the triumphant showcase of their writing, signing and harmonies that can only be achieved by people who share the connection possessed by twins. Way Back When is the second track on the album, and the first that was new to me. Funky guitar intro – okay, so far so good. Vocals kick in and we have a song about comparing the present to the past, of what I’m thinking is their Mum, or another figure from the previous generation. Anyway, the quality is there – the song is, as always with Catherine and Lizzie, superbly written. Credit must also go their co-writers on the album, Ann Bailey and Matt Greaves – great job guys. These girls are poets, and fine ones at that. They also have tremendous voices, which they blend well either together, or with contrasting tones.

Tracks 3 and 4 are on the EP, so I know the quality is continuing with Footnotes (Happy Ending) and The Good and The Right. From Where I Stand is where things change, as this a lot slower than the previous tracks, and we have a piano to start with instead of the usual guitars, much like Caledonia on the EP. When I say things change, this is a song that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – beautiful vocals, and a heartbreaking story of their parents’ divorce. The guitar break towards the end is perfectly positioned, before those sensational vocals take us to the end. 20 years old, that’s how old the Ward Thomas twins are, which when you hear this sung, written by them, you’ll find hard to believe. Every time I’ve heard From Where I Stand today it’s hit me emotionally, like a freight train of memories as I recall my own parents divorce, and my ignorance at the time.

Later on Try is a similar ballad style, and every bit as stunning. The one thing this album showed me was just how versatile Ward Thomas are, both as songwriters and singers. As I listened to the whole of From Where We Stand I was relieved, surprised and delighted. My lofty expectations had been met head on, shrugged off and exceeded. I will admit, that at first I was a bit disappointed that the EP tracks I already had were included, but when you listen to the whole album you realise that Take That Train has to come after From Where I Stand, and that Caledonia has to sit before the album ending Town Called Ugley. There is also the fact that not everyone buying the album will have the EP, so it makes perfect sense to include them – that and the songs are far too good to leave off.

Ward Thomas Singing A Town Called Ugley at Maverick Festival

Ward Thomas Singing A Town Called Ugley at Maverick Festival

I’m was born in Essex, and you might ask why I’m telling you this, and I’ll tell you why. Ugley is an actual place in Essex – more of a village than a town, but I’ll allow them poetic license. This song showcases their ability to have fun, and is a superb contrast to the more serious songs on the album. I like that they actually refer to each other by name, and talk of throwing the TomTom out the window – something I almost did last Saturday en route to the Maverick Festival, where Ward Thomas were playing. Small world isn’t it?

Caledonia is the only song not written at all by the Ward Thomas twins, and is a 1977 ballad from by Dougie McLean. But you know what – it could have been written for them, it’s such a Ward Thomas song, as you can hear when they sing it. The whole album is brought together with a bunch of very talented musicians, both modern and traditional, who do the girls proud, and the whole package comes together superbly. It’s brilliantly created modern country, country pop in some cases like the almost Taylor Swift-esque Guest List, but with a very distinctive Ward Thomas country style. Right now Try is playing, and I’m reminded of how it builds and Catherine and Lizzie are joined on vocals by a choir, and just as I really want to hear just them again, I do. The arrangement of the songs is just absolutely perfect.

Without a single word of disingenuous sycophantic hyperbole, From Where We Stand is one of the finest albums I have heard in a very long time. Every now and then an album comes along that is so special that you just want to listen to it over and over – this is one of those. To and from work, whilst at work, and as I write this review, From Where We Stand has been on almost all day and I still get pangs of excitement every time I listen. If I rated albums I’d give this the highest rating, be it stars or marks out of 5 or 10 – it gets the lot. It’s the 11th July as I write this – you have 10 days to pre-order From Where We Stand, and I can’t emphasis enough how much you need to do this. It’s available on iTunes here or you can get it directly from their website and get a signed CD here.

After I has listened to the album I thanked my lucky stars that I’d bought tickets to see them play in London. After pre-ordering the album go check out where they are playing and see them live – from the one song I saw them preform at Maverick Festival, you won’t be disappointed. From Where We Stand is truly incredible debut album and Ward Thomas are without a doubt a very big part of the future of both country music, in the UK and beyond, with huge mainstream crossover appeal.

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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.

Categories: Gig Reviews, Maverick Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Interview: Midwinterfest Organiser Alan West

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

Midwinterfest

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
10.30pm Raintown
12.30am Late Bar Jam

Sun 18th January
8.30 – 9.30pm Breakfast
11.30am Sunday morning finale
1pm lunch

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?

Yes

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.

You can find out more about Midnterfest on the website and via the Twitter account: @Midwinterfest

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!

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It’s going to be a country summer at the Maverick Festival

Maverick Festival

There’s no doubt that we all enjoyed Country 2 Country, and if you follow me on Twitter You’ll have seen me doing a countdown to next year’s event. However, there’s no need to think that you have to wait a whole year for another weekend of country music, not when we have Maverick Festival coming in July. Billed as the best on roots music, and often referred to as a weekend of Americana, in a world where lines between genres are blurred, there’s country music, and some of the best at that.

Held over the Friday to Sunday, July 4th-6th, Maverick Festival has just recently announced that Holly Williams will be appearing. Yes, that same Holly Williams, the granddaughter of Hank Williams, Sr. who released her third album, The Highway, last year. It was that album that put Holly Williams on my radar and ever since hearing it I’ve wanted to see her live, and now I can, at Easton Farm Park in Suffolk.

Let’s be honest, Holly is worth the price of admission alone, but that’s not all you get, oh no, not by a long shot. Ward Thomas may be a name you’ve heard quite a bit recently, as this is the band name that twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy go by. First they played the pop up stages at Country 2 Country, then they were interviewed by Terry Wogan on Radio 2, and their music played, and now they are playing gigs over in Nashville while their EP is released this coming Sunday. One more thing, they are absolutely fantastic! Go over to iTunes and spend the best £1.79 you will in quite some time.

Larkin Poe are absolutely perfect for the Maverick Festival with their enchanting mix of folk and Americana. I have a friend who has waxed lyrical about them for years, and it was him who introduced them to me. In fact it’s with him that I’ll be seeing them the week before Maverick in a place called Chipping Ongar, where the venue is called Ongar Zinc Arts Centre – so Larkin Poe! So yes, another world class act appearing in Surrey at this great festival. I can’t talk about Larkin Poe without mentioning Astrid, who is a one woman Larkin Poe Twitter street team, and a great job she does too.

That’s just three of the acts announced, there’s also the legendary Mary Gauthier and whole load more that you can see here. As if the talent on show wasn’t enough, I think the most remarkable thing about Maverick Festival is that it will cost you just £75 for the whole 3 day extravaganza, and that includes camping on the Friday and Saturday nights.

Bear in mind the music is just one part of the weekend, as there is also comedy, dance, film & workshops. There are five stages stages, indoors and out, which includes the brand new out-door Sweet Home Alabama stage, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a great name for a stage! So we have music, we have more, but what about food – it’s going to be hungry work going from stage to stage, watching amazing acts and taking in all that is on offer, so what can I eat? I’m not going to even try to paraphrase what Maverick Festival have said themselves, so take a read of this:

Featuring a spacious camp site, bell tent meadow and tipi village, and a carefully selected range of delicious food stands catering to meat-eaters and vegetarians alike with pizza, paella & pasta, Mexican chili, duck pancakes & crepes, hog-roast and hand-made hamburgers, cupcakes & gourmet milk shakes, all washed down with freshly squeezed lemonade & freshly ground coffee, local Suffolk cider and a selection of award-winning regional ales, wine & lager.

They had me at paella, but throw in duck pancakes and a splash of lager and I may never want to leave. Three Chords and the Truth, on last year’s festival, said the sixth Maverick Festival once again turned Easton Farm Park into a little piece of Americana nirvana, while Life Is A Festival said Everyone on the farm that weekend was there to listen to some kick-ass music. No matter what style you liked best, the bands were giving their all, we met plenty of friendly Americana-loving folks and the festival was intimate enough to have chats with some of the musicians over a coffee. I don’t know about you but I think that makes it sound like the most appealing weekend of music, and more, that I’ve possibly ever encountered. It’s in July too, so there’s a half decent chance of good weather, but don’t quote me on that – crazy things happen in the skies these days.

In the weeks leading up to Maverick Festival I am going to do my homework on a lot of the acts I don’t know, as much like Country 2 Country, as soon as the schedule is revealed, I’m going to need a game plan. Head over to the website and take a look for yourself, then book your ticket and I’ll see you there, First pancake is on me!

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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 UKCountryMusic.net, 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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