South By Southwest Festival 2017. Austin, Texas

I normally advise Americana-loving friends who enquire about sxsw simply to visit Austin at any time of the year and check out venues like the Broken Spoke or the Saxon Pub to get the authentic Austin feel. You’ll be sure to see the likes of Jon Dee Graham, William Harries Graham, Bob Schneider, Darden Smith, James McMurtry and other such stalwarts of the scene. But there are certain sxsw American events that are unique to that week and are not to be missed.

The Yard Dog Gallery on South Congress has a yard at the back which is covered by a gazebo during sxsw and it is really worth spending a whole afternoon there, because the music is invariably top notch and the audience respectful and very much “up for it”. A common characteristic of all the places I shall describe is the superhuman amount of alcohol consumed. I’m by no means teetotal but I tell you, the amount these guys put away is mind-boggling. Nursing a three dollar local IPA, I was hugely entertained by a highly-wired Austin Lucas (whose Alone In Memphis always brings a lump to the throat), who also duetted with Mara Connor. Continue reading “South By Southwest Festival 2017. Austin, Texas”

The Handsome Family, Folkestone Quarterhouse: 4th March 2017

Tonight The Handsome Family arrive in town to play to a near capacity crowd at Folkestone’s Quarterhouse. Most it seems, are committed fans of the band although some like me have come along because the venue is on their doorstep and they have been lured by the penning of the darkly enthralling Far from any Road, from the equally darkly enthralling series ‘True Detective’. Continue reading “The Handsome Family, Folkestone Quarterhouse: 4th March 2017”

The Handsome Family, The Union Chapel, London, 2nd March 2017

Brett and Rennie Sparks brought a four-piece Handsome Family to The Union Chapel for one of those rare evenings that truly deserve the accolade “magical”. Demonstrating the ability for even a little television exposure to change the size of an audience The Handsome Family have stepped up to a considerably larger venue than on previous tours, and one that couldn’t be more in keeping with their music – on an early March evening when the shadows draw in quickly there could have been no better frame for their musical paintings of the strange, mystical and plain bizarre in American life. Continue reading “The Handsome Family, The Union Chapel, London, 2nd March 2017”

Bronwynne Brent, Ritz Acoustic, Burnham on Sea, 16th March 2017

How an unassuming and talented artist from the Mississippi Delta ends up playing at venues such as the cosy and intimate Ritz Acoustic Club in Burnham on Sea is one of the great joys of the music business and a real treat for us music lovers.  Appearing with Johnny Sangster (Guitar), the Seattle based producer of her last album Stardust and Brit, Jay Darwish (Bass), Bronwynne Brent brought her fabulous songs to life in this windy corner of Somerset.  Continue reading “Bronwynne Brent, Ritz Acoustic, Burnham on Sea, 16th March 2017”

Loudon Wainwright III – Surviving Twin, Leicester Square Theatre, London, 11th March 2017

Coming on to the darkened stage of this basement London theatre, strumming guitar, Loudon Wainwright III unexpectedly encountered a mic’ stand, causing a minor stumble – maybe a Freudian Trip – quickly recovered from. It got an early laugh. Surviving Twin (as you may have read in an earlier feature on Americana-UK) is his one man theatre performance mixing songs, monologues and a backdrop of photo’s and film clips. Continue reading “Loudon Wainwright III – Surviving Twin, Leicester Square Theatre, London, 11th March 2017”

Israel Nash, The Islington, London, 22nd February 2017

Israel Nash is on tour opening for Band of Horses, but this was a night off and an opportunity to play if not quite a secret gig then at the least an incredibly intimate one. The Islington is not such a big pub, and the performance space is tiny – a capacity of sixty or so perhaps, and not surprisingly it was sold out. Tonight was to be a duo performance – Israel Nash on acoustic guitars and Eric Swanson adding waves of the most perfect pedal steel. Who needs a band ? Continue reading “Israel Nash, The Islington, London, 22nd February 2017”

Shirley Collins, The Barbican, London, 18th February 2017

Shirley Collins holds a unique place in the pantheon of English folk music – her 1959 song collecting journey in the USA, assisting Alan Lomax, is legendary enough but she also shook up the folk scene with collaborations with Davey Graham and her recordings with her sister Dolly which brought new arrangements to old songs which were sung in an unaffected English voice.  She was widely lauded as carrying a distinctive folk purity, acting almost as a vessel for the music, through the late sixties and into the seventies.  And then she lost her singing voice. Continue reading “Shirley Collins, The Barbican, London, 18th February 2017”