Americana Music Awards, 31st January, Hackney Empire, London

The final flourish of the Americana Music Association UK (AMAUK) music festival is the Awards night, held in the luxurious surroundings of the Hackney Empire. Unsurprisingly the evening follows a fairly typical award ceremony format, a master of ceremonies, guest presenters to read out the nominees and the actual winner in categories such as “Best Song“, an acceptance speech and then, between awards, a musical spot featuring those nominated somewhere in the evening. This does mean that there’s plenty of music – it’d be a bit odd after all if there wasn’t – but everyone gets just the one song. The full list of award winners can be found here, so this is just a quick impression of the evening and not a full list of every face that appeared.

And the first thing that has to be noted is how smoothly it ran, kudos to AMAUK for that, with Bob Harris as the genial host holding everything together and introducing the award presenters – such as John Paul White –  and the various performers.

Rich Hall burst any potential pomposity with his introduction for the Trailblazer Award winner Joe Boyd, at the same time revealing his own deep affection for, and knowledge of, Boyd’s work. He even pulled him up on his mistakes, such as ‘Duelling Banjos‘ which he rightly pointed out features only one banjo. His introduction was as fully impassioned about music as Boyd’s acceptance.

Chris Hillman demonstrated just why he’d won the musician of the year as he was part of the scratch-band for the night playing behind most of the other performers. Yola was an incredible new acquaintance putting the soul firmly into Americana.

If anything Mary Gauthier was even more emotional, featuring a song from her songwriting collaboration project working with US veterans.  A stand out performance.

Bennet Wilson Poole (at last!) easily demonstrated why they were multiple nominees and eventual winners of the UK Artist of the Year Award – what a superb and musically strong ‘side project‘.

Israel Nash, who missed out on International Song of the Year nonetheless gave a wonderful rendition of ‘Rolling On‘ – hidden behind shades and dressed to the nines he filled the rock star shoes perfectly.

Rhiannon Giddens silenced the room by singing unaccompanied and off-mike from the front of the stage.

There was a similar thrill when Graham Nash was presented with his award by Allan Clarke. Nash and Clarke started singing together at the age of seven and Nash credited him with steering his life, stating that if it hadn’t been for Allan “I’d have been a great plumber“. After his award Graham Nash led the room in a rendition of CSN’s ‘Teach Your Children‘, and his acceptance thank yous had included those band mates as well as The Hollies. Dare we detect the start of a CSN thaw? Who knows? Maybe. Maybe not.

The grand finale was an Anglicised ‘This Land Is Your Land‘ with the whole ensemble back on stage.

A really great end to an enjoyable and relaxing evening compared to the frantic shuttling around of the showcase evenings (although that’s enjoyable too!). All the remained was the after party – and of that den of debauchery we perforce must draw a discrete veil, if any of us are going to be asked back again next year. Put together the three nights had been uplifting, a pure joy in the diversity of music on display and a real gem of an event to happen in the dreary period at the end of January. Here’s to next year.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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