AmericanaFest UK 2020 Conference Showcase preview – part five

The AMAUK conference is now into its fifth year, and one of the highlights of the conference is the two nights of showcases which take place before the awards ceremony on 28th/29th January featuring the best of americana talent, both homegrown and from around the world. The showcases take place at six venues across Hackney, all within walking distance and for the price of one wristband which you can buy here, plus you hopefully get to go back to a nice comfy bed each night. Over the course of this week we’ll be introducing you to all the showcase acts playing, in a kind of alphabetical order, if you’re not very good at the alphabet. You know us and the alphabet. If you’re playing and we’ve missed you out, apologies – and please get in touch. Here’s the fifth and final part.

Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra. Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra don’t care what genre you choose to put them in – Western Swing, Blues, Country, Rock & Roll or whatever else– as long as you understand that they’re 100% sincere and 100% immersed in this stuff. This is no lazy pastiche, no dressing up box. Based in Newcastle Upon Tyne but with members hailing from Orkney to Warwickshire, the Tea Pad sound draws on myriad influences – from Hank Williams to Django Reinhardt, Tom Waits to The Beatles – yet ultimately sounds like nobody else, that North Eastern Swing style that’s utterly their own and changing all the time.

Robert Vincent.  All the best music comes from Liverpool, we have to say that, and Rober Vincent is no exception, an award-winning singer/songwriter from our neck of the woods– having received the inaugural Emerging Artist Award from “Whispering” Bob Harris in 2016 and UK Americana Music Association’s UK Album of The Year in 2018. Seeing him play at the Bluebird Café’s Bluecoat event, the legendary broadcaster immediately invited Robert to record an Under The Apple Tree Session in his home studio and for his BBC Radio 2 “Country” show – describing him as “absolutely magnetic”.

Roseanne Reid. When they draw the map of authentic Americana, historians may not previously have thought of using marker pins for the cities of Leith, Edinburgh and Dundee. Now they’ll have to, to record the rapid rise of Roseanne Reid. Reid’s songs conjure more from less, exuding a quiet confidence and sparse authenticity that recalls some of the genre’s leading lights such as Gillian Welch and Lucinda Williams, but with a tone that belongs to Roseanne and no one else. No wonder, then, that Americana legend Steve Earle has not only adopted Reid as a personal cause, but makes a guest appearance on the delightful ‘Sweet Annie.’

Sam Baker. Sam Baker makes people happy. The characters in his songs face many challenges—alcoholism, car wrecks, racism, drug addiction, a mother’s abandonment—but they persevere. Much like Sam himself. A Sam Baker show is a celebration. Some songs tell of everyday people who survive life’s daily challenges; others are stories of growing up in a small Texas prairie town. All his shows are an acknowledgement and appreciation of the pure joy that comes with people gathering to listen to live music. Sam’s fans travel to see him, often driving hours to experience the powerful performance. After the show, they tell Sam their stories. You can tell him yours next week (so long as it’s not 5 hours long).

Bonnie Bishop. The first thing that registers about Bonnie Bishop’s stirring new album ‘The Walk’ is that the seasoned Grammy winner is no longer trying to outrun herself; she owns whatever has come her way, good wind or ill. It’s an uplifting confessional that she dedicates ‘to all who wander’ – laying down searing, emotionally-charged variations to award-winning producer Steve Jordan’s (Robert Cray, John Mayer, Buddy Guy) powerhouse production. She does so in a voice that aches and arches and grabs and never lets go. And her live performances are something to behold too.

Smooth Hound Smith. The saga of Smooth Hound Smith begins in Southern California. It winds from there through countless club gigs to East Nashville, big-time arena shows opening for The Dixie Chicks and finally to a third album, on which the seeds planted by experience blossom into a sound unlike that of any other artist. Recorded intermittently rather than in one marathon session, their new album ‘Dog In A Manger’ began in their living room, with Daly tracking on his Pro Tools setup. The results channel deep emotion into arrangements that somehow feel at once timeless and immediate. The lyrics never recount the events underlying the project, though through understatement and insightful irony they tap into the urgency that often flows below the surface of everyday living.

Stephen Fearing. In 1996 Stephen Fearing co-founded Blackie and the Rodeo Kings with Colin Linden and Tom Wilson. Originally intended to be a one-off collaboration to record a tribute album of songs written by Canadian folk music legend Willie P. Bennett, the trio quickly recognized they had created something worthy of further exploration and both critics and audiences agreed. More than 22 years later, with nine albums and a JUNO award to their credit, the band has become one of the most respected names in North American roots-rock. Fearing has released ten albums as a solo artist, featuring musical guests including Bruce Cockburn, Margo Timmons, Rose Cousins, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, and Sarah McLachlan.

Terra Lightfoot. According to PopMatters, Canadian Terra Lightfoot draws “from rock, soul and blues, [Terra Lightfoot] is a monster talent that will be gracing the world’s largest festival stages in no time.” With her new album ‘New Mistakes’, Lightfoot offers up something rare: the kind of genuine document that can only come from a road-tested breed of songwriter and performer. Shot through with the guitarist-vocalist’s powerful, bluesy soul, vivid lyrics and ferocious six-string virtuosity, it’s an unforgettable outing.

The Vanguards. The Vanguards are a five-piece traditional bluegrass band based in London. They take their musical inspiration from the originators of bluegrass music. Instrumentally, they seek to create a sound which blends the mandolin style of Bill Monroe, the banjo style of Ralph Stanley and the old-time style of fiddling which typified early bluegrass recordings and which continues to influence the sound of traditional bluegrass bands into the present day.

Union Duke. Webster’s Dictionary defines “Union Duke” as a raucous collision of alt-rock and twang, bringing crowds to their feet with songs from the heart. Soaring harmonies, driving rhythm, and infectious enthusiasm have seen these five guys from youth to young manhood. With three albums, countless festival stages, and hundreds of thousands of kilometers in the rearview, the band is excited to be touring new music and winning new fans everywhere they go. In the two years since their last record Golden Days, Union Duke has been steadily travelling and unravelling across the country, and they’re ready to share the lessons they’ve learned with a slate of new music.


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Author: Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield has been the Editor of Americana UK for the last 19 years and still feels like this is his pretend job, mainly because it is.

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