AUK’s Back Pages

Welcome to AUK’s back pages, or backtracks to be more precise, as this column is going to revisit the monthly CDs which were sent out to Friends Of Americana UK in return for financially supporting the site.  Now replaced by a monthly Spotify playlist (still exclusive to our supporters), the monthly CDs spanned 14 years from 2004 until 2017, each containing 20 tracks from albums submitted to us for review that month plus an extra unlisted (or hidden) track, a personal choice from our editor Mark reflecting his highly refined taste. They are, of course, now highly collectable (too expensive it seems to be listed on Discogs!). By revisiting the discs we hope to shine some light on AUK’s history and on the ups and downs of some of the numerous artists we have featured over the years.

AUK started in 2001. Founding father Mark Whitfield had been drawn to what was then described primarily as “alt country” and, having been tasked with setting up a website as part of a Masters course he was undertaking, decided to design one based on the music he liked as there was precious little online about it back then (you can read Mark’s account here). As we know, the site has blossomed over the years (with Mark recognised by the AMAUK in 2020, receiving the accolade of Grass Roots award) but let’s rewind to the beginning.

As we said, the monthly CDs commenced in 2004 but in the course of writing this I came across an oddity. A 2001 CD titled ‘Americana – A Collection For 2001′. The first thing to note here is that it’s emblazoned with the legend – “alt-country.co.uk – a UK home for alternative country.” It turns out that initially AUK was indeed Alt Country UK for a couple of months before adopting its current title later in the year. As for the disc, neither Mark nor myself have much recollection. I have a sneaking suspicion it was sent to me as I had submitted an album review and this was my reward. Back then there was a very small pool of reviewers and Mark accepted submissions from would be writers such as your humble scribe.

With 17 tracks, the CD is a fine snapshot of the time. Perennial favourites such as Peter Bruntnell, The Handsome Family, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Laura Cantrell are all present while songs from Josh Rouse, Beachwood Sparks, The Guthries and Cosmic Roughriders  are weighed with nostalgia these days. On a sad note, Neal Casal and Robert Foster of Willard Grant Conspiracy are sadly gone.  Lost in the mists of time are Richard Shindell, Noah John and January, a London band apparently. You can google them and let us know how they are faring.

In May 2004 AUK launched its Friends Of Americana UK funding scheme. For a fiver a month you got a free CD and, amazingly, folk signed up. The only disc I have from 2004 is the December issue and again, parts of it are like a warm bath of nostalgia, especially on track two, Shawn Colvin’s ‘Sunny Come Home’ (an old song even then, included as it was on a best of album). Unlike that 2001 disc, this one reflects the albums AUK was asked to review at that time so there is a preponderance of names which don’t strike a chord. We do have The Sadies, Alison Krauss, Iris Dement and Doug Hoestra but who on earth were Tremulous Monk (answers on a postcard please)? Also, I doubt that these days we’d feel comfortable promoting a song called ‘You’re Breaking My Heart, Bitch’ (by Dave Keefer, his only album it seems). The pick of the disc for me is the welcome reminder of Quiet Loner (AKA Matt Hill) whose ‘Chasing At My Tears’ is a delightful number.

Suitably, given that it was December when this disc arrived, the hidden track is ‘Christmastime’ by the Smashing Pumpkins. It’s actually quite good so thanks for that Mark.

Stay tuned for more deep delves into AUK’s back tracks and please use the comments if you have any memories you can share.

You can still be a friend of Americana UK in this digital age and, amazingly, it’s now cheaper to do so than it was in 2004. All details here.

Vintage screenshots grabbed via The Wayback Machine.

About Paul Kerr 422 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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Richard

Receiving the physical Friends Of Americana UK CD was a highlight of my month, up there with the postman delivering the latest Mojo and Uncut (and Private Eye, fortnightly).

The spotify list is OK but I miss those CDs. I really miss those CDs! Any chance of a premium Friends of Americana UK subscription that included a monthly CD?!

Ross

Have to agree with Richard. The spotify playlist rarely gets listened to more than once, but I still throw on one of the old cd’s at random on a regular basis. Mind you, the gap before the bonus track is still a pain!

Jonathan Aird

Noah John was the band of Carl Johns who would go on to form Charlemagne, the debut album variously known as “Charlemagne” and “behold…Charlemagne” depending on how one read the cover, is a minor Americana masterpiece.

His 8 albums have recently been re-issued by Bronze Rat records.