Remember those January nights drifting from one venue to another crammed venue? Glorious Hackney alive with music and good feelings. Seems like another world now, but it was really only a few short months ago. Of course we gave a lot of attention to the most public part of the Americana Music Association UK’s conference, but there was just so much going on that we couldn’t cover it all. Now, though, with those same venues – like all the others across the land – closed up for the duration it’s nice to take the time to look back again. And to remember that hopefully this will soon all be possible again. Music – live as it is meant to be.
It was the evening of 29th January when Paper Dress Vintage became effectively an outpost of Laurel Canyon as three bands with a shared ethos played on that tiny stage, with Jonathan Wilson the surprising biggest name of all. It had seemed like a mistake that he hadn’t been given the much larger Oslo, or even the Moth Club. For those who rammed into the upstairs performance area at Paper Dress Vintage though it was a memorable occasion. But hey, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
They’d played the night before as Malin Pettersen’s backing band, but tonight it was Darling West’s turn to be upfront. The Norwegian band are centred on the duo of Mari and Tor Egil Kreken and their warm West Coast influenced sound made a mockery of the wintry weather out in the street. It can’t be denied that there was more than a little swaying to songs like ‘Make It Last‘, as Tor showed off his guitar skills and Mari’s voice floated like a zephyr over the room. And when they switched it up a little and added banjo to the mix they just wowed the crowd.
Devin Tuel is the obvious front of the two piece Native Harrow, even in Paper Dress Vintage the casual observer – or the one stuck nearly at the back of the crowded room – could be forgiven for overlooking Stephen Harms. At least, right up until he starts playing. Native Harrow take simple themes and make them not complex exactly but very direct. When Davin Tuel sings it’s clear she knows what she’s singing about – and the connection it makes is equally direct. There’s no messing around with hypnotism and mesmeric effects, rather Devin Tuel brooks no disagreement and tells the listener how it is, how it feels, and how it’s going to be. With a set taken predominantly from the latest album, and kicking off with the title track ‘Happier Now‘, Native Harrow walked a path between beauty and melancholy.
Even whilst he was working on the stage, plugging wires into guitars and checking the pedals were all where they should be, it was hard to credit that Jonathan Wilson was actually going to be playing on this tiny stage. What an opportunity to hear this master of laid-back somewhat psychedelic Laurel Canyon tinged guitar at close quarters. And then the other surprise – it’s new album and new direction time for Jonathan Wilson and the set he played was mostly new material taken from the yet to be released ‘Dixie Blur‘. And once that slight disappointment of not hearing what one knows already subsides there’s the real thrill of knowing that you’re amongst the first in the UK to hear these songs live.
There were glimpses of ennui on ‘Pirate‘, a bouncingly optimistic country- folk feel on ‘So Alive‘ and an aching for new vistas on ‘69 Corvette.’ Older material wasn’t totally absent and ‘There’s a Light‘ just shone with West Coast sunshine as Jonathan Wilson let us know that “there is a feeling in the California air / there’s lust for peace and righteousness everywhere.” Right On! And, ok, now we know that the Summer of 2020 will be festival free, and that long list of must see gigs seem to have been rescheduled into 2021, but let’s hold onto that hope – there will be great gigs, surprising gigs, and memorable gigs to come, just hold on. Right On!
Photos: J. Aird