Live Review: Ramblin’ Roots Revue, Bucks University, 5th-7th April 2024

Picture by Nick Barber

The Ramblin’ Roots Revue is a small boutique festival held annually at Bucks University in High Wycombe. Its origins dwell in the history of Clubhouse Records and Tristin Tipping and ex Borderline man Noel Crompton. Their idea was to make use of the University facilities during the Easter break when they were lying empty. Their vision was to supply an event based on alt-country, roots and Americana music. In keeping with their values they employ students from the university to work in the bars, and help in other areas during the festival.

The festival is, I think, unique in that by using the two main rooms of the venue it is structured so that you can see every artist and hear every song that is played over the weekend. It has grown in stature since the inaugural event in 2017 and (certainly for this writer) forms part of a wonderful trilogy of festivals that include The Kilkenny Roots Festival in Ireland and The Static Roots Festival In Germany. It is no surprise to see so many attendees of both those events here in High Wycombe over the weekend.

So what can you expect? As ever “roots music” can start arguments far and wide as to what constitutes the genre. Well! If you want Texas-style Country there’s Ags Connolly; some singer-songwriter stuff, there’s James Hodder and the wonderful Kevin Montgomery. Is it blues you are after? Then look no further than Kieron Marshall and The Blues Matters Band or for pure country heaven then please, please avail yourself of the beautiful voice of the French country singer, Bobbie.

That’s the overview then so lets have a bit more in-depth look at the music that made for a superb weekend. Although, as I have said, you can see every minute of every act, this review highlights the best acts that I managed to catch. Time out is required for food, refreshment, chats with friends and chats with some of the artists.

Ags Connolly. Picture: Nick Barber

First up was the already mentioned Ags Connolly. The ever amiable, self-effacing singer gave us his own take on Tex-Mex country, the highlight being the haunting ‘Get Out Of My Mind.’ Playing the opening set at a festival can be daunting, but not for Ags. A great start. Other bands playing on the Whiskey Lounge Stage on the first night were the melodic Niche Family featuring great harmonies, some fine banjo picking and some New Orleans tinted blues. They were followed by a band that are currently the talk of the americana town – Brown Horse. Fresh from a twenty plus gig tour schedule, I was really looking forward to hearing this six piece band. Their set was beset with sound problems which did their fulsome songs little justice. It is obvious, however, when listening to their strongest pieces such as ‘Shoot Back’ and ‘Reservoir‘ that this is a really good band that are definitely going places.

Back on the Main Stage we are treated to a rousing set from Luke Tuchscherer and The Penny Dreadfuls. Luke sings straight from the heart; unafraid to ‘tell it like it is’ and his almighty, yet steady, band create a fantastic foot-stomping, back drop. The last set on the Main stage was provided by folk singer sublime, Katherine Priddy. She had the audience in the palm of her hands as she treated us to a strong set, which whispered strands of her influences – think Nick Drake, perhaps – delivered by a subtle but strong voice. Mesmerising.

​Luke Tuchscherer. Picture: Nick Barber ​

What did Day Two hold? Another blinding day of music. The morning began with a really strong set by folk artist Demi Marriner. She and her band played a set featuring mainly tracks from her latest album ‘Things We Didn’t Say‘. Her effervescent personality shone through in a show that had strong and lyrically emotional tracks which had the audience hoopin’ and a hollerin’ like they were in a Nashville. Other bands I enjoyed on The Saturday afternoon Main Stage included The Vagaband whose melodic tunes were sweet and insinuating without being too sugary. I can give them no higher praise than saying that the vocals and the arrangements carried more than a hint of Gerry Rafferty, and that their harmonies were reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac era ‘Rumours’. Meanwhile, Steady Habits played a really fine set of Eagle-tinged country rock songs.

I have to admit a certain bias when it comes to the next act – Kirsten Adamson and The Tanagers. Firstly, she hails from my home town and secondly, her dad, Stuart, was the front man in one of my favourite bands. I would still think she and her band were brilliant without the caveat. And they were with a powerful, up-beat forty-five minutes which included two personal songs. ‘My Father’s Songs‘ is just a magnificent song of thanks and to then play one of Big Country’s biggest hits, ‘In A Big Country‘ almost had me in tears. A fantastic set.

Kirstin Adamson. Picture by Nick Barber

What was going on at The Whiskey Saloon, Ken? I hear you ask. Only an early contender for favourite set of the weekend from James Hodder. James only came on my radar some 18 months ago when I was privileged to attend the launch of his recent album. I said at the time that it was one of the best albums by an ‘unknown-to-me’ artist I’d heard. I have now seen James another half a dozen times and he just gets better and better. He wears his musical heroes on his sleeve with songs reminiscent of Springsteen, Petty, Browne, etc. I use reminiscent as James isn’t a copy cat, more that he brings those influences into his very strong songs. He was followed by another outstanding new-to-me artist, a French country singer who goes by the name Bobbie. Close your eyes and you could be listening to Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton et al. She was followed by Brighton based Mt. Caburn, a popular and very well received group. A hard group to categorise, they played a fine collection of songs that veered between new wave Costello to alt-country classics. Having Del Day (oft-time DJ at this festival) fronting the band and the ever popular Danny Champ appearing as guest guitarist only added to the crowd’s enjoyment. A break for food meant that I missed The Ripples – sorry guys.

James Hodder. Picture by Nick Barber

Next on the main stage came the fantastic Starry Eyed & Laughing, featuring two original members of the jingly-jangly 70’s band, Tony Poole and Iain Whitmore, plus the stomping Emma Holbrook on drums and the brilliant Jim Maving on guitar. This turned out to be the show of the weekend. A wonderful set comprising of the best of their early work, some songs from the Bennett Wilson Poole albums and a wonderful rendition of ‘Old Man At The Grave Of His Wife‘ from Ian Whitmore’s recent solo album before we head into ecstasy (for me) with the final two songs – two Dylan/Byrds classics, ‘Chimes Of Freedom‘ (from whence came their name) and a sublime ‘Mr Tambourine Man.‘ A really fabulous set. I must congratulate drummer, Emma, who had never met the band before Saturday and Jim whose guitar sound was just, as my friend Lesley described it, ‘jingle-tastic.’

Starry Eyed & Laughing. Picture by Nick Barber

The following two sets featured the Americana stalwart Sarah Petite in The Whiskey Lounge and English singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt on the Main Stage. Both were in fine form. I particularly liked Sarah’s set which had me transported to Nashville and late night honky-tonks whilst Ed’s show was loud and enthusiastic but not quite my cup of tea. The audience however, lapped it up. Perhaps the long day was catching up with me. But no. One of the highlights of previous Ramblin’ Roots festivals has been the The Clubhouse All-Stars Tribute spot. Previous artists to whom tribute has been paid include Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and The Beatles. This year, the assembled All Stars have decided to pay homage to The Band. The group on stage included Clubhouse stalwarts Tristan and Danny Tipping; brothers Joe and Robin Bennett plus female vocalists Hannah White and Michelle Stodart and various other artists, too many to mention, from the weekend’s line up. Suffice to say, from ‘Ophelia’, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down‘ to ‘The Weight‘ and ‘I Shall Be Released‘ it proved to be an inspired choice of music to end the night (An impromptu poll the next day to suggest acts for next year came up with acts including Van Morrison, John Prine and music from the 60’s’).

I missed quite a lot of Day Three due to long chats with artists Tony Poole, Kevin Montgomery and music and festival promotor Gill Tee. Thank you all for your time. That which I did see was still fine fare. In the Whiskey Lounge, one time recipient of the AMA/UK emerging artist of the year award, Robbie Cavanagh enhanced his growing reputation with a set of strong songs, He was followed by another highlight of the weekend the tall American Country Blues exponent Dallas Burrow, a singer of whom I had never seen nor heard of before. He played a splendid set full of American firelit songs, tales of his father and Townes Van Zandt and some great finger-pickin’ guitar blues.

Dallas Burrow. Picture by Nick Barber

Next on the Main Stage was a singer who I have waited for a long time to see, Kevin Montgomery. Kevin’s songwriting and delivery are up there with JD Souther and Jackson Browne. Highlight tracks include ‘Let’s All Go To California‘, the exquisite ‘I Wish I Were Blind‘ and ‘Lookin’ Out For Number One.’ Kevin is also a fine story teller and his tales of his father growing up with Buddy Holly were incredible. A story that ended up with a wonderfully, poignant rendition of ‘Heartbeat.’ In complete contrast, but just as entertaining, were the blues ensemble Kieron Marshall and The Blues Matter who delivered a blockbuster of a set with some outstanding guitar work by Keiron. The aforementioned chance to chat with both Kevin Montgomery and Gill Tee prevented me from catching much of Elliot Brood and Dom Glynn and His Sunday Best.

Kevin Montgomery. Picture by Nick Barber

Which just left AMAUK Artist Of The Year award winner Michelle Stodart. Quite a finale. Her brooding, thought provoking, atmospheric songs were met with awed silence with her backing band keeping up the haunting sound. I find it difficult to pigeon hole this excellent ex-Magic Number singer. All I know is that she is very, very good and she and her excellent band had the audience in their thrall.

A superb end to a thrilling but tiring weekend. Roll on next year, but be aware, you have a lot to live up to.

Huge thanks (as always) to Nick Barber who has graciously allowed AUK to use his pictures. Check more out on his website.

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Pete Feldon

My Girl the River was one of the Sunday bands that Keith and others missed – understandably as their set started at 11.30! Their music was an excellent start to the day, with Kris Wilkinson’s languid Louisiana drawl bringing to life tales of her early life in the US and her later songs reflecting on modern life like ‘Information Highway’  (although they had to contend with the squall of the coffee machine from the bar). As ever she was supported by her partner Joe Hughes on double bass and backing vocals, but her daughter Rue is no longer with her as she is now at university.
Another band Keith missed that are definitely worthy of mention is Dom Glynn and His Sunday Best. A recently formed band playing vintage honky-tonk, with influences of Ernest Tubbs and Hank Williams, featuring the stunning fiddle of Duncan Menzies. Although they only have one single of recorded material, they are already on the festival circuit, including Black Deer.

Pete Feldon

Apologies, it’s Ken not Keith

Paul Higham

Great review of a wonderful weekend.

One small correction- the “old man” SEAL song his “Old Man At The Grave Of His Wife”, which recounts Iain Whitmore’s experience with his dad’s loss to dementia / Alzheimer’s. It made a friend of mine cry.

Paul Kerr

Apologies, now corrected.

Joan Andreu

Sorry you missed The Ripples. I think they were great! They will be at Wood Festival again soon. Try to catch them there!