Live Review: UK Americana Music Week – AMAUK UK Showcases, Hackney Venues, 24th January 2024

Photo: J. Aird

And so, back again to Central Hackney, an area of London particularly blessed with music venues in close proximity to each other, for another go around the AMAUK Americanafest Showcases.  And without the need to pick up a Wristband (remember we mentioned the handy “can be taken off and put back on again” design AMAUK had gone with this year?) it was possible to hit the ground running with The Redhill Valleys at Moth Club. This band from Hamilton sit firmly at the rockier end of country rock, they cover a range of styles from swaggering rock to balladry and even on ‘Rhinstones‘ what is described as “a bit of a country-disco mashup.”  On more than one occasion the music takes on a glam stomp, and bass player and lead vocalist Chelsea McWilliams certainly had the platformed boots to go with it.  The line-up containing twin guitars has an extra edge as both take lead during the set.  ‘Finish Line‘ was a great example of what they can do, screaming guitars coupled with lyrics that really aren’t about racing.  The Redhill Valleys have opened for the likes of The Sheepdogs, and they’d certainly be a good fit for their audience.

Photo: J. Aird

There was a sad inevitability that Danny Addison in Oslo would be playing for only a couple of dozen people – for some reason not easy to fathom there really is a problem with this venue.  It’s a shame as the delicate finger-picked guitar backed by a pair of violinists made for an attractive folk singer-songwriter sound.  ‘Jar on the Corner‘ was a tribute to a venue Danny liked to play when he was in Manchester – he’s recently moved to Hitchin.  On ‘Tribe‘ additional depth was added through the use of a series of tapped out percussive loops.

Photo: J. Aird

There was some tapping back at Moth with Cree singer Aysanabee who had a very distinctive guitar playing style.  His songs covered a range of topics, some draw from his own life and several inspired by stories he recorded from his Grandfather such as ‘Ego Death‘.  He is one of those artists though whose stories introducing songs are themselves a fascinating insight into a very different life – such as his recounting a near death experience alone on a frozen lake when he was working for a mining company, a job he took up when he was 12.  Solo he was compelling, but it’s worth checking out his full band performance here.

Photo: J. Aird

By contrast Kyle McKearney produced a huge roots-rock sound, not surprising  since his band comprised three guitar players both lead electric and acoustics, bass, mandolin, and drums.  It was their first time in the UK.  They’re another band who would like appeal to fans of The Sheepdogs – there are upbeat songs which call for the embracing of experience because “life is short – and then we tap“, there’s a very catchy ‘Mercy‘ which begs for compassion from a lover “the worse of you might save me / show a little mercy.” There’s some soaring lead electric guitar than enlivens ‘Left‘ with its description of a string of things left behind, the most significant be that “I left my heart in Texas / Now there ain’t much left of me.”  It’s a soul lifting sound – with more than a smattering of classic rock, and a harkening back to a time when rainbow loon pants were the fashion.  And when it all sounds this good, why not?

Photo: J. Aird

There was now the difficult part of the evening, aiming for the headlining performance by Margo Cilker in paper Dress Vintage.  Aayushi‘s last song in Oslo, a lovely folk song ‘Mother’s Day‘ that recalled youthful scenes with lyrics beautiful enough to match her voice.  Really nice, and another time woud be worth catching a full set.

Photo: J. Aird

There was time to catch the first couple of songs by Slim Chance on Night Tales 1, who launched a well received set by sensibly  starting with ‘How Come‘ and ‘The Poacher‘.  If nothing else Slim Chance were demonstrating just how big the Americana tent has become.

Photo: J. Aird

There wasn’t time to hang around too long though, as  just one stage along on Night Tales 2 could be found Steve Wallis, an Australian with something of a wander lust as he has lived in England, and Germany and is currently residing in France.  His take on downbeat folk is very compelling – wonderfully well constructed songs that have the merit of not showing any of the construction work, they flow almost as if they are coming to him for the first time as he plays.   ‘Waiting For Someday‘ is a sad lament for time wasted waiting for things to improve, for love to rekindle, accepting a life that doesn’t make one happy.  ‘What It Takes‘ is a classic fast picked guitar and harmonica song that describes the time it to come to certain realisations: “It takes two days in Paris to learn that you’re poor / And two weeks in Berlin to learn that you’re boring.”  It’s the sound of hard learnt life lessons.  One of the best sets of the evening.

Photo: J. Aird

As predicted Margo Cilker at Paper Dress Vintage was a full venue, full to the extent that there was a queue to get in and a strict one-out, one-in policy.  And it was a generally popular destination, once inside it was easy to spot people in the crowd – Lizzie No, and, Hannah White, and yes that’s Michelle Stodart and there were more, this was clearly the set to see.  Margo Cilker was similarly pleased to be back in London along with her band and the set saw a good selection of songs from ‘Valley of Heart’s Delight‘ and ‘Pohorylle‘, although there was plenty of time also allocated to between song chat – informing us on how to correctly pronounce Nevada, explaining what a Rocky Mountain Oyster is and encouraging us to give our cheers of “yeah” with a fulsomeness as if they were aimed at Dylan.  But there was plenty of music, and it was big and dreamy and sad by touches.  Particular highlights were the searching ‘Lowland Trail‘ and the achingly sad ‘With The Middle.‘ It was well worth the crush, and it was certainly an encouragement to aim to catch her on her next UK tour.

Photo: J. Aird

Back out into the night there was one last changeover slot to pick from and it was Oslo that called to me – but  I never did get to see Dustbowl Revival though.  Waiting for them to come on stage I idly checked the trains again, and was rather shocked to see I had about three minutes to get to the station if I was going to get a train as everything after that had just been cancelled.  Rail replacement buses would start before midnight …but… discretion gained the upper hand and, people, I made that last  train with seconds to spare.  Ah well…there’s always next year.

About Jonathan Aird 2689 Articles
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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