Live Review: UK Americana Music Week, Loose Music Takeover @The AMAUK Showcase, Paper Dress Vintage, Hackney, London – 24th January 2023

Photo: J. Aird

Remember live indoor music festivals, the ones that get held in the winter, when it’s raining or snowing outside? January ‘21 and ’22 put paid to these. They got replaced by the online “live” performances that weren’t always live – I know we all tried to like these compromises but, all through, I dreamt of the sweaty basements or above-the-shop venues. Tonight, once more I found myself above the shop.

AMA UK Showcase is a wristband festival over at least 6 venues. For £30 you get the freedom to wander between stages all within a few minutes of Hackney Central station. Given that Paper Dress Vintage has a capacity of just over a hundred and they were queuing up the stairs most of the night I elected to stay put in that venue and watch all of the acts and I’m going to take the radical step of covering them in chronological order. (I know!)

First up, Our Man in the Field (Alexander Ellis) with a band full of promise and talent, providing those lovely four-piece harmonies that complimented the richness of his voice. The buzz in the room is tangible and Ellis delivers. What you don’t get on online gigs are those little moments of silence when a performer has their audience almost holding their breath – as in ‘Stick Around’ where the slightest of creaks in the toilet door acted as percussion. He played a few songs from the 2020 debut album and some from the upcoming release which sound promising, reminding me of classic Michael Head material. Ellis had been let down by an Uber that was delivering his guitar. He was using a borrowed instrument (Danny Champs) and that threw him slightly, so much so that a new song ‘Come Back to Me’ written about a teacher friend started on the wrong key – one of these moments when everyone on stage knows something is wrong but can’t quite place it. Always best to stop and start again which is luckily what he did, then just a minor adjustment of a semi-tone on the capo and all was great again.

Tom Bridgewater, Loose Music founder, introduced Native Harrow. Singer Devin Tuel had also watched the last AMAUK’s online and was simply thrilled to be on this stage playing out their most recent album ‘Old Kind of Magic’ opening with the title track, which is Joni meets Courtney Marie Andrews and is immediately catchy. It is apt that this gig is in a vintage dress store, there is a theme of the 60’s/70’s running in Native Harrow’s music. For instance, ‘As It Goes’ starts with a Todd Rundgren, ‘I Saw The Light’ flavoured intro and a lyric where reinvention is suggested, “I arrived in a new land and said/ I’m gonna be a brand new version of me.” They manage to squeeze in two more songs, the bluesy ‘Used To Be Free’ and the closer, one of the highlights with hints of another US exile, Chrissie Hynd in its delivery.

Katherine Priddy is a folk singer, currently on Navigator Records, here tonight in the context of being a ‘friend’ of Loose Music. In the folk tradition, Priddy’s set is full of witty stage repartee. In contrast the songs are ethereal and enigmatic like the opener ‘Stay’ and ‘Eurydice’ with eerie echoes of Sandy Denny in both voice and lyric ‘You were only the shadow behind me / I loved you blindly’. She played a new song, inspired by her cramped living conditions in a house shared with five young men and her dreams of swapping this to the equally cramped but rural idyll of a houseboat – “a duck by the door and someone to sing me to sleep.” She explained that she is here as an Americana observer, rather than a card-carrying plaid-shirt wearing member. Her observations are that the songs focus on travel, mothers and whiskey in the genre; she doesn’t have any that fit that bill, but her mother once remarked that her daughter had a weakness for men without postcodes , so she plays the song written about that, ‘Letter from a Travelling Man’.

Another change over , and I realise that it’s a bit like six hole golf –  30 minute, six song sets are very enjoyable  for an audience.

Next up, Bridgewater introduced an artist with a fifteen-year relationship with Loose Music – a true legend of the scene, Danny George Wilson with full band. They kick in with the languid stride of ‘Lost Future’ from Wilson’s latest album ‘Another Place’. The band are having fun on the stage, Wilson trading guitar licks on his acoustic with lead guitarist Paul Lush. “I’ve just got my look” says Wilson, spotting himself in a monitor before the start of ‘These Days’ (from 2008’s Danny and the Champions of the World album),”it’s Last of the Summer Wine – which can’t be a bad thing.” He is a man at home and comfortable among friends and there is a real sense of camaraderie in this room, friends and strangers alike. With nothing to prove, they launch into their fourth song, the driven acoustic of “Right Place” and Wilson’s weather-beaten rasp on “when I’m in the right place/ I know exactly how you feel” enwraps the room in a feeling of warmth. They just keep going. Paul Lush pitches in with a bluesy melody filled solo, not too loud, but not too quiet, winding and winding to a never-arriving conclusion. It’s the right place for this indeed, there’s shades of Earl Slick, Tom Verlaine and Stevie Ray Vaughan in the solo, maybe it lasted eight minutes, I wasn’t counting but it was a joy to behold.

When a band member passes away, the loss is a deep and awful thing. But that is made even more difficult for a working band when it is the lead singer, frontman and guitarist who has passed. After the sudden death of Dallas Good last year it looked like The Sadies, the celebrated Canadian psychedelic rock’n’roll band would never play again. But after the shock and mourning they re-grouped and delivered one of their most memorable albums ‘Colder Streams’ in July last year recorded just before Dallas’ untimely death. Now they have taken to the road to perform it. ‘Stop and Start’ is the opener with brother Travis Good taking the lead vocal on the anti-war sentiment: ‘Stop right now’. The bulk of the set, all powerful songs, come from the new album. ‘More Alone’ is perhaps a tribute to Dallas and it is followed, in waltz time, by the psycho-billy of ‘Message to Belial’. Travis Good’s bluegrass-tinged finger picking provides a constant presence and there is a lighter note in the surf-rock instrumental ‘Cheat’ – a bluegrass psychedelic surf punk number that gets the crowd dancing in the little space they have. There has been little chat between songs, three players doing the work of four is difficult, so it’s been sweaty and full-on concentration, but now Travis tells us a bit about Dallas before dedicating ‘Better Yet ‘from the new album to him. They close on the note that Dallas disliked the summer – “all the sunscreen and outdoor activities” – and play his punk ode to winter ‘Another Season Again’.

The Hanging Stars are the recipients of the 2023 Bob Harris Emerging Act of the Year, one of the awards announced before the closing night show, so it was right that they headlined the showcase. Ironically, they’re four albums into their career, they released their latest disc “Hollow Heart” last year. It was recorded at Edwyn Collins’ studios in Helmsdale, with Collins providing a poignant spoken-word on the track ‘Rainbows in Windows’. They kick-off with ‘Ava’ from the new album and it’s eerie, primal, sympathy-for-the-devil sound-alike guitar. It’s mainly the new album that is showcased tonight, but they include ‘I’ve Seen The Summer In Her Eyes’ from 2020’s ‘A New Kind Of Sky’, reminding us of its trippy psychedelia. Richard Olson handles the main vocal, with occasional help from bassist Sam Ferman. The set (and the show) highlight is ‘Black Light Night’, a single from the album. Pedal steel supremo Joe Harvey-Whyte switches to guitar and provides an intervention so simple but effective with a haunting three-note riff. ‘I Don’t Wanna Feel So Bad Anymore’ has a jangly intro and the band pin their colours to the mast about what they really feel about the Tory government. I wish that there were more young bands like The Hanging Stars, picking up the mantle from the Byrds, Big Star, Gram Parsons’ cosmic American music, Teenage Fan Club and even Primal Scream’s country rock. And I wish there were more festivals like this one, run by people like Stevie Smith motivated but nothing but pure love of live music and everything that brings.

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[…] these things happen to the best of us.  One strategy is to just stay in one place – and the Loose Showcase on Tuesday was a big temptation to do just that, as was the Ja Records showcase on the Wednesday.  […]