Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Song Review - "Stormchaser" Jade Helliwell

Stormchaser is a very well-produced song and that really serves to enhance the overall sound– but nothing can mask or disguise Jade’s very recognisable voice.  I’ve listened to the song on repeat since Jade sent it to us at Silverball Country this afternoon and I think it is very much in the same vein as some of the biggest of the current crop of Female Country Singers – Carrie, Kacey, Kelsea. 

A powerful song about relationships, co-written in the home of Country Music with Luke Thomas, Jason Tucker and Daisy Davis the sometimes explosive instrumentation really punctuates the emotion but it is truly Jade’s vocal that takes us through the ups and downs – mirroring both the image of a storm and the storm of feelings portrayed in the lyrics.

Here is Francesca’s first impression after just one listen  

“Knock me down and spin me around – I had to do a double take as this could be Carrie Underwood, but the way the word “Blue” is sung gives away that it is Jade Helliwell with her Northern accent underneath that beautiful Country voice of hers.  The whole piece creates a really dramatic picture especially with the echo effects, and I can imagine a dramatic video to accompany this, with the storm coming.  All praise to the guitarist for the beautiful solo tucked into the song”

You can tell that Francesca will be listening again – and again, and we both can’t wait to hear this song being performed on a big stage with a full band to truly do it justice.  This has got us looking forward to Festival season all the more
I the meantime, we will just have to hit “repeat”…

Stormchaser”, the new single from Jade Helliwell will be available for download on 8th March to coincide with her performances at Country 2 Country at London’s o2 Arena. 

For more, find Jade on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and at

Rik wrote this
Rik and Francesca listened to this

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Artiste Profile - Emily Lockett

Stoke on Trent.  Famous for Pottery, Robbie Williams, our own Francesca and now a very talented young singer song/writer Emily Lockett.

With a look and sound of Taylor Swift, her chat between songs is pure Midlands and very confident. I don’t want to harp on about her tender years, but the banter and the demeanour really belong to someone older.  Having said that, Emily has been playing since she was 5 years old, with a guitar bigger than she was, and started singing because she thought that just a guitar was boring! Song-writing started at age 12 , first studio recording at 14 so a lot of experience has been packed in already with proper performing starting only a year ago and a very determined attitude from both her and her Dad has seen her performing at better venues in her first year of performing, avoiding the noisy pubs that form the early part of many a career. 

A love of Taylor Swift, and with a desire to emulate the style of Catherine McGrath has brought Emily to Country via Country pop and a disdain for modern “three minute fifteen songs that are repeating the same chords” has had a definite effect on Emily’s writing.  In her own words “I think that a lot of people who play country and country pop have something to say”.  A mandolin has been added to “see how it sounds”.  It is featured on her new album, and I can assure her that it sounds great!

Listening to the tracks on “My Imagination” you can definitely hear Emily’s influences. But this is no tribute album, this is a real body of work on which Emily plays most of the instruments as well as singing her self-penned songs.  Some of the tracks are reworkings of her first release, but with her new maturity woven into them, the newer songs would stand against any other debut album

Strangers Again” and “Nice eyes” concentrate on Emily’s soaring voice, while “Where We Left Off” employs a powerful bass line and great guitar picking to underscore the apologetic, wistful lyrics.  In all the tracks there is a maturity that took Taylor Swift more than one album to achieve.  This album has certainly earned a place on my car stereo, and this year should hopefully see a single or two, plus music videos, as “People like to have something to look at”

You have to admire Emily’s work ethic, and just to cement her Stoke on Trent credentials she not only won Local Musician of the Year from 6 Towns Radio but it was presented by Robbie Williams’ Dad!  To test her further I did ask if she can throw a pot – she can’t - and if she can name the 6 Towns - another no!

At 17 years old (there’s that age reference again!) Emily is not quite the finished article, but I am excited for her future in music and she is someone who needs to come to the attention of Festival Organisers to book her before she starts headlining, as she is already supporting, and being approached to support, many touring artistes!

You can – and should – follow Emily on all the usual platforms and on her own website at

Rik Wrote This
All photos (c) Emily Lockett Music

Gig Review - Wolverhampton Country Songwriters Night Feb 2019

What better way of spending a Saturday evening than listening to Country Music, so off to one of the many regular country nights that can be found up and down the country (if you look for them!), in this case the Wolverhampton Country Songwriters Night, held monthly at Bantock House Museum and organised/hosted by Patricia Swindells and Jim Duncan. A small venue, long and thin, which keeps focus of the attentive crowd on the performance area at the top.  Wolverhampton attracts a range of some of the better-known names in UK country, often being augmented by newer or lesser known acts which means a good evening of music and the chance to hear someone for the first time

First on was Pembrokeshire based Josh Beddis, who commented how nice it was to “play in front of a crowd that listen to the songs rather than playing behind chicken wire” "Move from Wales" came the reply. The initial comment though, was accurate, this is certainly an audience that has come to listen to the songs being performed by the songwriters.  At first Josh played nice, subtle guitar that was more of an accompaniment to his voice rather than driving the song, playing “Always Winter” that was rather melancholy but very tuneful. Moving on to his song “Paint The Lines” in which the guitar plays more of a part, with a bluegrass feel.  The song itself is based on experiences in a road gang and singing about the hard working man is as close to that style of country as you'll hear from a Welshman singing in Wolverhampton.  The style, if not sound is reminiscent of the Johnny Cash “real life” storytelling. As with many artistes, Josh can sound a little nervy when talking but he is set free when singing. A song title “A Goodnight Kiss From Jim Beam” certainly seals anyone’s Country credentials!  Josh became more animated through the set, the songs got faster and his final song seemed to have Celtic influences, reminiscent of a good Pub singalong!

Our second performer was quite the revelation. Aged just 17 Emily Lockett impressed me so much that I grabbed her and her father outside for a chat, and more of that can be seen elsewhere in the blog.  Relatively new to performing in public, Emily certainly entertained, her stage presence as confident, her songs well written and well performed.  In her own words Emily told us that most country songs seem to be about love, and as she hasn’t been in love yet she needs to throw in some covers!  Treating us to a great version of “Still The One” the whole audience were encouraged to sing along – and they did!  Emily has the look and sound of Taylor Swift about her and has already recorded 2 EPs!

While I was outside talking to Team Lockett, Ags Connolly took to the stage. With a genuine country voice, albeit British countryside, when Ags sings country it's the real deal. His voice and his songs are reminiscent of some of the traditional Country greats – think Glen Campbell, The Eagles and that era of superstars.  Watching Ags playing the smaller gigs I wonder if he is aware of how good he is, and I am thrilled that he is becoming a regular fixture on tours and line ups, especially alongside touring American artistes.  Ags sound is that f the original cowboys, but with his lyrics he can write an upbeat song with downbeat lyrics (“I Hope You’re Unhappy”) blending fun with serious, and he is first in line to gently mock himself with his stories!

Three artistes, three different styles – all in all a great line up for a music night that deserves more support and is playing its part in promoting UK Country music
For future sates and line ups, follow the team at 

Rik Holmes

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Artiste and Gig Review - Gasoline & Matches

The very popular Nashville Sounds In The Round is hosted by the BCMA award winning Gasoline & Matches who perform in seat 1 as the very familiar duo of Sally Rea Morris and Steven Marks.

Sally makes a great host for this event, interacting with all the visiting artistes and really keeping the evening moving with her teasing banter.

First song of the night was about an ex-boyfriend of Sally’s – and she denied my suggestion that ALL her songs are about exes with a smile!  Not Into Country” is by now a familiar song and you felt that Sally and Steven were having fun performing it, adding harmonies and guitar parts

Talk of Steven's busy and jet set life (He was leaving for China the next day) leads into an almost ironic "If You Wanna Stay" incorporating a wonderful guitar solo, almost a lesson in playing from Steve

These evenings are an ideal opportunity to try out new music and see the audience reaction, as well as giving the audience an insight into the song writing process.  A quote about men being “Patient Wolves” gave Steven the title for a new song, and for this one the pair flipped the usual lead and harmonies, and as ever their voices blended effortlessly as do their guitars.

Throughout the evening, while Sally provides the banter, Steven plays along with the guest artistes, providing solos, counterpoints and accompaniment which really demonstrates his skills with a guitar

Reminiscing about an early trip to America and being introduced to Tequila for the first time by a supportive friend who is no longer with us was the obvious introduction to Gasoline & Matches’ most recent single release “Tequila’s a Healer”. A beautiful, emotive song about loss, we reviewed it on release here

Following more talk about drinking, it was clearly time for the ever-popular drinking game song “Never Have I Ever”. I’ve seen people look scared at this song and have to measure what is left in their glass before it starts!  It has spawned a flyer and a t-shirt, so we can only hope that it will be featured on the upcoming album

Following the flip of the order after the interval it fell to Gasoline and Matches to do the Thank-Yous, announce the next line up and then sing the final song of the night.  Possibly based on real experiences, and almost certain to be on the album, the evening finished with a spirited rendition of “Smiling Viper”

Gasoline & Matches have created a fabulous night for Birmingham music fans, and manage to mix hosting with a great performance every time, Catch them here every few months, on the festival circuit and at

Friday, February 22, 2019

Artiste and Gig Review - Simon James

Seat 4 at this Nashville Sounds In The Round was occupied by Simon James.  It felt unusual to see Simon solo – not with his own band The Deep River Pilots, or supporting anyone else, as that is very much Simon’s style – jumping in to help and support fellow artistes.

How do you describe Simon and his music?  I put this question to the other half of Silverball Country - Francesca- who is quite a fan and has seen Simon more times than I have.  Her initial, simple response was to send me a picture of the album “Ordinary Man” – and that really does sum Simon James up – although musically and lyrically he is far from ordinary

Seat 4 is never the easiest seat, having to follow some great artistes, but Simon was unfazed – although certainly complimentary about the quality of his on-stage colleagues

Quietly impressive, Simon has no need to rely on anything other than his voice and his guitar to make his point.  He could successfully sing any genre but his ability to relate to the ordinary man and his affection for denim puts him into the wider country genre, although his songs are reflect and resonate with a time and generation gone by, evoking the spirit of “yes, times are hard but we carry on (and write a song about it!)”. 

Simon is a true example of what can perhaps be described as British Folk Country.  His songs are true, his songs are relatable, his lyrics are real and his voice is calm, measured and delightful to listen to – reflecting his personality.
Simon told a typically honest story of a near midlife crisis about his music leading to a realisation of a love for performing to appreciative audiences, introducing us to “Something Worth Fighting For”, A gorgeous, honest, heartfelt song, punctuated by an audible "wow" from the crowd as he finished

Age was a recurring theme throughout the night, and Simon talking about growing older, people dying, getting divorced or becoming alcoholic created a pseudo down mood that raised many laughs. He followed this with "Flower in the Rain" which he wrote for a friend going through a tough time. This was
obviously emotional for Simon to perform, and he gave what seemed to be a nervous smile at the end.

There was no story to introduce “Last Goodbye” as it stands on its own – and he had already been barracked for his stories – but like his lyrics they were honest and personal.  The song is normally played with a full band, so Steven Marks again stepped in, this time replacing the fiddle for the middle eight

Simon has just signed that elusive record deal – typically this wasn’t a boast, just a valid reason for there being no music for sale on the merch table!  The new album will feature the song “Happy Ever After”, previewed for the audience.

His next song normally features Sam Coe on vocals, but as Sam was in the audience and not on stage, Kezia Gill joined Simon for “Oh Honey”, and got a big thumbs up from the watching Sam.

Simon rounded off his set with “Ready To Fly” which was particularly appreciated by what appeared to be the Simon James fan cub in the side seating area!

Simon James is no ordinary man, he is a delightful man, a talented man and a man who, despite his age (he is really not that old!) has a promising and exciting future.

Find Simon James online, on stage, with his band, with other bands and with anyone who needs his help – which he gives willingly

Artiste and Gig Review - Kezia Gill

Hailing from Mid England rather than the Mid West, Kezia Gill has a voice that was made to sing, and made to sing Country, with that gorgeous and effortless vibrato or “Country Warble”

I first saw Kezia at the BCMA awards on a big stage in a vast auditorium, so seeing her performing in the very intimate Kitchen Garden was a real treat for me.  The setting also allows you t see the look of concentration on the faces of all the performers while they sing – and the genuine smile of appreciation for the applause at the end

Kezia’s first song was a title before it was a song – and was essentially a song about writing a song “Love Song

Second song “The Road” was introduced with a story of how hard Kezia had been working – as many people do, while wondering whether you should in fact give up, before an email from Buckle and Boots followed by a performance at the festival catapulted her career – something else we should thank the Hancock family for! The song has a powerful “woah woah” chorus (how DO you spell that?) that all the other artistes couldn't help but join in with!

With the banter theme of the evening being age, Kezia’s new single “Thirties” was incredibly apt.  It’s a lament – almost a moan – about turning thirty and leaving her twenties.  This song particularly highlights that Kezia is very much a storyteller in the time-honoured Country style

As the night went on, Kezia’s contribution just got better and better.  Telling us how her Dad was her inspiration to sing, she related how he was a singer in the local clubs, as the song itself says “a working class hero, a local singing star” the song is brilliantly titled “Local Man Star  I’ve been promised an advance copy of this – in fact I begged for it because I have never heard a song that I am so desperate to write a review of (I’m holding you to that Kezia!)

The song is so evocative, in the style of an older Northern Folk Song, that when you listen to it you can see him, on stage at the local club, slash curtain backdrop raffle halfway through and a mirror ball for atmosphere as though you are watching a grainy cine film or old VHS recording. It is no lie to tell you that audience members were tearing up, and my neighbour felt compelled at that moment to text her own dad!

Sticking with the theme of inspirations and influences we heard the story of buying cassette tapes at the market and Kezia’s dad buying her a tape featuring Patsy Cline singing “Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray” which a six year old Kezia learned to sing, despite it not being exactly suitable for her age.  When Kezia sang Patsy Cline, she sounded more Like Patsy than Patsy does.  A stunning vocal which knocked the room sideways

Johnny Cash was also an influence, as he is all about rebelling – and Kezia’s tattooed arms are a testament perhaps to her own form of rebellion.  Possibly the only thing better about writing a tribute song to Johnny Cash called, appropriately “Mr Cash” is to perform it at the Cash Bash, backed by his original drummer – and it is a very fitting tribute to the Man In Black

Even if you just base your opinion on last night’s performance, it is easy to see why Kezia Gill won the People’s Choice award at the BCMA Awards 2018 for “Best Solo”, and her next single will not only be eagerly anticipated but is probably already in the running for single of the year!

Catch Kezia in all the usual places and at

Artiste and Gig Review - Katy Hurt

Appearing on the line up for the February Nashville Sounds In The Round was Katy Hurt.  Likened by fellow guest Kezia Gill to “A Young Dolly Parton”, the comparison is pretty accurate.

Don’t for a moment be fooled by Katy’s youthful looks or her shy, quiet voice.  When Katy sings her voice absolutely soars and is rightfully full of confidence.  The hint of an American accent when she sings not only complements her Country songs, but also suggests her varied geographical roots!

Katy opened her contribution to the night with a song that seems to have no title, has been named three times but she calls it “Because I Do
Written when she was only 16, the song may be a young girl’s lament but it is written and sung with real maturity, the emotion highlighted by alternating real power and spellbinding softness

Apparently Katy and her co-writer have renamed songwriters as “Word Nerds” as she told us the story of “Abyssinia Lane” contributing an idea for a song, cemented by an incident with a guy at a party. Who knew a song about turning down a guy could be so up-tempo, pacey and fun! “See Ya Later” was all of these!

Songwriter’s rounds really bring out the stories – Katy is a poor sleeper (confirmed by Mum in the front row!), and an early wake up from a confusing dream led to a 4am song writing session inspired by a shaft of light through her window. “Light” is reminiscent to my ears of “Banks of the Ohio” both in style and the quality of Katy’s voice – and yes, that’s another reference to a young Dolly Parton!  On the night Katy forgot some of the words, but it didn’t detract from the performance at all, as her confidence (and Steve Marks stepping in with a guitar solo) kept made for a wonderful, if not word-perfect rendition.

There was a running joke all night about age, and with Katy you have to remind yourself that she is only 21 – her song writing, her performance and her ability to deal with good natured banter from the audience really belie her youth
"Sleeping Next to You" picked up the energy again – the song is a real “toe tapper and hand clapper” which was perfect for the middle of the second half of the show.

A fan of the relatively modern “Bro Country” Katy feels that although there are many, many songs about guys in bars, there are almost none about girls in bars, and so "Drink" was an obvious solution to this!

The final song from Katy was the title track of her new ep.  Loving the storytelling aspect of Country music, and using song writing as a way of expressing her feelings, Katy dedicates “Unfinished Business” to the music lovers who turn up, listen and appreciate songs.

With around 100 gigs booked already for this year, Katy Hurt is easy to find playing live – and worth finding!

Katy can be found on Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, iTunes, every stage in every town and at

We'll Build Our Own Nashville

There was an article recently about Ariana Grande being the most streamed artiste in the UK. 

“Most streamed”

When I was growing up and discovering music it was all abut cassettes, vinyl and the Top 40 on the radio.  The world has changed so much in the intervening years, but one constant is live music.  

To develop true performers, real musicians. We need to have live gigs – and we need to attend them!

If you haven’t been to a small gig recently – what’s stopping you?
There is a regular “small gig” in the Birmingham Country music scene.  I say “small” but it is growing every time, with the latest evening being more than a sell out (don’t tell Health and Safety!)

“Nashville Sounds in The Round” is more than just a Songwriter’s round, it is a chance for Birmingham music fans to see acts they may not otherwise get a chance t see, and to show those artistes that there is a thriving country scene in the Midlands – and we welcome visitors!  A collaboration between music site Your Life In A Song and local band Gasoline and Matches the even has been going now for over a year already and has attracted a stellar array of country artistes from all over the UK – and even from Nashville

Not only the chance to see “new” artistes, but to hear them in a different setting – up close and personal, stripped right back, when you maybe have only seen them rocking out a stage at a festival or at a big venue.  Taking it in turns to sing their songs ad tell their stories you can see from their faces how much this means to the talented singer/songwriters

February saw Gasoline & Matches play host to Simon James who I have met a few times before, Kezia Gill who I met and heard for the first time at the recent BCMA awards and new to me Katy Hurt from London via large parts of the USA
All of the line up have slightly differing styles which complemented well, and the reactions between them all, the spontaneous collaborations and the teasing is a joy to witness!

I personally always leave these events enriched by the music and stories I have heard, and poorer from my visits to the Merch table!

Words alone can’t do justice to these musicians and their craft (but I’ll give it a go) – so check your local listings, head out and catch some great, live music

Monday, February 18, 2019

Artiste Profile – Gasoline & Matches

Sally and Steve are not just one of UK country's power couples, but they are the cornerstone of one of the most exciting "new" bands on the scene. They aren't actually new, having been performing together since 2015 but they are making a very noticeable impression at festivals, invitation gigs and by hosting their own songwriters night on their hometown of Birmingham.

Both Sally and Steve are full time professional musicians, splitting their time between gigging on the local live circuit, promoting at trade shows and writing kick ass country songs.
Despite what TV talent shows may make people think, working out on the pub/club/event circuit is really the only way to really learn and polish your craft

For both of these two, music is not a hobby, it's a living and a way of life

Sally sings lead and plays acoustic guitar, and as a natural performer an entertainer she is very much the front of the band
Steve's style with his more measured vocals really complements Sally, and their voices blend to perfection. 

As well as a fabulous voice, Steve's skills with a guitar are simply second to none, able to persuade 6 steel strings to produce notes, riffs and sounds that you wouldn't think possible.

Taking a solo or duo to full band can often totally change the sound and style but with Gasoline and Matches the addition of bass, keys and drums emphasises but doesn't alter the rocky, country vibe, giving a fuller, almost louder sound, totally filling a large stage, hall or festival.

The original songs from Sally and Steve are honest country, telling a story, relating emotions that everyone can relate to - very much "three chords and the truth"

What's next for Gasoline & Matches? Having released their debut ep in 2018, scoring a UK country number 1 in the process, their thoughts are on a full album after the festival season as well as more and more live performances and representing the ever-growing UK Country Music scene

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday Showcase - A night out in Clubland

Saturday afternoons were made for professional sport, a polished, slick, well attended spectacle. Saturday evenings, and indeed the whole weekend is for live music, watching or gigging depending which side of the microphone you are, and not always such a polished, slick, well attended spectacle.

Live music can be anything from a stadium tour to the back room of a pub, and without the latter we wouldn't have the former.

A phenomenon sadly rare in the south but still very much in existence north of Watford is the true social club. 50p gets you in, an additional £2 allows you on to the ballroom for the Sunday showcase. 

Here is what that £2.50 offered.

Opening act was a flat capped acoustic singer, adding a rather mid Atlantic accent to his rock covers, nice enough and not bad for the cover charge.  In honesty, there’s not much more to say about the opener.

Young Elvis then took to the stage in a wonderful gold lame’ jacket singing along to a backing track with a passable accent and fake strumming his guitar, regardless of the instrument on the track at the time.  A quick change to a jumpsuit took the compere a bit by surprise and the next tracks were accompanied by rather more pelvic action.

Act three. Sixties covers. The absolute backbone of the club scene. These covers bands tend to look the same, sound the same and sing the same songs where ever you go, but they always tend to be crowd pleasers, performing all the well-known standards

Being a social club there has to be a break for bingo, or in this case "open the box", before the final two "turns" take to the stage

So, number four on tonight’s bill.  Up and down the country, blonde girls are singing to backing tracks, with no musical instruments anywhere near the stage. The sound system is expensive, the purchased, recorded backing vocals are polished, the actual performance is perhaps not quite to the same level, certainly not as good as the singer might believe.

The club circuit is heavily populated by cover artistes, you give the audience what they know and what they like.  The club scene though is also where new artistes cut their teeth, it is an important rite of passage if you want to make it in the industry.

The fifth and final act of the night was a UK Country singer/songwriter.

To perform original music to a club crowd will never be easy, but easy doesn't make for a career and if you can win over the Sunday night crowd of regulars, you can win over anyone.  They may not dance. They won't sing along, but when the room goes as quiet as a club room ever will, then you know they are listening. They are also judging, but they are listening. Drop in a well known ballad and see if they sing along. 

They did.

The ballroom has a stage, an old mirror ball  and a pork pie buffet in the toilet/dressing room/green room, the raffle is more keenly followed than any singer will ever be, but these clubs have produced and polished generations of performers, and if the gods of live music are kind they will carry in doing so for a long time to come