Friday, May 31, 2019

Festival Review - Buckle and Boots - Our reflections

What’s so great about a festival anyway?

As we enter festival season, I’m sure there are plenty of people asking that question, people who have never been to one.  Let’s see if we can answer the question.  A festival has lots of artistes performing.  Yeah, that sounds like a very simplistic answer, but it does go straight to the heart of what is so good!  You know when you got to a regular concert, get there early and catch the support act – maybe someone you’ve never seen before but they knock your socks off?  That’s what happens at a festival, but multiplied by…lots!  Multiple stages means a real choice of who you see and when, maybe new bands, maybe a band you haven’t seen play with a full line up, maybe a slightly different type of music.  And then there are the headliners, rocking the stages, and the parties, and, and, and…

What’s so great about Buckle and Boots anyway?

Now, not being a big festival goer, I can only go by what I have found at this one event…although this year was my third year attending.  2017 I popped down for a day, 2018 I came with Francesca as bar crew but ended up supporting a stage, 2019 Silverball Country were invited to manage a stage as well as providing support elsewhere (did you see Francesca popping up pretty much everywhere?)

If you’ve not been to Buckle and Boots yet, it is held on a farm in the middle of a Country Park just outside Stockport. Essentially this means it is being held at a family home (although the family includes Blackthorn cattle), and as it is entirely organised and run by the Hancock family along with Gary Quinn, it has a real family vibe to it.  This feeling spills over to the bar, the camping, the afterparties and importantly to the artistes who attend and play.  Whether it is an 18 year old performing at their first big gig, or  Canadian superstar Brett Kissel who is headlining Sunday night, you will find the performers wandering around, doing shots at the bar (Cheers Lewis Brice!), posing for selfies and watching the other acts on the other stages.

 Throw in really friendly traders and fun food stalls and we have the fixings for a top weekend

What about the actual music?  Spread over two stages, the music starts on Friday evening on the main/Barn stage, with the Paddock stage joining the fun on Saturday morning.  Don’t be misled by the paddock stage, while it gets a big proportion of new artistes it also plays host to rocking party bands (I’m looking at you Gasoline & Matches) as well as two amazing songwriters rounds which feature the main stage headliners stripped right back to acoustic and the awesome Sunday service which is a great way of recharging your batteries after a heavy Saturday!

It would be almost impossible to sum up the whole festival in one post, so here are some personal highlights…

Jumping into the taxi with the very humble Lewis Brice to help settle him in, and then seeing him at the bar, on stage doing an incredible first night headline set, introducing him on stage and grabbing quite a few selfies
Being able to be the compere for a band who have become close personal friends – that’s a really special moment and a privilege

Sharing the excitement when Alan Finlan finished his set.  Alan is relatively new to the scene but has a big future.  He was around site all weekend and is a great guy – he is also a great singer. He was clearly buzzing when he finished his set, where he had blown the roof off the paddock stage, and to be able to congratulate him and get a sweaty hug was very cool!

The whole weekend catching up with old friends and making new ones – seeing the wonderful family that is the Jessica Lynn Band again was a blessing

Running between stages, in time to catch Kezia Gill perform a very emotional “Local Man’s Star” – yes, those were tears in my eyes!
I could go on – but each of these things is a reason to attend Buckle and Boots, or any Country festival.  Maybe its best to ask Francesca to sum up with her experiences

Buckle & Boots is a great festival for any music lover to attend, how can I say this? That's easy, read any review or talk to the bar staff - for many of the volunteers this isn't their chosen genre of music but the great performances they hear over the weekend and the atmosphere has slowly started to change their opinions.  

I experience the festival from a very different angle than most;  I actually get to play a small part in helping make sure everything runs smoothly to ensure you have the best time possible (yes, somebody has to ensure that the bins placed around the site so you can dispose of your rubbish as well as serving drinks);  I have gotten to know the Hancock family and I receive a great deal of respect from both attendees and the performers but probably best of all I am always granted an unobstructed view of the main stage - yes I'm the one normally hanging off the gate or sitting on the edge of the bar. 

As festivals go, Buckle and Boots is definitely family friendly - you are more than welcome to bring along your children and your pets but it goes far beyond that. Paying attendees are willing to lend a hand, old friends become reacquainted and new friends are quickly made. I personally couldn't make it through the weekend without Man BBQ and I'm thankfully that my colleagues support me in jumping on and off the bar to catch acts, carry out interviews and take photographs for Silverball Country.  

This year I have to give special thanks to Wayne Hadlow who helped move a 22 keg of dark fruits with a little bit of persuasion and to Alan Finlan who came to my rescue on the Rev's Revenge.  Alan might be an experienced bartender but he was there to perform, he's a lovely friendly guy and I'm totally gutted I missed his set but hope to see him perform at another festival soon. Big shout out for the scouts and sorry for scaring you with my sprint finish line manoeuvre on the mobility scooter, but come on folks what other festival has the resource for someone else to pitch your tent unless you are glamping!

In terms of music, my friends Gasoline and Matches gave an amazing performance; Backwoods Creek were on fire and the International Round had me in stitches. I never expected to hear Shania Twain but thank you to Brett Kissel's band and I'm a little in love as Lewis Brice gives the best hugs ever. 

The lack of sleep was totally worth it and I look forward to seeing you all next year x 

What more can we say?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Artiste Profile - Francesca and Rik had a chat with American Young

Jon and Kristy come at music from to different angles but it is clear that they both have a passion for music and enjoy what they do. Kristy Osmunson was the founder and fiddle player for (the now defunct) Bomshel, while Jon Stone has had success as both a solo artist and a Nashville songwriter/producer who's engineered hits for such names as Lee Brice and Rascal Flatts.

They each write their own music and work through hundreds of songs to find that one that people want to listen to again and again.  Despite previous hits, both strongly agree that there isn't a winning formula for why they work together or what makes a hit.

In fact, when asked Kristy said “Out of 100 songs probably 20 make it.  A song has to make people want to listen to it again and again” and Jon added “There’s a lot of songs, everyone is different for different reasons. You can hear a song that’s so heavy, oh my god its so emotional but I don’t wanna hear it again”.

The fiddle sets Kristy apart from the rest of the artistes that we usually meet who reach for their guitars, she is a professionally trained violinist, however she blends it perfectly into their music and that around her as heard during In the Round at the Buckle and Boots festival. 

Their style works together, we hear great harmonies and see coordination both on and off the stage. Jon comes across as the more serious one whilst Kristy hosts a persistent smile and is animated in her conversations, there is no contradiction and they listen as the other talks.  This isn't a duo with a romantic connection, but one based on the love of music.  When asked why they work, Kristy replied with “we are opposites, he makes me laugh a lot.” So, does it take opposites to make a song writing duo?  Sorry guys, Jon says “There’s no formula, no template.”

Kristy as a new mum would love for her son to go into the business but as Jon points out it can be brutal, there are better singers that just don't make it. However, they are not likely to stop anytime soon as Kristy explained – “We play music because we entertain each other on stage, we put on shows that we would want to see.” 

Whilst they are humbled to hear the crowd sing along John describes it as “so weird, I’ve never made music for anyone else but myself”.

Having already achieved international success this is a winning duo and we can all look forward to new music, more tours and the increased presence of their logo be that with their apparel or following in the duo’s style a tattoo of the logo.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gig Review - Nashville Sounds In The Round May 2019 - Kitchen Garden Cafe

Whilst chatting at the end of tonight’s Nashville Sounds in The Round, one of the artistes – Kevin – asked me if I enjoy shows in this format

I had no hesitation in telling him that yes, I really do!  The format itself is great, but more than that, in a setting like this one we get an almost unique opportunity to see artistes who are new to us, artistes who perhaps we normally only see with a full band, or at a festival.  We see them close up, we get to know them through their songs and their music, and also through the stories that they tell us – whether about the song they are about to perform, or their personal musical journey – or just really cool stories from life! There is also the chance to meet after the show in an informal setting, browse the merchandise and just have a chat

The real beauty of the songwriter’s round format is that it is totally stripped back. No matter how big you are, if you've played Nashville, headlined a festival, co-written with stars or normally tour with a big band, this is honest. Just a singer and guitar, it is the truth of three chords and the truth

Kevin told me that he too loves the format – because in the same way as the audience, he gets to know other artistes, something that you can’t always do when you eat sleep and breathe music – you are just too busy to listen to others and meet others.  Performers can really listen to their peers, bounce off them in their song choices and play alongside people they haven’t met before, or maybe have always admired…

The line up for this, the seventh Nashville Sounds In The Round, was certainly no different in this respect.  Although missing regular co-host Steve, the evening was perfectly handled by the other half of award-winning duo Gasoline and Matches Sally Rea Morris, although she did tell us she was missing her partner when it came to choosing what songs to perform. Sally was joined by three invited acts. 

Sitting on Sally’s left was Glasgow’s Kevin McGuire.  He and Sally only met for the first time just before the show although he had visited Birmingham before.  Although Kevin talks with a distinctive (and genuine) Glasgow accent, when he sings you can barely detect his roots as the burr blends into his country sounding voice. At times - with his song “Killing Time” his soft guitar playing really serves to accentuate his voice.  Sitting next to the absolute Queen of stories, Kevin lamented his lack of tales, and revealed that all his songs are just written in his bedroom!

Also sounding rather different when they sing were Jack and Rob from Holloway Road.  The transformation is quite staggering – between songs both lads are full of cheeky Essex banter but when they start to sing it is more Route66 than A127 (we checked, that’s the road to Southend!).  Many of their songs open very softly, as fits an acoustic round, with the two voices and two guitars combining perfectly.  Having only seen these two before with their full band at Nashville Meets London it was great to have the chance to see them perform some of their less well-known songs alongside some of their bigger hits

Sitting in the middle was Danni Nicholls.  Hailing originally from Bedford you can tell from her singing and song writing style that she is no stranger to the US.  This was my first opportunity to meet and hear Danni, I was mesmerised not only by her voice, but also her guitar playing.  For her first song – after telling us about her journey to being a full time musician – Danni performed “Long Road Home” (unusually she plays standing up) and her guitar sounds almost like a full backing band with the way she plays, providing rhythm, backing and the beat.  In other songs – “Beautifully Broken” - Danni plays in an almost classical Spanish style backing up her powerful, plaintive voice, a voice that really draws you in. When singing “Back To Memphis” that same voice transports you to a dive bar, at the end of the night, when you just can’t leave until the singer finishes….

Songwriter rounds then are a great way of meeting and finding out about artistes.  Tonight we learned that Sally has a story for every song, that Kevin envies both the stories and the country sounding name that he lacks.  Holloway Road have collaborated with the Brummies as well as the writer of “Bob The Builder” and Danni Nicholls released an album that became known as her “break up” album.  We learned not to cheat on a songwriter (Sally), that Essex girlfriends are called “Julie” (Holloway Road), that Kevin only sings one of his first songs, and that Dani has written a love song to herself, because, as she says, “the greatest love is you”

Songs, stories, stripped back sounds.
Songwriters rounds are special, and Nashville Sounds in the Round continues to be extra special.

The next Nashville Sounds in the Round will be at the Kitchen Garden CafĂ© on 28 August.  The line up is superb (again) and tickets will sell fast

Monday, May 20, 2019

Single Review - Gonna Be You - American Young

It’s the love story we all want to live

American Young have firmly established themselves as favourites on the UK Country festival scene, not only do they draw big crowds for their sets, but you also see their distinctive caps at almost every concert in town!

We were sent their new single ahead of their headline appearance at this week’s Buckle and Boots Festival, and we’ve managed to keep from listening to it until now!  So, as part of our own personal build up to the festival, we are listening to “Gonna Be You

The new single is a true country song in chapters, a repeated message with small changes - It’s the love story we all want to live. Boy meets girl, girl leaves town, but they both knew all along its Gonna Be You

The song has a soft opening with Kristy, the vocals then taken over by Jon with gentle instrumentation behind the vocals., building as we head into the chorus. Jon and Kristy then swap and combine vocals in the style used by Lady Antebellum, punctuating and emphasising the emotion with the rising beat and power of the instruments

Telling the story of young love that doesn’t quite work, but no matter the distance this pair are thinking about each other, missing each other and realising that they can’t love anyone else, that they have to be together one day, and forever. The song really carries us along with them, the rhythm, the drums forming the heartbeat of the story and of their relationship.

I think ‘Gonna Be You’ is a promise,” Jon says, “almost like, ‘I’m out here chasing my meaning in life, and there’s no one I’m ready to be with; but when I am, it’s gonna be you.’”

For Kristy the song serves as a compass. “Life takes us down so many winding roads in pursuit of our dreams,” she observes. “The farther away from home we get, the closer to home we are. Home is where my love is.”

Of the two love stories I have heard and reviewed this week, this one is my favourite.

If you are heading to any festivals this year, and are choosing which bands to see, surely it is Gonna Be American Young. Rik may find himself buying a new cap too…

Gonna Be You is the new single from American Young . Kristy and Jon will be headlining the main stage at Buckle and Boots on Saturday night (25 May) from 10:30pm and will return to the UK for Millport Festival on Sunday 1 September

Friday, May 17, 2019

Single Review - What If I Never Get Over You - Lady Antebellum

Two long years of missing them, yearning for them, and wanting them back…wishing you could at least hear their voice….

I’m not describing a relationship with a partner, I mean Lady Antebellum.  We parted on such good terms back in 2017 with the album and the You Look Good tour.  Ahh, sweet music, sweet memories – I even held Charles’ hand in a tender moment at Birmingham (he needed help standing on a chair, but we DEFINITELY connected at a spiritual level). 

From that first moment of “Need You Know” I was reeled in, you had me at “Hello” (well, you had me at a certain line in that song) and from then on I was committed, I thought we would last.  So much happened then, we Owned the Night, I thought we were Golden.  But then, Heartbreak, you moved on.  New Label, new venue, new everything, but no new music.

Until now.  I was worried, What If I Never Got Over You? You’ve come back, and I thought everything would be excitement again, something new…but really…its the same Lady Antebellum. 

Ok, lets get serious.  The new single has finally dropped and from the very first listen it is very definitely Lady Antebellum, same sound we love, some combination of voices, same style of swapping verses.

Francesca has a less emotional take, she says

“It is a very heartfelt, catchy, guitar driven ballad everyone should be able to listen to and apply their own story”

and she is absolutely right. 

The more I listen, the more I like it, maybe I was hoping for something more breath taking after two years – But the movin' on is the hardest part

They are back, they are still fantastic, they are still Lady Antebellum and we will all still love them, their music, their emotive lyrics that sound like our own life stories written across the page.

What if this lasts forever and ever and ever? 
I think it will.

Lady Antebellum’s new single, their debut with Big Machine Records 
What If I Never Get Over You” is released today and available on all the regular platforms

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Gig Review - Chris Young at Eventim Apollo Hammersmith

Francesca caught the final night of the Losing Sleep tour at the Eventim Apollo in London last week.

Canadian born Lindsay Ell opened the show, bringing the glitz and glamour - check out the trousers, although I feel a belt would have been beneficial.


Usually seen performing solo, Lindsay brought a band with her: Luks on bass; Dave on guitar and Steve on drums (yes that’s Chris Young’s bass player) giving her an extra boost of energy. Her energetic and passionate performance allowed her to move across the stage, with several hair flicks and getting down on her knees to rock out her guitar.
The band was dismissed so that she could so that she could perform new track Not Another Me, a song she wrote for a friend who had been dumped she explained, and it highlighted her gritty vocals.
The rest of the set included: Wildfire; Mint/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough; Waiting On You; Good; Not Another Me; Castle; Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Stevie Wonder cover); Space; and ended with her biggest hit to date - Criminal.
A couple of times she checked that the crowd was ready for Chris Young, she was a great opening act bringing the enthusiasm,

Chris opened the night with Hangin On, promising the audience that he was taking the show right up to the curfew, playing longer than any other night. His set list which apparently went off script included songs from across his career including Gettin’ You Home, Raised On Country, Hold My Beer, requests from the audience and covers from Prince and Garth Brooks.
The audience was engaged from the first moment he stepped on stage, Chris frequently had to wait for the screaming to die down, in fact after the 4th song he joked that the audience should "calm down".
His parents were in the audience and he dedicated a cover of Doug Stone’s “I Thought It Was You” to his mum for Mother’s Day.
Whilst Chris is described as having a silky yet husky voice, I personally struggle with the thickness of his accent when he gives some of his explanations/introductions, something he jokes about.

Chris called Lindsay Ell back onto the stage for so that the audience could thank her and in return she asked the audience to give Chris Young a round of applause too.

Chris is now touring the US with his Raised On Country tour, so it appears he really is losing sleep!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Album Review - Missing Person - Michael McMillan

I met Michael too briefly at the BCMA awards show, but I have a strong feeling that I’d like him – and that’s a feeling I get just from listening to his new album Missing Person.  Working through the tracks you realise very quickly that Michael doesn’t use any gimmicks, there’s nothing “clever”, just genuine, honest traditional song-writing and storytelling from a Man who has clearly seen a lot through his life.  The album is full of memories and lessons, all delivered in a gentle and friendly way, like advice from a generous man.

The opening track, Coming Home, really sets the tone from what is to come. Starting with a soft acoustic and Michaels soft voice we hear the story of a man coming home, home to a better time and a better place.  There is a genuine warmth to the song, the delivery, and the words of the storyteller – no bitterness from the war.  There is a change of pace and style to describe the war, but it is brief and almost unimportant – family and coming home are what matter.  The pace picks up at the end – you can see our soldier quicken his step as he sees his street, sees his front gate…  Will this be the second single from the album?  I’d hope so.

Many of the same adjectives can be used for the rest of the album. There is a definite nostalgia in the song writing, and you can be sure that the words are coming from the heart.  The Only Word is a song looking back at life and love; So Many Thorns is very self-reflective, touching on Michael’s personal faith. Tell Me, a song about love and relationships, A Better Place a song about loss and We Don’t Listen, a song about learning from mistakes can all only be written by a songwriter who has seen maybe too much of what the world has to offer. 

There is a change in pace when we reach Tick The Box – and it is clear that this was always going to be the first single off the album.  A step up in tempo it is a very well written observation on modern society and the upsurge in TV talent shows and instant gratification.  Michael still manages to put this across in a warm way – giving his opinion without preaching (too much!)

A great album, that when you listen to it you feel that Michael is talking directly to you – and I feel it would even be the same hearing it live.

This is an album that you should listen to by a fireside with your dog as your companion – or better yet, with Michael, telling you his tales…

Michael McMillan's new album Missing Person is available from 10 May on all usual platforms.

Michael can be found on Facebook, on his website, and at the table beside the fireplace, with a pint, a dog and a story...

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Single Review - Moving On - The Rising

The opening guitar riff on Moving On – the new single from The Rising – grabs you from the first second, and the whole song doesn’t let you go!

I’ve listened to many songs recently about broken relationships – it’s a Country standard – but few are quite as upbeat and poppy as this one.  The vocal, which is reminiscent of the pop country style of Kelsea Ballerini, takes us through the story at some pace, helped along by the drum beat and some more wonderful guitar work.  Overall, the effect is that you can stay, or you can go, but you need to choose quickly because this lady isn’t hanging around while you decide.  When the music and playing of a song really match the lyrics and emotion you get double the effect – and that is certainly true of this song.

Checking The Rising’s bio they don’t like to label themselves as any one genre, and you can detect a variety of influences in this single which combine to give a high energy, catchy song which would be at home on a festival stage or even – dare I suggest it – an Europe wide song competition, it has that “turn it up and play it again” vibe to it, with a slice of country, a dose of pop and a dollop of rock in it.  I’ve had the single on repeat while writing this review, and I am not even close to being tired of listening to  it.

Moving On is taken from the album of the same name, and I look forward to hearing what else the band have for us – until then, I’m hitting play again…

The single Moving On is released on 17 May on all usual platforms.  Find the Rising on Facebook, on their website and on BBC Introducing in Coventry and Warwickshire as Band of the Month

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

EP Review - Boys Cry Too - Danny McMahon

The new EP from Danny McMahon is a step along his road of maturing as a performer, a writer and a producer.  The first track, Everything, is the story of a love affair that has ended.  Danny cleverly mixes an almost ethereal sound when reminiscing with a harder sound when he talks about the end of the affair, with looping/repetition to add to the emotion.  The opening is quite electronic, very produced – rather unusual when we are used to Danny with his guitar, but as the song and the story kick in, so does that very distinctive vocal style isolated over the backing.

Boys Cry Too is an overall slower song, a deeper emotion with a strong message in the title and throughout the track. A slightly more traditional arrangement, still highlighting Danny’s voice again with great production

When I See You is a familiar track – we recently reviewed the stunning video for a song that was released as a single. Listening to the song in isolation doesn’t detract from it at all- very well written and very well performed.

Pushing My Hands Down rounds off the EP and for me is the best showcase for Danny’s voice and vocal style of all the tracks. A lift in tempo for this one, not quite rocking out but certainly more pace, with a driving drum beat and a great guitar solo to end the song.  This is definitely a track I want to hear from Danny on stage with a full band at this year’s festivals, giving the sound systems a good workout!

As we have come to expect from Danny McMahon, an EP combining emotions, great vocals, clever writing and superb production at Puzzle Maker studios – his second year as a country artist is full of promise for many years to come

Boys Cry Too, the new EP from Danny McMahon is released on 24 May, available for pre-order from 10 May on all usual platforms. 

You can see Danny onstage at Buckle and Boots and at Millport Country Music Festival, as well as other gigs and on Facebook, Youtube and anywhere he can plug in his guitar

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Gig Review - LANCO @ O2 Institute Birmingham supported by Bailey Bryan

Coming from the state of Washington Bailey is at home in a beanie hat and oversized camo shirt, however when she sings its definitely country, three chords and the truth.

Bailey has a unique sound, influenced by rap and R&B, which really suited her cover of Drake’s Too Good – convincing a sceptical country audience that it “wasn’t too bad” and at least one audience member declared Bailey sang it better. This to and fro with the crowd continued throughout the set – Bailey has a charming, honest and humble personality – although she can hide behind her on stage alter ego – just like Beyonce – and she assures us that it is not her that is crazy, it’s her other self.

Bailey’s songs reflect her faith, and her upbringing particularly evident in Songbird which she describes as bringing her out of a dark period with writer’s block.  Still containing those hints of R&B the song is very much a country song, but in her own style.

Bailey was surprised and thrilled that on only her second time playing in the UK some of the crowd knew her material and sang along. Bailey – as with many US artistes – was grateful for the reaction to her music which allows her to be able to do what she loves to do

LANCO burst onto the stage opening their set with Hallelujah Nights, and the energy levels didn’t drop for the whole show! Hailing from the southern states of the US, this band of college friends clearly love to perform, and the crowd loved to hear them. Despite this being only their second visit to the UK, and having only released one album, the crowd were clearly familiar with every song they sang and were ready to rock along with them, although nobody could match lead guitarist Eric Steedly for energy, enthusiasm and frankly great hair.

Working their way through the album, the inclusion of new song Rival heralded a change in the music, as stories of how the band formed and their favourite types of music outside of the Country genre was followed by a very enthusiastically greeted Mr Brightside – a track which really suited LANCO’s style. 
After this, the evening took quite an unusual turn with lead singer Brandon Lancaster reminiscing about attending concerts, playing small shows and gigging in Nashville Honky Tonks before leading the band off the stage, over the barrier and into the middle of the tightly packed Institute3 to play a covers set. It isn’t something many bands do – and it was certainly well received, especially by those in touching distance!  

Three more tracks to finish off the album and an encore of Greatest Love Story rounded out a great night in the smaller of the Institute’s rooms, but one that was tightly packed with fans and new fans.