Monday, June 3, 2019

Gig Review - Country In The Afternoon

When Scotland brought America to London….

With Buckle and Boots last weekend, and CMA fest just kicking off in Nashville it is definitely festival season, but if that conjured images of tents and rain, think again.  A little, but iconic, corner of south west London hosted the first of what we hope will be a long run of “Country In The Afternoon” events.

The Half Moon in Putney has seen an incredible array of artistes play its stage over the years, and now, thanks to the wonderful Chittick family – the driving force behind the Millport Festival – have added a roster of Country and Americana artistes to that list.  Many of those we saw over the two days have either played at Millport or will be playing this year, giving us a real idea of how great that festival is!

Rik visited on both days, with Francesca joining for day two.  As the name suggests this is an afternoon event – bands are on stage from 1-5 so it’s a relaxing occasion without the late night dash home!  Lots of attendees made the most of the weather and the bar menu in the main pub and the very Summery weather on Saturday clearly didn’t deter visitors.

Two days, two different line ups and a really well curated mix of styles within that wider Country/Americana genre.

Day 1 was opened by Zoee just before she jetted off to Nashville for CMA fest. Unfortunately, traffic and distance conspired to prevent Rik catching her set, but she was assuredly a great act to open the whole weekend. Opening the soundproof doors from the main bar to hear Two Ways Home in full band mode was quite a spectacle.  You can never be sure what to expect of a new event,but walking into a fairly packed room with music belting out – and the sound and acoustics were spot on – allayed any concerns! 

The turnarounds were quick and painless, with every band taking to the stage bang on time.  Next up were The Blue Highways, a very assured sounding act, combining rock, Americana and a dose of blues with a horn section supplied on this occasion by the British Army! It was hard to believe that less than 12 months ago these guys were on the “Emerging Talent” stage at Millport Festival, and have only recently released music.  Bringing Lewis from Two Ways Home back on stage to supply yet another guitar for their new single “Play Johnny Play” really underlined how much fun they have playing.  

Day one was headlined by Robert Vincent. Robert had a Liverpool shirt, a wonderful mature voice and a fabulous dry humour.  His whole vibe was that of a traditional British singer/songwriter – clearly an absolute natural entertainer who has perfected his craft over the years.

Day two saw the full Silverball Country team (both of us!) have to endure rail replacement buses, but still arrive in time to walk in during the opening set from Katee Kross and the Amberjacks. Like Zoee the day before these are names we have seen around but not had the pleasure of hearing before – and what a pleasure it was!  Katee has a powerful, beautiful voice, tinged with her Scottish lilt.  For an afternoon gig, she has the ideal style to warm up and wake up the crowd.  Off stage too she is a delight to meet, discussing how she is “coming down” to perform in Leeds and Scarborough.  I guess for a Glasweigian girl, Leeds is indeed “down”!  

Katee was followed by Russ Tolman, a very experienced Californian singer/songwriter performing in London for the first time in 21 years.  Russ has a very relaxed, friendly stage presence with a clear voice so you can really appreciate the whimsical humour in his songs. Proper catchy songs, easy to sing along to even when you haven’t heard the words before – and he introduced almost as co-stars his capo and his little red pick!

With each change on stage the quality just went up. Next to wow us were Morganway, with Fiona Chittick taking over compere duties as she was clearly very excited by these guys – and rightly so!  From the first notes of the first number the band exuded attitude, especially Nicole on fiddle.  Although classically trained, Nicole brings an energy and a style I have rarely seen – she plays that fiddle like she means it!  A very talented band, the fiddle does slightly set them apart from others, but in combination with SJ on lead vocals.  Blessed with a voice reminiscent of Julianne Regan which is almost a musical instrument in its own right – and she knows how to use it to perfection!  Along with the keys, drums and guitars it is hard to classify Morganway or put them into a box – they are Americana, they are folk, they are folk with a twist – power folk, maybe even rowdy folk.

How do you end a two day event with such an incredible line up?  By bringing on an absolute master of Outlaw Country. Jesse Dayton took that stage, took the entire crowd in the palm of his hand and transported it all to a Texan honky-tonk bar at midnight. Jesse D was outlaw before outlaw was trendy, and was given his platform when Johnny Cash went bad!  With a voice that sounds honed by whisky and cigarettes, Jesse has brought the best with him on his UK tour – his bass player and long time friend plays stand up bass, his drummer is also an accomplished Houston song writer.  All three combined to give a masterclass in proper, foot stomping country, protest songs and whisky drinking.

And so ended the first Country In The Afternoon – with a bang, certainly not a whimper. The event returns in November for another two-day mini festival.  You might wonder how Gavin and Christie will even equal this line up – but with their pedigree you know that they will!

To paraphrase Field of Dreams – “If you come, they will build it”

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