AMA-UK Americana Showcases 2021 – Day 1

January 26, 2021
Virtually everywhere

As the official event photographer, we’re used to watching every AMA-UK showcase set. Every. Single. One. COVID pushed the 2021 showcases online but we decided to keep that tradition alive nonetheless. Not having to walk 12 miles over two nights and climb the stairs at Oslo countless times to do it is an unexpected benefit, even if screenshots aren’t a patch on professional photos!

The digital version of the event had another major plus point – we got to see everyone’s lovely comments as they discovered new favourites in real-time. So, we decided to combine our review with a selection of reactions.

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Concert Review: James Riley’s full band rooftop show

June 27, 2020

With news emerging about the possibility of ticketed outdoor live concerts, there’s one artist who has certainly had plenty of relevant experience!

While most touring musicians suffered from enforced inactivity during lockdown, James Riley took the ‘let’s put on a show’ impulse to new heights – quite literally! He climbed on to his garage roof to play music for his neighbours, and in the process helped raise over £40,000 for food banks in collaboration with #LIVEFORLOVE. Check out BBC Radio London’s feature about Riley’s rooftop performances.

After ten weeks of solo shows, he invited a brass band to join him. The following week saw a supergroup featuring Americana Association UK (AMA-UK) Instrumentalist of The Year winners C.J. Hillman on pedal steel and bassist Thomas Collison, plus Greg Sheffield on drums. Here’s the lowdown on that high rise show.

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Live Stream Review: Frank Turner, Micah Schnabel and Jess Guise

March 17, 2020
Your living room

After attempting to soldier on with the UK leg of an extensive world tour, Frank Turner and crew had to concede to the need for social distancing in the face of the cornavirus pandemic. Indeed, Turner’s thoughts turned to his crew as soon the scale of the problem became clear.

With tens of thousands of fans were now unable to attend his or any other live shows and his tour family now out of work for the foreseeable future, Turner turned to the mantra that has motivated musicians since time immemorial: ‘let’s put on a show!’

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Concert Review: Dave Hause & Northcote

“Hey London friends, it’s nice to be here!”

So far, so Canadian as Matt Goud addressed the expectant crowd ever so politely. He’s played in the UK as Northcote solo and in a full band configuration. Here, he split the difference and appeared with a single bandmate, Stephen Mcgillvray.

The UK appearances between tailed off rather suddenly. Goud alluded to problems that had kept him away from music since then. Talking of the overdose epidemic in British Columbia, he was sure to address anyone in the crowd who was dealing with addiction: “you’re not a bad person if you do drugs.”

Mostly, though it was about the music. He made the six song set seem more substantial as he has a knack for writing songs that seem familiar, even if they were brand new or heard just once years ago.

Given the soaring scale of the venue, the performance lacked the visceral immediacy of previous club shows. Beads of sweat were traded for more emphasis on vocals and lyrics. Leaving Wyoming and Counting Down The Days were particular highlights. The two men’s instrumentation, with stomping percussion, was more than enough to fill the room.

We’re looking forward to a quick return to hear more about Goud’s grandfather, Tough Molar, and his cowboy side of the family!

“I spent most of my life being afraid of places like this”

When Brian Fallon played the same hallowed venue almost a year ago to the day, it was a storytelling masterclass from the get go.

At first, it seemed like Dave Hause was taking a different approach as song followed song and the crowd watched in awed silence.

It sounded and looked great, to be sure. However, like Northcote before, it seemed something might be missing without the intense connection of the close, frenetic live experience.

Then, Dave started to open up. He spoke about his upbringing in a strict religious family, his complicated relationship with religion and, by extension, churches. It was genuinely interesting to hear how he and his much younger brother had such different experiences. Rather than feeling the weight of evangelical Christianity, Tim had an easier time. The most profound impact it had on him was teaching him how to sing.

The honesty and healing was palpable. Dave took in the imposing scene and urged fans to help them “fill the room with our vibes instead of a vibe that’s about control.”

Dave continued to wax lyrical about Tim, 15 years his junior. He explained how great it had been writing and touring together, both musically and for having the chance to get to know him as an adult. He referenced the sibling dynamic, noting that there’s no way they would open up like this back home!

We’ve been privileged to watch their dynamic evolve over the years as Tim’s guitar work and close harmonies have become integral to the performance.

Tim took centre stage to sing Civil Lies, which was introduced as a response to a contradictory part of their nation’s collective characteristic: “being kind and being bloodthirsty – that’s an American thing.”

The tales continued as Dave shared his recent “terrifying” experience of mentioning Waitrose in Yorkshire: “how can it be posh if it’s in a gas station?!” he exclaimed, still perplexed. Tim knows what’s up: “everybody loves Greggs.”

As much as we enjoyed getting to know the Hauses, the music was paramount. As laser lights shone around the church, Dave signalled that crowd participation was welcomed. Then the place *really* lit up as they erupted for Resolutions and carried every word home.

It was only a shame that this collaboration wasn’t in place from the first song as the communion found in sharing music is what really accomplished Dave’s goal of reclaiming and repurposing the sacred space.

Songs like C’mon Kid had real meaning. Emotional reactions evidenced that Hause’s understanding, inspirational lyrics had helped many in the audience in tangible ways.

Bearing Down also had significant impact. Dave urged anyone considering ending it all to “take a little minute, take a breath, because I had no idea that by just continuing to move one foot in front of the other that the decade would improve.” There were tears of recognition and release from fans as the song progressed, especially when part of Frightened Rabbit’s The Woodpile was mixed in.

Once again, Dave’s honesty helped others overcome. As for him, time did tell. He has a career in music, gets to tour the world with his brother, and has a wonderful wife and twin one year old sons waiting to welcome him home. From the darkest depths imaginable, his future is now as bright as the lights that danced behind him.

Concert Review: Seth Lakeman’s A Pilgrim’s Tale

An immersive experience may not have been intended. However, when they were taken on a winding journey through new-meets-old parts of Southwark Cathedral’s entrance corridors – past excavated remnants of coffins, city walls and a Roman road, as well as several dead ends – concertgoers got a sense of overcrowding, tedium and bewilderment. That’s likely what huddled pilgrims experienced as they boarded The Mayflower in the Rotherhithe area of Southwark 400 years ago.

In the present, it was every man and women for themselves when they finally reached the cathedral proper. Even though the transepts were opened up in addition to the expansive nave, empty seats were soon hard to find as 600 people piled in for a musical journey.

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Closeup on the 2020 AMA-UK Americana Awards

January 30, 2020
Troxy, London

As the official photographer for the AMA-UK awards ceremony, we had a unique view of the event so here’s our round up of the highlights.

The 2020 ceremony took place at Troxy rather than the Hackney Empire. Thankfully, the temporary home was just as impressive, with Art Deco grandeur all around.

The red carpet was suitably star-studded with a litany of award nominees and celebrities including Martin Freeman and Brian Fallon.

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Concert Review: Frank Turner & Emily Barker

30 November, 2019
Alexandra Palace, London

Emily Barker wrote an op-ed in The Guardian about what she learned from touring clubs and student unions with Frank Turner over a decade ago. This involved blowing a whistle and shouting “shut the fuck up” to shame noisy rock fans into paying attention.

Whether it’s different crowds now, the same fans grown up, or a mix of both, she commands respect now.

A combination of an extra ten years of honed stagecraft, arresting vocals, and soaring songs well-suited to the acoustics of the all-seated venue all played in her favour.

It couldn’t hurt that she had a song about and a song by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in her set. That made it a perfect thematic fit with the No Man’s Land concept of Turner’s tour for he also had a Sister Rosetta song on his record.

“Chasing the big Christmas song bucks with a song about mass graves and sex work”

For those that didn’t get the memo (well, tweets), this tour was going to be a little different. Especially for those who had followed Frank Turner from his days in hardcore bands, and even for those who’d caught him at full band shows with The Sleeping Souls, which was a good proportion of his previous 2,432 gigs.

Turner was under no illusion that those used to rocking out might be perplexed, and perhaps even feel cheated, to see him taking a seat with an acoustic guitar. He knew that his first task was to “get you to calm the fuck down about the fact that you’re sitting down and I’m sitting down.”

The format would first see him playing the thoughtful historical story songs from his latest record, No Man’s Land. Then The Sleeping Souls would appear “for a deep dive into the old shit.”

As the album title hints at, it contains exclusively songs about women. Sitting under a spotlight it was clear that his main desire in making and touring this  record was to shine a light on women who were forgotten, didn’t get the credit they deserved, or who had been mistreated; often all three.

That’s how we ended up with ‘the Christmas song’ Jinny Bingham’s Ghost about a prostitute who was “technically employed by the church,” because, well, that’s just how things rolled in Medieval London. Although the church was happy to profit from the women’s sexual labour, they weren’t considered fit for burial in consecrated ground.

This lack of spiritual protection had temporal consequences. The graveyard was disturbed when land was needed to extend the Underground. Now it’s a memorial to them. Despite the heavy topic, Turner was clearly up for injecting humour into the proceedings: “brothels, theatres and prisons, sounds like a complete night out!”

Although notable in her day as the daughter of a Rothschild (purportedly named after a moth that her father discovered), Pannonica’s role in supporting Harlem’s jazz greats is no longer widely known. Even in her own time, she died a lonely death, having left her husband and children upon being so moved by hearing a jazz tune for the first time. All her beloved musicians predeceased her.

Turner was clear about his own limitations given that there were jazz elements in the song “and that’s not my wheelhouse.” With a friendly crowd and determination he needn’t have worried even though the stripped down format left no place to hide. The spotlight shone on every relieved grin and surreptitious affirmation for hitting particular musical marks

The historian in Turner shine through with The Hymn of Kassiani, “a co-write across 1400 years.” Kassia was deemed to have disgraced the Emperor of Constantinople and herself so much with a witty joke (that he didn’t understand) that instead of being chosen for marriage, she was cloistered in a convent for the rest of her life. Turner had specific facts to share, including that hers is one of only two known extant women’s signatures prior to the industrial era (Joan of Arc’s being the other.)

He was also ready to problematise the historical record, pointing out that the idea that she hid from the Emperor when he came to visit because she was still in love with him “sounds like the guy’s story.” Again with the humour; he imagined that the courtier’s reaction to the tale of unrequited, irreligious passion was “OK, lads on tour!” For a single instrument rendition, Turner achieved a remarkably full song.

Still, he was unsure of his guitar skill, noting in particular that he wasn’t great at solos and one was coming up. He urged the crowd to cheer him, both for moral support to encourage superhuman dexterity…and so they couldn’t hear the solo so well! They obliged, oohing and ahhing as if it were one of Ally Pally’s famous firework displays.

Having toured with Emily Barker and being familiar with her music, he knew the crowd had already been introduced to the life and works of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He had more to add, as well as recapping “for those who weren’t paying attention earlier on.”

He explained that the pentecostal holy roller turned rock ‘n’ roller had a million selling single and was the first musician of any race or gender to headline a stadium concert. He also mentioned her comeback in the ’60s leading to an unlikely but fabulous performance on an abandoned railway platform in Greater Manchester (which we just had to showcase here because everyone needs to see it!).

Turner addressed head on the main criticism of his desire to, as a man, release an album about women: “I am obviously aware…that I am a white guy who plays rock n roll.”

He gave an impassioned speech about being duty bound to use his position of privilege to acknowledge and pay respect to such a pioneer of his genre. He even spoke about his determination to advocate for her to be included in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. However, before he got a chance to literally nail a petition to the door, Martin Luther style, she was inducted without his help.

Bringing this portion of the night to an ends, he spoke of Huda Sha’arawi
and how she tore off her face veil publicly in 1923, prompting social change and the end of the harem system into which she had been born. Given the context, its clear he took some liberties when paraphrasing her reaction as “enough of this shit, I’m not wearing that fucking thing any more.”

It was rather sweet that he orchestrated a cantorum counterpoint singalong, as he had throughout the world tour, so that as many fans as possible were prepared to sing along unprompted when Huda’s granddaughter fulfills her promise to see him perform the song live!

Set 2: The Sleeping Souls

A short break later and Turner came back with The Sleeping Souls. For seasoned veterans of their live show, it was almost disconcerting to see them seated rather than leaping around the stage and off the amps.

Instead, they sat under lamps that were a cross between film set and an IKEA showroom. Much respect to the lighting team for the display.

Reflecting on a solo career spanning over two decades, Turner signaled that this show would be different involving just as much storytelling as singing by speaking the words to The Ballad of Me and My Friends. There was no more fitting song to start this type of night than one that ends with “we’re definitely going to hell/but we’ll have all the best stories to tell.”

It soon became clear that there was a very deliberate, broadly chronological narrative emerging. Some of the stories were familiar but overall the approach was illuminating and entertaining for casual and hardened fans alike.

We learned about how he moved to London 45 minutes after his last A-Level exam. He spent his time walking about Tottenham Reservoirs hoping to meet girls, but instead mainly passed other boys likewise “wandering about a desolate part of the city in a meaningful way” with a strategically placed tome.

He explained how an attempt at a love song, Isabel, turned into a sing about how “modern technology is going to lead us to civil collapse in our lifetimes.”

We heard all about bad decisions and broken hearts and learning from mistakes, eventually and painfully. The stripped down setup really allowed for a focus on the lyrics (though we *still* heard “Italian mistakes and successes” in Redemption!)

Despite being a full band show, this was very much about Frank’s experiences. The only major interaction was a tantalising offer to play a doom version of Reasons Not To Be An Idiot. Instead they stuck to the plan of a rendition that was more country shuffle than the original, with hints of reggae.

Well, that and a brief role reversal moment when Frank got to see the special chair that you can get if you’re a pianist…and promptly plummeted towards the floor as he tried to adjust the height!

It was particularly interesting to hear Turner talk about Amy, a name that’s almost as ubiquitous in his song as Maria is in Counting Crows’ back catalogue. “She haunted my songs in much the same way she haunted my life,” he admitted, though eventually she became a cypher for other ideas. After an album and a world tour, he wrote her an apology song which was jaunty in this iteration; The Way I Tend To Be.

There was particular reverence, rightly so, for I Am Disappeared, the second of the Amy trilogy of the night. It had a different arrangement but still resonated with so many in the room.

Turner touched on thoughts of death at time revealing more of his past struggles than he may have planned. He admitted that his songs were sometimes reminders to himself that it was worth carrying on.

The sombre mood was broken by a question “did someone just shout ‘yay, death?!'” Perhaps it was the same person who reacted wildly to a song about tennis; it turned out he was called Dennis and had misheard!

Just three months after his wedding, Turner was keen to wax lyrical about finally having found happiness. He described the moment he knew it was for real and being determined to write her a song before she woke, as “weapons grade Leonard Cohen romantic shit.” He had to compromise at writing it before she came back from breakfast as she had, quite understandably, refused to lie there pretending to sleep while he finished an unspecified task.

He joked, in a black humour sort of way, about the “hurry to get the album out [in 2016] because I was worried that things were going to calm down!”

The format was largely about how songwriting and personal development intersect but it was credit to Turner and the band for recognising the cathartic nature of a typical Sleeping Souls show in the encore.

A typical show sees tour veterans crouching down so they can spring up en masse for the refrain “I won’t sit down.” In this instance at a seated venue, simply saying it’s a song about not sitting down was enough to propel the crowd to their feet as one. The pure joy and collective volume that ensued showed what live music is all about.

To top off this night of self-reflection, Turner played what he saw as his most abiding message, Be More Kind. There was spontaneous applause for the sentiment before thunderous applause as a special show came to a close.

Frank Turner is on tour in the UK in March with Mica Schnabel and Jess Guise, before heading out on an epic world tour. Head to his website for dates and details.