Many of you may have seen the petition doing the rounds on Facebook recently titled “Apple Music: Please Add Song Credits To Your Platform.” I know some of my wonderful readers have already signed it and to date it has over 83,000 signatures! When it first popped up on my feed I signed straight away and was eager to find out more about it and to see the outcome. On further investigation I discovered that the writer behind the petition was none other than Victoria Banks who has co-written Daddy’s Little Girl for The Shires, Saints and Angels for Sara Evans and Come On Over by Jessica Simpson as well as having her own successful artist career. I was eager to catch up with her and find out more about her songwriting career and how the petition came about.
Firstly, you are a prolific songwriter, writing hits for some big names, but you actually studied zoology at university? So how did you first get into writing songs?
I come from a musical family – many of my family members work as classical musicians – and my Dad is a collector of antique phonograph machines and cylinder records. So the only thing newer than the classical music I was exposed to was the old turn-of-the-century folk music Dad played on those cylinders, and Stephen Foster’s music in particular made an impression on me. My other love was science, because the area of Canada where I grew up was quite remote and I spent a lot of time outside observing nature. So when it came time to study something in university, I decided to pursue Zoology, because I thought I was more likely to end up gainfully employed that way. I explored songwriting in my spare time, often writing song lyrics in the margins of my calculus notes at school! I spent my summers working for the Fisheries Unit of the government in my hometown, and was hoping to work there full-time after graduation, but as fate would have it the unit was closed down during the spring of my final year and suddenly there was a scarcity of jobs in my field! In that blank-slate moment, I decided “why not just follow my heart, then?” I decided to move to Nashville, the mecca for the kind of songwriting I loved, and take a shot at trying to become a professional songwriter.
You’ve had your own artist career as well, so is songwriting your favourite aspect of the business or do you enjoy recording and performing just as much?
If I had to spend my time doing only one thing, it would be songwriting. Luckily, though, my career has given me the opportunity to also record, tour and perform. The process of writing songs is like the greatest magic-driven jigsaw-puzzle solving experiment, and being a staff songwriter for a publisher in Nashville allows me to spend my days in an office doing it daily. But part of that job is also taking the songs into the studio and recording them, producing them to make them sound like the records they’re capable of being before they are pitched to other artists. And when the songs that seem the most magical or personal to me don’t find homes with other artists, I’m able to give them a voice by recording and releasing them myself. I made my first CD to sell at little tiny songwriter shows I would play in a little venue in Nashville called the Bluebird Café, but it found its way to the ears of a Canadian record label that offered me the opportunity to sign a record deal with them, release the songs to radio and go on tour. So I kind of fell into that part of it by accident, but it has become something that feeds my soul as much as the songwriting does. After 20 years of writing songs in an empty room, even if hundreds of them are recorded by artists, there are thousands more that are unheard, and it’s good for the soul to be able to share those songs and the stories behind them as a performer too.
Growing up, what did your parents make you listen to and what are you listening to now?
We were an all-classical-music family (except for the cylinder records Dad played which were from the early 1900s), and we studied piano and voice. We only got one TV channel and there wasn’t much radio to speak of where I grew up, so my Mom, Dad, sister and I would sing Bach in 4-part harmony around the dinner table to entertain ourselves. When I need to give my songwriting brain a break I still listen to classical music, but these days I listen to everything from Top 40 to Country, Hip Hop to Folk, just about everything except Jazz which I don’t know much about. All other genres influence the Country music genre, so it’s good to listen to a bunch of different styles of music. Some of my favorites right now are Charlie Puth, David Mead, Shawn Colvin and the work of great songwriters like Matraca Berg and Steve Earle.
Is the songwriting process the same for you each time, do you like to start with the lyrics first for example or is it different with each song and does it depend on who you are collaborating with?
It totally depends on the day. I keep my antennae tuned for song ideas all the time, and I collect them in my phone. Sometimes the idea will be a title, sometimes a couple phrases of lyric, sometimes a melody I hum, or an entire chorus that just comes into my brain with music and lyrics simultaneously. Once I’ve got a piece of something, I usually hold onto it and bring it into my co-writing sessions, since ideas are in high demand when you’re writing daily (often with artists or songwriters you’ve never met before). We’ll toss some ideas out into the room and decide which one to run with, and from there the rest of the song kind of reveals itself, sometimes with chunks of words first, sometimes chunks of melody first, but often all at the same time, and usually in pieces (usually the chorus first, then the first verse, second verse, and bridge). I compare it to uncovering a dinosaur skeleton in the ground, you just dig at the little piece you’ve discovered and see what else it’s attached to. But I also write with track builders who will orchestrate and record an entire song before you get there, and you’re just adding the lyric and melody on top of the track. The whole thing is just about brainstorming and spitting out whatever your subconscious whispers in your ear so you and your collaborators can explore it.
Do you have favourite songwriters who you like to co-write with?
Yes! It takes a lot of exploring to find them, but every so often you work with someone and it’s just EASY…like you can barely keep up with how fast the song reveals itself. That’s what it’s like when I write with Phil Barton and Emily Shackelton, so we’ve written often as a team and we like to go on retreats together where we stay somewhere isolated and spend 2 or 3 days writing, coming home with 7 or 8 songs. Collaboration is about musical compatibility, each bringing something different to the table but fitting together in a way that allows the whole to be greater than the parts, so each writer is made better by the other’s contributions. Some of my other favorite “regulars” have been Tia Sillers, Rachel Proctor, Erik Dylan.
The petition you’ve started which already has over 61,000 signatures now, is incredibly important to songwriters, musicians and producers who work incredibly hard on these records and don’t get credited on platforms like Apple music, can you tell me about when you first realised the problem and how the petition came about because you did approach apple to start with and asked them to display who had written the songs and played on the record didn’t you before you started the petition?
Frankly, the petition came more from my experience as a music consumer than as a creator of it. When I find a song I love, I want to know who the songwriter is. I want to know who played that incredible bass riff, who produced this amazing sounding track, and where everything was recorded, so I can use that information to explore and find more songs I love. And like most consumers, since brick and mortar record stores are so few and far between, I like to explore music via streaming. But when I’m listening to Apple Music, the only way I can find that information is to leave the app, open my web browser and do a Google search. It seems to me that streaming services are really missing an opportunity here. I talked to my cowriter Mark Bright about it, who is one of the Board of Governors of the Recording Academy (previously known as NARAS). He informed me that NARAS is building a database to store standardize album credits, which could be accessed by streaming services. However, the trick is going to be to convince music streaming service providers that their clients WANT this information, because they are under the impression that we don’t. So that’s when I decided to start a petition to show that there IS a public desire for album credits. I aimed it specifically at Apple, partly because that’s the service I use personally, but also because they seem to be interested in leading technological trends and listening to user feedback. And we had to start somewhere…so that’s where I chose to start. Plus I think it’s maddening that even when album credit information or digital booklets are available on a song in iTunes song, there’s no way of accessing that information if you stream that same song streamed on Apple Music.
As songwriters we understand how important this is, but the writers, musicians, engineers and producers still get paid for their work so can you explain to the general public why this is so important that they are also listed and credited and why that should be displayed on these platforms as it is when you buy a physical copy?
I believe credit should be given where it is due. Sure, the songwriter creates the first incarnation of a song, but it also takes the creative interpretations of the musicians and producers, the equipment of the studio and the mixing ears of the engineers to create the final musical experience that the song becomes. Whether they are paid or not, each person that contributes to that final product should be credited. Books come with author names, publisher names, often with acknowledgements listed inside. Why shouldn’t music? But in the end, I honestly don’t think this is an industry issue. I think it’s a public issue, and it affects everyone’s experience as a music consumer. It’s gratifying to see so many people signing the petition and I really hope they’ll continue to help it grow so we can demonstrate the need for a solution.
This is hopefully going to make history and change the music industry and how it treats the creators of the music we love, who else is behind you, are fellow co-writers, artists, publishers and organisations such as NSAI standing with you and helping it gain traction?
This was something that started out very small. I created the petition online and shared it within my community on Facebook, which includes co-writers, fellow NSAI members, musicians and publishers. They shared it…and their friends shared it…and then within a few days, it went from a couple thousand signatures to 70,000. I think that many music industry insiders didn’t really know for sure whether the public cared about this or not. Hopefully the sheer number of music consumers signing it will help to continue its momentum, and with sites like yours helping to spread the word, real change can happen.
Besides signing the petition what can people do to help change the current situation
If you’re a streaming music listener, reach out to your streaming service provider. Contact them through the Help option, find where you can give customer feedback, and let them know that you want them to provide songwriter, musician, producer, engineer and studio credits within their platform. Tell them how it would make your experience as a consumer better. If they see the desire is there, they’ll see the opportunity in it.
And what’s next for you, what projects have you got in the pipeline and do you have any plans to come over to the UK?
I’m still going to the songwriting office daily and writing with and for other artists for their records, so I’ve got a lot of songs in the pipeline that way that I can’t really talk about until they’re released! But I’m also maintaining an email newsletter that I like to describe as “songwriter oversharing”. I share emails with behind-the-scenes stories, unreleased songs, and sometimes even the evolution of a song from the initial 3am voice recording of the idea to the guitar/vocal worktape to the demo to the final record. (You can subscribe at victoriabanks.net/signup.) And as always, I’m slowly but surely saving up favourite songs towards my next project, which I’m sure will be in the works soon. I think a UK trip will likely come about within the next year – I want to get over there to perform and also to see The Shires play our song “Daddy’s Little Girl”! And do some songwriting too, of course.
So this petition is important for both the creators of the music but also for music consumers, that’s everyone basically. You can find it here!
One of the most interesting and outspoken singer-songwriters in Country music today is Angaleena Presley. That is what I love about her, her songs are filled with witty lyrics and subtle little digs at the music industry which could in the hands of the wrong writer come across as whining however the way Angaleena carefully crafts each lyric and how she tells the stories behind the songs live on stage has the audience in uproar! The fact is, she’s right! At the sage she spoke of imagining growing up without Dolly Parton, Martina McBride and Reba McEntire, imagine a world without those strong independent females she said, that’s what today’s generation are missing out on. And a big factor in why they are missing out on those women’s voices is because Country radio won’t play them and this is a big theme in Angaleena’s latest record. So I was eager to catch up with her and delve deeper into the mind of a successful songwriter who isn’t afraid to speak out and try to change the industry for the better.
You’ve had a successful career so far as a solo artist, as a member of the Pistol Annie’s and as a songwriter writing for other artists too but how did you first get into Country music and what made you decide to be an artist?
It wasn’t a choice for me. My first love was music, I had a record player and a box of 45s instead of dolls. I took them everywhere. Also, very early on, teachers began to notice that my writing stood out and that continued through college where, on more than one occasion, professors used my papers as an example for the rest of the class to go by. I wasn’t a phenomenal singer but I think not having a powerhouse voice lent itself to becoming a better writer. I knew I had to hit the audience with lyrics if I couldn’t hit them with high notes. It was all a very natural progression and I truly believe I was born to do it.
What is your favourite aspect of your career – writing, recording or performing?
It’s hard to choose because they all have pros and cons. Writing is very fulfilling when the muse is kind. There are songs that I labor over and songs that spill out as though I am the medium for something other worldly. The hours after the effortless songs come are complete bliss. I feel like I’ve served my purpose on this earth. When the muse is fickle, I feel like my livelihood is at the mercy of something I can’t control. It’s really scary. Recording is amazing and inspiring on a different level. I learn so much from the musicians, producers and engineers and it’s a blessing to watch them make art that compliments the songs I’ve written. Unfortunately, I only get to do it once every couple years so I can’t really rely on that as the motivating factor. It’s definitely something that lingers in my mind as I’m writing and also something I look forward to. Performing makes the process complete. Delivering the songs to the people who might hear something that moves them or helps them or encourages them to grow is surreal. Music exists to create an emotional shift. Feedback from fans is the validation that I need to keep doing this job. Because, it is a job. Touring is exhausting work that takes me away from my family and friends. When someone comes up and says something like “I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through my divorce without your record,” I feel like I can keep clocking in to this crazy life. One part cannot exist without the other.
What did your parents make you listen to growing up and what are you listening to now?
My mom loved Janis Joplin, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Carole King and The Carpenters. My dad loved Dr. Ralph Stanley, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. I had a very influential uncle, Bobby, who introduced me to The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. They never had to make me listen to anything because my musical tastes have been all over the map right from the beginning.
Where do you draw inspiration from lyrically?
I think I could write a song about watching grass grow if it struck me to do so. There’s inspiration everywhere. The key is keeping an open heart and mind. I’m ever a slave to the muse.
Describe your writing process, what comes first or is it different every time?
It’s very random. It’s kind of like fishing. Sometimes I’ll catch a melody and sometimes I’ll catch a line or idea. I keep a notebook with me at all times and I write things down as they come. When I get time, I sit down and put things together. I never know which piece of the puzzle is going to come first.
You’re new album is fantastic, we love every song but do you have a favourite song off it and can you tell us the story behind it?
It’s really hard to pick one song. It’s like asking a parent to pick which kid they love the most. They’re all a part of a whole and they’re important to me for different reasons.
A few silly questions now; what is the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
My ex husband.
When you’re on stage are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander – what are your mid-gig thoughts?
My mind goes every freakin’ where. I have ADHD and it’s nearly impossible to get through a show without forgetting a lyric or losing my place in a song. There’s so much going on, lights, camera flashes, people singing along, sometimes people talking, glasses clinking… it’s a constant strugggle because my brain is wired to observe every little noise and movement. I’m pretty sure I have some undiagnosed sensory disorders as well because I have superpower senses. If someone’s having a BBQ in Texas, I can smell it from London. Not kidding. It’s hard to find fabrics that my skin can tolerate, I don’t eat fish because the textures and smells are too overwhelming. While all of this creates a perfect storm for soaking life in and making a song that can put the listener in a moment, it’s a natural disaster on stage. My mind is like a cat. There’s no use in trying to tame it. I learned to accept it and make it a part of my act. I’m a big advocate of imperfection and that comes across in my show as fans get the chance to watch me look up in the middle of a song and admit that I lost my place because my brain decided it was the perfect time to make a mental grocery list.
What’s next for you?
Not falling off the tight rope is always the next thing because there’s no safety net in this job. Being an artist is a crazy life of not only trying to balance joys and pains but also making good use of them.
If you haven’t already got Angaleena’s record Wrangled, then don’t hesitate, it is well worth a listen! And unconfirmed reports are that the Pistol Annie’s will be releasing new music next year which is fantastic news and we’ll try and bring you updates on that as and when we hear them! Don’t forget Angaleena is returning to the UK as part of the CMA Songwriters Series in October so grab your tickets now whilst you still can!
“Bone for bone we are the same, Bones get tired and they can’t carry all the weight” – Ashley Campbell – Remembering
This past weekend I’ve been at FSA Fest where some fantastic UK Country acts were taking to the stage. However today I want to share with you one of my favourite interviews I’ve ever done which took place last weekend at the Summertyne Americana Festival in Gateshead. There was a fantastic lineup across the three days but the person I was most excited to see was Ashley Campbell daughter of Country music legend Glen Campbell. Now my Gran and Grandad were big fans of his music and as I grew up my Gran introduced me to some of his records so when I first heard that his daughter was a musician and that she was coming over to the UK to play I had to see her, that was back at C2C 2016 on the Town Square Stage and her banjo skills were so good it inspired me to take up the banjo too (I am terrible though!) But I was excited to see Ashley over a year later and eager to talk to her about her music and when her album would be coming out. Read on to find out what she had to say.
Growing up your dad must have been a huge influence in you life and in getting you into music, but at what point did you decide you wanted to be an artist yourself?
So growing up music was in the family, it was all around the house, we’d go to my Dad’s shows as little kids and my parents started me and my brother on piano when we were very young. So we’ve always been playing music but it wasn’t until I was in college that I started playing Banjo and that’s when I turned to more of a professional route. I fell in love with the banjo, something clicked inside of me, it turned me on to my creative side as far as music goes.
So of course your dad’s music has influenced you, but who are you listening to at the moment, who are your favourite artists?
Right now I’m actually getting into Father John Misty, Dirty Projectors, and I love Punch Brothers because I love the musicianship and that’s what was really inspiring to me as I started playing Banjo, hearing that kind of amazing sound quality and melody. I listen to a very wide variety of music.
When it comes to Songwriting where do you draw inspiration from there?
I look back towards the classic country, I draw inspiration from Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, even my dad and Jimmy Webb because I love that classic songwriting style and the format and how simple it is but I like to add a modern edge to the lyrics, a modern experience.
So lyrically you draw inspiration from your own life experiences?
Yeah it’s usually very personal or at least funny experiences.
So a few silly questions now, what is the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
Oh! Lets see, I wrote a song, it’s funny I was just telling Eli my fiddle player about it, I wrote a song about a girl named cauliflower, its a love song to her from the perspective of a man in love with cauliflower. And then I also wrote a murder ballad, it was an old American murder ballad about a guy who kills the girl he loves because he couldn’t marry her and then he gets eaten by a bear. Bear Karma!
And when you’re on stage are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander, what are your mid-gig thoughts?
I try to be completely focused or I try and let the song and the music overtake me that’s when I really feel my best when you let it take you on a journey but there have definitely been times, and I’m sure every musician or artist will say this, where you wonder if there’s any good Indian food tonight, but I hope that doesn’t happen, I try not to let it happen!
Now I heard you studied Theatre at college, do you still pursue that?
I still love it for sure, my brother and I were warming up for today with a song from music man and I would love to do some acting again some day but for now I’m just focussed on music.
Do you take any influence from that when it comes to songwriting?
Absolutely, when I was in college I was driving to hollywood to improv classes, I wanted to do sketch comedy so I was taking writing classes as well and that was before I was writing songs so I took that philosophy and carried it into songwriting, which is telling a story, you’ve got to know where to forward a story, where to advance and where to put feeling into it so I took those notes and applied it to songwriting.
I was going to ask you about improv comedy, how did you first get into that?
I think I just loved Saturday Night Live so much and I auditioned for the improv troupe at my university in my freshman year and I didn’t get in and I thought that was so much fun, I want to do that and I’m not going to let this stop me so I signed up for a place called The Groundlings in Los Angeles and that’s where a lot of people from Saturday Night Live started so I was happy to be there and I fell in love with it.
Going back to your music and performing and touring, do you notice any differences between the crowds over here and the crowds back home in the States?
I don’t want to knock American crowds at all but it definitely seems like they’re more easily distracted like sometimes you’re playing and you’re like, are they definitely listening? I like though that on BBC Radio they play album cuts or entire albums and not just the singles because usually my favourite songs on other peoples albums aren’t the singles so I appreciate that.
What’s next for you?
Well I have a cover of Jimmy Webb’s Highway Man coming out on July 27th on Amazon Music so I’m really excited about that, I love that version, I think it’s about time a woman sang that song. And I’ve been working on a new album, it’s mixed and everything so we’re going to put that out as soon as possible, it’s my first album!
Can you tell us about any of the songs on that album?
Well some of the songs are from years ago and some I’ve written in the last year so it’s a really cool journey of my songwriting really from when I started right up to now and all the things I’ve learnt so I’m excited about it and there’s a banjo instrumental on it as well.
So there we are, we eagerly await her debut album and we will keep you updated with release dates for that! In the meantime check out Ashley’s beautiful song Remembering which she wrote for her father when she found out about his illness. And we continue to keep Glen, Ashley and the rest of her family in our thoughts.
I thought I’d bring you another quick update from the Americana Festival at The Sage Gateshead. I’ve just snuck out as Jim Lauderdale is finishing his set at Sage 2. What a magnificent Songwriter he is and he commands the room perfectly. He’s going to be hosting a writers round at 10.45pm. My day started off on a boat… Yes, it was a really unique experience which saw us set sail at 10.30am down the Tyne whilst Ashley Campbell and her band entertained us for the first half an hour followed by Massy Ferguson for half an hour, we then had around a half hour break as we reached the mouth of the river and turned around before Ashley began a second set and then Massy brought the cruise to a close. There were a few technical hitches to begin with but the team from The Sage along with crew on the boat were quick to solve the problem.
For anyone who saw Ashley last night her set was fairly similar, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and there’s a number of songs that are fast becoming my favourites. For example I’ve always thought Remembering was a beautiful song and it will always be one of my favourites but Good For You has become my favourite after this weekend. Lyrically the song is so well written, it definitely has that Nashville style of writing where everything leads up to that pay off line. Her version of The Highwayman which is being released on Thursday is great too and I really look forward to hearing the studio version next week. Ashley and her band found themselves taking it in turns to steer the boat as we reached the mouth of the river and her brother Shannon turned the boat around. Not just talented musicians it seems! I heard many people say how they could have listened to Massy Ferguson all day as well and I would agree. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience!
I made a quick dash from where the boat had docked up to the Sage where Danni Nicholls followed by Angaleena Presley were soon to take to the stage. I’d not heard of Danni before but she was good, had some good lyrics in her songs and nice clean vocals, there was almost a soulful edge to it. She engaged with the audience and had them singing along and had them laughing which actually there’s been a lot of humour this weekend from the artists but that was nothing compared to the fits of laughter Angaleena Presley had us in throughout her set. Of course she’s known for her witty lyrics, she’s often very outspoken about the music industry, particularly Country radio and the lack of female artists in rotation but I found her set refreshing and inspiring. She was completely herself, honest and funny and when she talked about her songs and the stories behind them there was a real mix of emotions and I find the whole “women in country music and country radio” topic fascinating and infuriating at the same time. If you know me, you’ll know that I wrote my dissertation for Uni on Controversy in Country music and this was a topic I discussed within that and to hear Angaleena’s comments a year on from me writing that was very interesting to me and like I said it’s inspiring that we have people like Angaleena in Country music who aren’t afraid to speak out and do it in the best way possible… through their music!
Getting back on topic! Her set was filled with songs of her own, some off her new record like Wrangled and Dreams Don’t Come True which is one of my favourites along with Bless My Heart, and some Pistol Annies numbers like Lemon Drop which she sung to close the show. She spent quite a long time after her set talking to fans, taking photos and signing their merchandise. She’ll be back at the sage in October for the CMA Songwriters Series which is going to be a fantastic evening especially in this venue, the acoustic’s are amazing! Anyway only one more day left of this fantastic festival!
Well this weekend there is so much going on, I was torn between three festivals all with a great line up of Country and Americana, can you believe that? Anyway I headed to Gateshead, for the SummerTyne Americana Festival. I had heard a lot about it in previous years but had not yet had the pleasure of checking it out myself. I’ve just returned from day 1 though and boy am I glad I chose to come here! The line up is fantastic, so good that it’s hard to decide which shows to go to and though Americana is in the title, there’s really something for everyone; Country, Blues, Soul. I arrived around 1pm and though the sun hadn’t yet made an appearance the Jumpin’ Hot stage just outside the sage had attracted a large crowd and with good reason. The musicianship was good, there was a lot of talent on stage. All the acts in that location today were new to me. The vibe was great though throughout the day. There was a lovely drinks reception in which Sam Outlaw performed and Tamsin the programmer at the Sage gave a few words. The team there were all incredibly helpful and surprisingly very calm, I thought organising a festival would be stressful but those ladies have got it all together and seem to be enjoying themselves as well which is great to see!
Before the crowds split off and headed into Sage 1 for The Shires and Sage 2 for Merle Haggard’s Strangers featuring Ben and Noel Haggard, Stax Academy Revue took to the stage on the concourse between the two auditoriums. Never have I seen a more energetic group of people, for a good 45 minutes or so they were all dancing and clapping as they played and sang their hearts out. Everyone there was blown away by the group of youngsters from Tennessee who really got everybody in the mood for a great time, what a wonderful way to really kick off proceedings at the sage, everyone was on their feet, grinning like cheshire cats by the time they got to the end of their set.
Then, after interviewing her earlier in the day, it was time for Ashley Campbell in Sage 2 to take to the stage. Along with her brother Shannon on guitar, her fiddle player Eli and Dobro player William, Ashley picked up the banjo and began with the humorous song I’d be a better boyfriend than you. I’ve seen Ashley play at C2C Festival in London and I was thoroughly impressed with her Banjo skills, I didn’t however realise at the time what a lovely tone she has to her voice. She continued to demonstrate those great banjo skills though as she played an instrumental which is going to be included on her debut album along with another song she played Good For You which lyrically is very well written. Much to the crowds delight, she played Gentle On My Mind which was beautiful even if the two siblings did make a tiny mistake, the atmosphere was relaxed and they both just looked at each other, laughed and then continued and the crowd didn’t mind one bit. She reduced me to tears when she sang Remembering, a song she wrote for her Dad when she learnt of his illness and a song which is on the soundtrack of the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me which won a grammy. After tonights performance, I can’t wait for her album to come out, the legend’s daughter is really going to make waves in Country music and may one day become a legend herself.
Merle Haggards Strangers and his sons Ben and Noel took to the stage not long after. They said they’d been travelling around since their dad passed away just over a year ago paying tribute to him and letting him know that they still loved him. Well that was clear and though the crowd were fairly reserved it was still evident that they still loved the man and his music and were grateful his sons carried it on. Again, it was a relaxed atmosphere and though they had a sheet of paper telling them what songs to play they played what they felt although that was partly down to Noel not being able to see his list of songs! My favourite was either Mama Tried which they performed close to the end of the set or Okie from Muskogee. The brothers took it in turn to take the lead on different songs and Ben in particular was a fantastic guitarist! In both their set and Ashley’s there was a lot of humour, their pedal steel player who had been in the band for 49 years was both funny and phenomenal (I do love a good pedal steel though and he is one of the best out there!) They threw some Folsom Prison Blues in their set and the crowd at various points throughout the show clapped along. When it was time for them to exit the stage the crowd shouted for more and clapped until they returned and for the encore they sang Sing Me Back Home.
Tomorrow along with the other stages that have been on today there will be river cruises which sound great and it’s such a unique experience to have someone of Ashley Campbell’s calibre serenading you as you travel up and down the gorgeous river Tyne. I hope the weather stays fine for the people heading off on that tomorrow morning! It’s bound to be a fantastic fun filled weekend! I hope everyone at Blackthorn and Nashville Meets London is having as good a time as I am!
Well there are so many exciting things coming up in the next few weeks. Many of you will be heading down to London this weekend for Nashville Meets London, I hope the weather stays fine for you all but if not I’m sure the line up of artists will brighten your day! Some of you may be up north at Blackthorn Music Festival where there is a Buckle and Boots stage featuring some great UK Country acts such as Darcy, did you all see his new video released this past weekend? If not you can check it out below. Meanwhile I’ll be in Gateshead at the Summertyne Americana Festival which has a fantastic line up once again. The Shires will be there, Ashley Campbell is supporting Merle Haggard’s strangers featuring Ben and Noel Haggard, Angaleena Presley is performing… you get the gist, there’s big names and it’s going to be a big weekend. I had a chat with Tamsin Austen who organises the festival about how it began and where it is heading.
How did you start working in the music industry?
Well I come from a musical family, my parents are musicians and I played the fiddle so I was involved in music from an early age. I started out working as an agent, working with a lot of North American and Canadian Folk acts but through that work I was booking acts into venues all over Europe and I was interested in programming more than being an agent so I moved into a venue in Scotland called The Archers so I was basically booking acts to play under an archway in central station. That was 18 years ago now. Then before The Sage was built I did some consultancy work for them and when it was complete I went for the lead programming post for Contemporary music.
So how did the festival begin?
We started it really quickly after The Sage opened. One of the founding organisations was an organisation called folk works so there were already a long legacy of folk music promotion that had happened within the region. They moved into our building when it opened. There was lots of folk and grass roots promotion going on across the city one of those was called the Jumpin’ Hot Club, they put on Americana, Blues, Country gigs. When our building opened I was pretty well connected with those people in the scene and I started going to America each year to South by Southwest which was a really good melting pot of everything, it gave me a heads up as to what was coming up in the US, 18 months prior to hearing about it in Europe. So we started the festival in 2005, it was originally a ten day festival and it wasn’t just Americana but the last weekend was Americana and Roots and it was really clear that that was the most tangible aspect so the other bits of programming kind of fell away and we focussed on that weekend of Roots and Americana. In the early days we did get some big names like Dwight Yoakam and Kris Kristofferson because we wanted to get big names here and let people know we’re here and we can do this. We have three performance spaces; a big open concourse area that looks over the river, then we have a sort of outside amphitheatre next to the building which my friends at the jumping hot club programme, and we have boats on the river it’s lovely.
You’ve championed a number of Country and Americana acts, can you tell me about some of those acts you’ve worked with, from the start of their career right through to now?
It’s kind of the most fun bit of the job finding new baby acts and having a festival like Summertyne is great actually to platform new and emerging acts that nobody’s heard of particularly with the free stages. It offers people a first show and a lot of acts we’ve done that like The Shires, Yola Carter, Ward Thomas, have played the smaller stages and built up a following here and we’ve brought them back when they’re touring. For example Nikki Lane played a few weeks ago on the back of her new album, I’ve been trying to get Nikki over for a while and it went really well and we had a chat after the show about her coming back next year so it works both ways. There’s been a few acts like that, Jess and the Bandits and Rhiannon Giddens. The American ones I’ve seen whilst I’ve been over there in a tiny little venue and thought wow these are amazing and it might take two years or maybe more but you keep contact and hope to get them over here in future.
Who’s your favourite artist of all time and which artist are you really looking forward to seeing grow?
I absolutely love Alison Krauss, I’ve been a fan of hers for years, I’ve always loved her voice and her playing and her band’s really tight. I’ve seen her play three times and two of those times were at the sage, they were heavenly nights for me. Programming is really tough, it’s hard work and the satisfaction is when you land one of those gigs that’s on your list of dream gigs to get. Then acts that are coming up, I love Margo Price at the moment and Nikki Lane who I already mentioned. I saw Margo in Nashville a few years ago. She came on with her band and she was just so authentic and like Loretta Lynn. I tried to speak to her after and passed some info onto her manager. Then I found out she’d been recording at third man records and was going down this more alternative route and I’ve been trying to get her here ever since, I’ve been trying so hard! I saw Nikki at the Hard rock Cafe on Broadway we were doing this summertyne event in partnership with the AMA’s. I’m good friends with Raul Malo from the Mavericks so I got him to do a couple of songs, and one of the guys from the AMA said he had this artist and it was Nikki Lane and I’ve followed her ever since.
What’s next for the festival, where would you like to see it go?
The thing with festival programming is that it is really tough especially bringing american acts into the UK in July because they have so many options back in the states during festival season. And getting people across the atlantic when the sterling’s quite weak… I’d certainly like to see the sterling improve, that would be good haha. I think collaboration is the way to go, what’s fantastic with the Country and Americana scene at the moment is that it’s seeing a boom. There’s more festivals now and we all talk to one another so we can say who we’d really like and help each other out and come up with a good offer to get them over. We’re also working hard together to support Uk acts, the work the AMA is doing is great and because it’s not a particularly mainstream genre we do need to work together to help it grow and make as many opportunities for people to play as possible. But you know it’s a really great atmosphere and I want to develop the reputation of the festival amongst artists because they’ll go back and tell their friends it’s a great festival, I got treated well there and then they’ll want to come and play it next year.
So if you haven’t yet got tickets to this fabulous festival then make sure to head over to the website. There’s also some fantastic free shows going on across the three days and if you’re down south and can’t make it then you have the option of Nashville Meets London which is all free and again has some fantastic acts playing so plan your weekend. There’s so much going on in Country music at the moment! And as promised here is a link to Darcy’s new video for his song Hooked. This lad is going all the way in the UK and beyond so if you can, make sure you catch one of his upcoming shows.