The Americana Music Association hosted its annual UK Music Week in a variety of close-quartered venues across Hackney in celebration of the growing movement here in the UK. With six venues and over sixty artists and bands marked to triumph on those stages, it was no surprise, when arriving to collect our wristbands at 6 pm, the streets were already bustling. Feathered hats, suit vest gilets and an unbridled amount of colourful shirts stalked the pavements eagerly. Pint glasses in one hand, festival schedule in the other, I joined the troops, making my way to our first stop. I was once told the key to Americana is storytelling, storytelling, storytelling. With that in mind, we headed out to Hackney Church Brew Co. for whatever journeys awaited us.
Here they kicked things off with Our Atlantic Roots. This wheat-sweeping duo ease us into the two-day event with emotive, sincere warmth as the Americana Music Association sign shines above. From North Carolina to London they well and truly took us from the streets of Hackney right into those American fields. A captivated crowd for the tenor, and soprano pair it was clear the event would be not only well performed but well received. Fan favourite ‘Carry On’ played out its paramount message and the pair gracefully bow out.
The Moth Club, though disguised as a bowling club had been glitteringly turned into the Deep South as Shane Pendergast performed his one-man finger-picking ‘dark humoured’ (as stated by Pendergast himself) set. There’s nothing quite like clever lyricism and a varied, tuned baked dish served up hot and very much welcomed. There’s a lot to be said by a musician without the clothed pizzazz or jewels of a try-hard. Pendergast is beautifully understated; allowing the music to speak for itself. The ‘Fiddle Playin’ Girl’ singer is the epitome of a folklore torch bearer. You can almost hear the waves crashing in the background.
Bumping into the gruff-voiced, long-haired virtuoso that is Jack Francis we headed straight for his set. Soulful and gritty he’s – and it’s cliche to say but true – one to watch. Just from this solo acoustic set it’s clear to see hearts set alight and acknowledged tears shed from the meaning in his words. ‘How’s everyone doing tonight? It’s a pleasure to play here. My name is Jack Francis, I’m from Southampton, very exotic I know!’. We may be far from Nashville but that British humour will never not serve well. Hitting the 7pm marker it’s starting to fill up nicely with a decently mixed crowd.
The glory of these smaller festivals is being able to mingle with the musicians on floor level. Steady Habits were as courteous and charismatic in person as they were onstage. Dip-diving in between upbeat rove roosters and pedal board backyard beer sippers they turn Night Tales into a masterclass on Americana suave. Joe Coombes brings his well-respected guitar mastery to the show whilst frontman and band proprietor Sean Duggan demonstrates smooth, welcomed vocals. If I didn’t make it to the festival, then I 100% recommend seeking a gig to see these guys in action. Discussing Queer Americana and his personal struggles, Duggan plays a mid-set solo song dedicated to the cause. For many, I can only assume it’s a revelation to see this kind of full circle loving track in action, ode-ing to something which stands against the discrimination that we do still see today. Tongue-n-cheek lyrics with a stand to bravery it’s a beautiful moment which I’m sure will be remembered.
The Remedy Club, another gorgeously strung together wife and husband duo complete with a shaker and added pedal board player keeps the tempo of the evening going strong. Whilst not quite a full band, there is no charm lost with instrumental breaks and an eye-darting respect between the three musicians which is both refreshing and apt. Seasoned players with hugely streamed songs such as ‘True Hand True Heart’ are ready and gifted to us. Their combined voices sit fairly low on the range offering an added depth which sits eloquently but not without vigour atop the instrumental.
Gearing up on the Oslo stage is Eddy Smith & The 507. With a brand new band addition in the form of an another keys player, they sound check in all their harmonica glory. A six piece extravaganza of good time energy and funk schmooze glory. This party’s getting started. With the light show additions Eddy switches from keys to guitar in a haystack change up between songs. His band, solid as a rock, bring forth every meaningful Americana twang up from his UK roots. A travelling bluesman shuffle with Smokey vocals to die for. Eddy and the band have their upcoming album launch at The Camden Club here in London this September which is well worth a check out.
Heading out back to the – rightly named – Bohemia place we stop for a quick chat with some of the artists of the night. It’s clear the community is strong and unnecessary egos are nowhere to be seen. At the brink of a UK Americana scene explosion it seems to be an unspoken truce between artists to be loving and dear with their genre.
Sprinting around the six venue circuit we make it to Mikeala Finne. My goodness does she come soulfully thundering out of the Hackney Church with her pedal board backing. A voice to absolutely die for it’s plain sailing for this songstress to fill out the room with both her music and fans alike. The epitome of a Tennessee whisky love there is a real sense of calmness within her songwriting. Tantalisingly poignant.
Back to Oslo or, should I say the hard earned Deep South, it’s straight in with the fiery vocals of Early James. The bass and guitar duo reek of thumb looped bass line goodness and ricochet lyricism. From a six piece to these guys may seem a hard feat to follow but not for Early James with the ongoing whistling cheers from the crowd confirming this. It becomes the first proper chatter of the night with a back and forth banter from the audience. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from the game is that where there’s loving heckles and a loving response from the artist then there is real genuineness from the music and the way it resonates with its listeners. “Chalk full of spook” is a particularly snappy bone and tooth burlesque styled track
Heading into Paper Vintage Dress to catch The Sadies we could see there was a bit of a scene unfolding inside. Unfortunately our fears were confirmed. Due to the venue being absolutely chock ‘a’ block there was a ‘one in, one out’ policy with a queue dangling all the way down the banisters. After waiting for a while it was a hopeless venture but from what we heard they sounded fantastic and clearly have a huge following desperate to catch a glimpse.
Holy Moly & The Crackers whip up a furious standing at Night Tales. It seems as the night goes on more and more instruments are added to the bill as each new artist arrives. Aside from those Southbank entertainments it’s my first time seeing an accordion onstage in a thumping rock beat pop jazz environment and my god I love it. By the looks of the crowd, so does everyone else. Now the people are bopping. Lead vocalist Ruth Patterson a variety of attitude laden vocals matched by the bands tandem stone stomping energy. They seem to be only on the rise. A personal favourite takeaway is ‘Cry Wolf’ released as a single in 2021.
Unfortunately with Paper Dress Vintage still in a constant ‘rampage’ situation we miss The Hanging Stars who apparently knocked out a killer set filled with perfection soaked songs from their 2020 album, ‘Hollow Heart’.
Ending the night with a bang is Mom & The Rebels. This septet is like nothing else we’re seen all evening. Banjo infused music that sends a joyous shiver down the audience’s grooving spine. With a kick in the jive and a swish of a vodka they douse us in a real time edition of ‘could anything get better than this?!’. It’s traditional Irish music blended with gospel roots but with Americana being the genre bending tendril that it is, it’s a welcomed deviation. Their drummer and funk lines are inescapably grand and it’s all tambourine dance moves until the final curtain is called. With a backlog of great singles already released, I would keep an eye on what they bring out next.
Beautiful performances also from Tara Mclean, Noble Jacks and Milo Marks.
The night draws to a close as the conversations swing from the brilliance of the first day to the excitement for the second. It would have been a phenomenal way to spend a weekend let alone a Tuesday night.
Review: Monty Sewell
Photography: Tim De Graauw