AMA UK Showcase Festival
various Venues Hackney London
January 27th-29th 2020
As is ever the case with these things, you can’t see everything, so this is just what I saw across the three nights.
Plus, the night prior to the event itself, Oslo Hackney hosted a charity fundraiser entitled “Americana Clash” – with the likes of Danny Champ, Elles Bailey, Terra Lightfoot, Judy Blank, Lady Nade, Kyshona, Irish Mythen, Felix from Curse of Lono, Michele Stodart (who was also bassist in the superb house band) Austin Lucas and Frank Turner provided a fun, exuberant opening, covering songs from The Clash. Special props to guitarist Jim Maving, who was every inch the rock star and filled Mick Jones’ boots superbly.
First night proper and I began in Night Tales – a frigid warehouse converted into a nightclub where Austin Lucas, who ended last year’s festival with a dramatic performance at Paper Dress Vintage continued where he’d left off – in the live setting, Lucas is adept at creating intimacy and engagement and produced another dynamic performance.
A trip across the road to Oslo for Pete Gow and the Siren Strings was next on the schedule – whose songs which had grown slowly on me on record, lifted and soared in the context of a live performance. Echoes of Richard Hawley, The Walker Brothers and Warren Zevon (There was a cover of “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) created a truly majestic experience. Unmissable.
Back across two pedestrian crossings and up the stairs into Paper Dress Vintage to catch Malin Pettersen. On this occasion Malin was backed by Darling West and so there was a much greater jangle than twang in her sound than I’d previously heard – she’s an artiste growing tremendously in confidence from when I first saw her a couple of years back; and her experimentation and willingness to take chances and diversify in her sound is only to be praised.
Next it was back to Night Tales and Amy LaVere, joined by her husband Will Sexton – Amy was clad in Gothic black lace; the noir-ish lighting suited her Twang and melodious dry humour. Amy’s got a new album “Painting Blue” coming out soon – it’s going to be worth finding, if not for her superb cover of John Martyn’s “I Don’t Wanna Know” alone.
Sam Baker has only ever been on the periphery of my listening habits, but his short set was one of those where an artist, seen in the live setting, suddenly makes complete sense. Razor-sharp human(e) storytelling silenced a rowdy bar. Lovely bloke too.
I was then followed by the awful choice of deciding between Robert Vincent and Amy Speace who were on at the same time at opposite ends of Mare Street. As I’ll be seeing Mr Vincent a couple of times later in the year, I stayed put and went for The Amy Speace option and wasn’t disappointed. Accompanied by the ever-fantastic and humble CJ Hillman on pedal steel and guitar as well as Ali Sperry and Kyshona on backing vocals for a couple of songs, this was a much bigger performance than the Empire Bar could contain. Epic balladry, heartfelt emotion and sharp wit provided an excellent conclusion to my first night’s listening and viewing.
Day two began with a non-festival bonus – Gill Landry and Malin Pettersen played half hour slots at Rough Trade East in the early afternoon. In the solo situation, the voice of Malin Pettersen is as pure a country instrument as you could wish for. Take away a band and all she needs is the acoustic guitar to frame the strength and melody in her delivery – her cover of George Jones’ “Take Me” was the icing on the cake. Gill Landry who followed is a Waits-ian storyteller who delivered enough intriguing tracks from his new album “Skeleton At The Banquet” to encourage further investigation.
The showcase Day 2 officially began in earnest for me by watching Croydon (Yes, Croydon) bluegrass band The Vanguards at the Empire Bar – credit to them for writing their own material and delivering it with enthusiasm.
I stayed in the Empire bar, (much to the annoyance of my Apple watch fitness reminders) for Dean Owens and the Southerners. Ably accompanied by Jim Maving and Tom Collison (who played keyboards and bass – at the same time…!). Dean featured songs from his forthcoming “Best of” release and lyrically and musically referenced the likes of the Faces in an enjoyable set.
A couple of hundred yards down the road to Oslo and up three flights of stairs to catch the two discoveries, for me, of the festival. I wandered into Oslo just as Jonah Tolchin was kicking off his set. Accompanied by Joe Harvey-Whyte on psychedelic, yet bluesy and subtle pedal steel, the two complemented each other in delivering a set with lyrical and musical depth containing shades of old blues and American folk-country.
Mapache were not on my radar at all – if the Louvin Brothers had been played by Bill and Ted, that might give you some idea – glorious harmonies around a single mic, flitting across a variety of west-coast styles, dude. They opened with a cover of New Riders of the Purple Sage “Lonesome LA Cowboy”, sang beautifully in Spanish and covered several Laurel Canyon bases inbetween. I’d downloaded everything I could find them before the end of the night. Hopefully they’ll be back soon…
I stayed in Oslo for the third gig in a row and this time it was Michaela Anne, who’d played the festival last year, but this year was brought in under the Yep Roc umbrella. With a crack transatlantic band, Michaela’s voice was appropriately high in the mix – pure country that could and should be massive, the set focused around “Desert Dove”, she’s another artiste who I’ve seen a few times over the last couple of years who’s really developing in the live arena.
I last saw Chatham County Line about ten years ago and in that time they’ve lost Chandler Holt to retirement, but the remaining trio have added drums to their touring line-up – it works well – they still have the killer harmonies and melodies, but with added punch. Playing a set that featured tracks from their “Shaking the Covers” release, they utilised their half-hour showcase slot wisely with a set that contained a lot of audience friendly material.
Last show of the day and of the festival for me was back along the length of Mare Street to the Empire bar to see Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra at the Empire Bar – reliable and as rambunctious as ever, they delivered a set of crowd pleasers (My French friend from Marseilles was particularly taken with ‘Une Bouteille De Beaujolais’). Somebody please put these guys on a chat show or in a sitcom!
All in all, a hectic but interesting three days – well done once more to all at the AMA UK. As ever, disappointed that I’m still not able to clone myself and see everything, but pleased that I saw as much good stuff as I did – and as a bonus, I broke my exercise records on the Apple watch!
Review and photos courtesy Photographer extraordinaire Mr Nick Barber.