(Photo Credit: Carl Harp)
“I saw Stevie Wonder play ‘Fingertips’ when he was 12!”
John Oates is reminiscing about growing up in Philadelphia and being surrounded by music playing on the radio and musicians playing live in clubs. John Oates? Yes, one half the mega-selling Hall & Oates, John is in town to chat to ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris at AMA UK’s AmericanaFest and tell us about his new album recorded in Nashville. “I feel privileged to be a part of your Americana community,” he continues, and the penny drops (watch out, here it comes): no matter how many records you sell, or how many hits you have, sooner or later everybody wants to bring it all back home. Roots is the word everyone comes back to.
It’s the same a few hours later as we all gather at the historic Hackney Empire for the fourth annual UK Americana Awards. No matter if it’s Curse of Lono picking up the Bob Harris Emerging Artist Award or International Song of the Year winner Brandi Carlile talking to us via video about the connection between English, Scottish and Irish folk music and Americana, those roots are front and centre.
When Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Graham Nash takes the stage to a standing ovation, the first thing the legendary Hollies and CSN&Y singer/songwriter does is hug and thank presenter (and fellow Hollie) Allan Clarke and talk about how they’ve been singing together since they met seventy years ago in Salford. Nash then straps on a guitar and leads Ethan Johns’ house band through a beautiful ‘Teach Your Children’, before being joined by all the night’s performers for a re-written ‘This Land Is Your Land’ (“from Sherwood Forest to the Irish Sea, this land was made for you and me”). How did it sound? Rootsy.
AmericanaFest keynote speaker Rhiannon Giddens returned and took to the stage barefoot to deliver a devastating a cappella take on ‘Pretty Saro’, while newcomers Yola and Israel Nash also tore the house down with singing straight from the earth, before legendary producer Joe Boyd received the Trailblazer Award and told the sold-out crowd all about authenticity and your roots are all it really comes to when being creative. It was that type of night and it’s been that kind of week.
A summing up? Smiles were as wide as Hackney Central as Bennet Wilson Poole (2018 Black Deer favourites) took the gong for UK Artist of The Year and three road-hardened, experienced musicians walked on-stage to a deserved ovation. The rub? BWP exists because a few friends, all in other bands and with other projects, wanted to come together make some new music inspired by the past. That’s where we leave AmericanaFest in 2019: bringing together a community that wants to nurture emerging artists, celebrate experienced musicians and give a platform to those using their roots to create something new.
After all, it’s not where you come from that matters… it’s where you’re at.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If I hadn’t met Allan Clarke and started singing, I’d have been a great plumber!”
– Graham Nash