By Stu Vincent
Well ‘blog time’ has come around rather quickly and the summer has also said farewell but I shall doggedly continue with shorts and flip-flops until the onset of hyperthermia! I will confess that I don’t have a particular ‘theme’ for this month’s Hillbilly Boogie Blog so I’ll just chat a while if that’s OK with you?
I present you with an alternate ‘goggles’ picture this month. This was taken at Delapre Abbey in my home town of Northampton; the goggles and flying helmet are in one of the rooms commemorating early flight in Northampton and are really meant for children to wear but I could not resist (particularly as they brought John Hartford’s Steam Powered Aereo Plane to mind).
So here we are in September and, while the festival season is drawing to a close for most, we shall be going to our one & only festival this year when we attend The Long Road at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire this weekend. I am going to confess that it is not the headliners that are drawing me to The Long Road; for dyed-in-the wool Country fans, I am sure that the prospect of seeing Carrie Underwood and Lee Ann Womack is a massive draw along with Ward Thomas, Ashley Campbell and others but – for me – it is the opportunity to see the Folk Soul Revival that is the main attraction.
Folk Soul Revival released a new (eponymous) album in August and it is steadily moving up the American Music chart. We first saw Folk Soul Revival when they played a benefit concert at the Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap in Virginia. A student of the college was in hospital and to support him, a concert was arranged and relayed live to his hospital room. The incredible Dave Eggar opened the evening and then Folk Soul Revival proceeded to lift the roof and – undoubtedly – the spirits of everyone attended and witnessing the concert.
Friends had spoken to us about Folk Soul Revival and we readily made a detour to attend and since that concert we have been fortunate enough to see them several times since most notably when I introduced them at the 7th Street Stage at Bristol Rhythm & Roots – that was quite a crowd!
I have said many times that I will never take for granted the good fortune that has enabled me to enjoy so much live music, particularly when people tell me that they have never been to a live concert; but after years of spending most of my pocket money attending concerts and festivals, it comes as no surprise that I can look at the line-up for The Long Road and recognise some that I have been fortunate enough to have seen already: Parker Millsap, Elizabeth Cook, Billy Bragg, Frontier Ruckus to name a few but one name in particular gave rise to a surprising conversation – The Shires.
The online conversation was with a promoter who was disparaging about The Shires being on the line-up and this mystified me. While I can understand that The Shires may not be to everyone’s taste, I would have thought that a promoter would understand having a line-up with a broad enough appeal to bring (maybe) families, (maybe) fans that might not immediately associate with mainstream Country artists such as Carrie Underwood and Lee Ann Womack to the festival and (maybe) widen the audience for Country Music as a genre or for the festival as an event. For me, one of the fun post-festival conversations is always ‘who surprised you?’ or ‘did you see xxxxx, I wasn’t expecting that!’ and I hope that The Shires will be the subject of many such conversations after this weekend at The Long Road.
Before moving on, I will applaud Baylen Leonard for bringing The Long Road to a reality – we can’t wait!
After The Long Road, our next scheduled concert will be seeing Chastity Brown at The Stables in Wavendon near Milton Keynes.
After that, it will be Ry Cooder at Cadogan Hall but I have a feeling that more concert tickets may be bought before too long.
Now…at this point…let me ask you a question: Am I the only one who loves sitting in an auditorium of any size and love watching the place fill up and listen to the excitement grow? I am sure that I am not but I have to ask.
My earliest experience of live music was in a television studio. My mother worked at the (now demolished) BBC Television studios in Gosta Green, Birmingham. Because I spent a lot of time at the studios from pushing a broom around in the scenery shop (modern health & safety would be in a frenzy at such a thing), sitting on gantry steps watching live recordings and having ‘walk on/extra’ parts on a particular show I was allowed to sit quietly and watch some fantastic performers play live. I particularly remember watching Millicent Martin rehearse and then perform for the ‘live’ broadcast – though being a ‘stooge’ for Stubby Kaye singing ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat’ is another clear memory. Anyway, my first ‘proper’ concert was seeing Frank Ifield at the Birmingham Odeon in the early 60’s.
I remember walking into the Odeon and being thrilled and amazed at the red plush seats, carpets and curtains and – after all these years – can remember sitting about two-thirds of the way back from the stage on the left-hand side. My eyes must have been like saucers – I had never seen anything like this.
I think my enduring delight at witnessing audiences gather must stem from this time. While I couldn’t walk about and explore this (to me) massive building, I could watch people coming in, taking their seats, seeing the well-to-do filling up the seats in the Circle and then the lights going down, the sound of the applause and then….the music! Magical! Even now, in my 60’s, I love to watch a venue fill. I think the best that I can recall was being in the old Wembley Stadium and sitting watching that place fill up – how I came to be sitting in there so early, I don’t remember- but sitting for several hours watching people congregate was a delight. Perhaps I need help!
Some time after seeing Frank Ifield, I was taken to the London Palladium to see Cliff Richard in pantomime with Una Stubbs and Arthur Askey – this time, it was in the Circle and my first experience of opera glasses! While this was (clearly) memorable, nothing could beat that first ‘proper’ concert at the Birmingham Odeon.
But the thrill of anticipation of a concert has never left me and I hope that it never does (and I don’t believe that it ever will).
Referring back to the conversation about The Shires, I can remember a concert that taught me a great lesson about not giving in to preconceived ideas. I had a friend who had never been to a concert but saw a concert advertised and desperately wanted to attend so I agreed to go along with her. The concert was to see Joe Longthorne – a far cry from my usual concerts but a deal is a deal, so I sat back and watched. No, Joe Longthorne was not my cup of tea but did he put on a show for his audience? You bet he did! This was not someone running through his set list; his rapport with his audience was genuine and heart-warming, he responded to questions and comments called out to him and (as the saying goes) left them wanting more despite several encores.
Someone else that I saw by chance was George Hamilton IV. Early on the Friday morning of MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina there used to be something called the Hometown Opry which was relayed live on local radio from Minton’s Music & Pawn Shop. The early morning gathering would have local folks playing and artists who were appearing at MerleFest would drop by for unscheduled appearances. So on this particular morning, I was listening to someone singing and noticed a tall gentleman arrive with guitar in hand and I thought ‘that looks like George Hamilton IV…. Nope, that IS George Hamilton IV!’, So in a small room with guitars hanging on the wall and an audience of about 50 people sitting on cheap plastic chairs, George Hamilton IV stepped forwards to the microphone. This was another ‘not my cup of tea’ moment but watched as he sang songs and hymns, mostly as requested by his audience and he listened to people reminisce with him about how they saw him play on their honeymoon, or talking about songs that had particular significance to them. While I do not own any records by George Hamilton IV I will always remember him as being an absolute gentleman to his audience so early on a misty Friday morning when no-one had paid a cent to come and hear him play.
So, this weekend, I am going to try and catch a set by The Shires, I hope that people will see them and be thrilled to do so, I hope to babble enthusiastically on Hillbilly Boogie about people I have never heard of but knocked my socks off…I hope that I never lose this love and excitement at listening to live music.
As ever….Be Good x