The Americana Music Association UK Conference and Awards
2 -3 February 2016
This was an occasion that celebrated confidently and joyfully that Americana is now flourishing in the UK. The conference had an international feel about it, with visiting and performing artists from both sides of the Atlantic, music industry and media professionals.
Throughout the conference there was a healthy awareness of the definition of 'Americana' as contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw.
In fact, Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, in his keynote address to the conference emphasized what particularizes this blend of music. In his words and in this music ìIf you can taste the dirt through your ears, that is Americana. Plenty of that in the music that particularized the two days!
The first session was chaired by Ralph McLean from BBC Radio Ulster and included on his panel were: Beth Nielsen, Texan singer/songwriter, (check out her song "All I Have") along with Will Kaufman (Central Lancashire Uni) and Andy Fyfe (Q and Mojo). They spent an enthralling hour exploring the special musical relationship between America and the UK.
So the day developed. Next came Kim Bayley (Director General of ERA) who, with her panel addressed the revolution in entertainment, particularly music consumption, a new ingenuity amongst retailers and the potentially favourable implications for Americana!
After Lunch, Baylen Leonard (BBC Radio 2) addressed the subject, "Radio ñ How to Get Played" with panelists: Mark Hagaen (BBC Radio 2 producer) Claire Paxton-Rider (Fleming Associates ñ Radio and Television promotion) and Crispin Perry (CEO British Underground, an Arts Council England NPO) An hour of practical advice on getting exposure.
And the day finished with an added flourish with Bob Harris in conversation with Billy Bragg. They embarked on an entertaining journey through American and particularly British music with no source left unturned: Child Ballads, Woody Guthrie, Skiffle, Lonnie Donnegan, Rock ëní Roll, Dylan, all leading to where we are now, richer because of where we have come from.
In the evening, the venue changed to Moth Club, Old Trades Hall in central Hackney. This was a showcase for the best Americana available in the UK selected from over 50 applications. Ten acts, five hours, two stages. Perfectly organized. Half an hour per set. Upstairs in a smaller room acoustic; the main stage downstairs for the bands. All acts were superb, memorable. The main stage showcased William the Conqueror, Wildflowers, Stevie Ray Latham, Yola Carter (Wow! Look out for this band at The Radio 6 Festival in Bristol), and The Travelling Band. The acoustic stage showcased Danni Nicholls, Joe Rose (special and moving), Dean Owens, Loud Mountains, and Hannah Aldridge (outstanding, and the artist who had travelled furthest, from Nashville via Switzerland) who included a song from her forthcoming album.
The morning of the second day was devoted to a Songwriting Workshop of the highest order. Here was a panel of successful songwriters: Chris Difford (Squeeze), Austin based Kimmie Rhodes with a back list of scores of songs (listen to her and Willie Nelson singing her composition "Love Me Like A Song"), Shelly Poole who has worked with Janet Jackson, Massive Attack et al. and Boo Hewerdine who has written for Eddi Reader, Chris Difford, kd Lang...) There were plenty of artists and bands prepared to play in front of this panel and the audience. And the advice given, often to work in progress, discussing lyrical challenges was invaluable and fascinating.
So, on to the UKs first ever Americana Awards, held in St John at Hackney, a fitting and atmospheric venue, hosted by Bob Harris with special guest Billy Bragg and one surprise award presenter, Bonnie Rait, a secret kept until she appeared!
Under the directorship of Ethan Jones, there were performances from Gretchen Peters, Bearís Den, Danny & The Champions of the World, The Dreaming Spires, Emily Barker, Lewis & Leigh, Cale Tyson, Robert Tyson and Robert Vincent.
As part of the audience you could sense the amount of care taken with the presentation. The resulting atmosphere was very special and unforgettable.
So, here are the awards and the shortlisted ones:
THE UK AMERICANA AWARDS WINNERS 2016
UK Album of the Year
WHAT KIND OF LOVE - DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD (PRODUCED BY CHRIS CLARKE AND DANNY GEORGE WILSON)
Searching for the Supertruth -The Dreaming Spires (produced by The Dreaming Spires)
The Toerag Sessions - Emily Barker (produced by Liam Watson)
If I Was - The Staves (produced by Justin Vernon)
International Album of the Year
BLACKBIRDS - GRETCHEN PETERS (PRODUCED BY DOUG LANCIO, GRETCHEN PETERS & BARRY WALSH)
Something More Than Free - Jason Isbell (produced by Dave Cobb)
Pageant Material - Kacey Musgraves (produced by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally and Kacey Musgraves)
Introducing Cale Tyson - Cale Tyson (produced by Cale Tyson)
UK Artist of the Year
DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD
The Dreaming Spires
Lewis & Leigh
International Artist of the Year
JASON ISBELL (who appeared on video)
The Bros. Landreth
UK Song of the Year
CLEAR WATER - DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD (WRITTEN BY DANNY GEORGE WILSON AND PAUL LUSH
Agape - Bearís Den (written by Andrew Davie, Kevin Jones and Johannes Refsdal))
Rubble - Lewis & Leigh (written by Al Lewis and Alva Leigh)
Black & White - The Staves (written by The Staves)
International Song of the Year
BLACKBIRDS - GRETCHEN PETERS (WRITTEN BY GRETCHEN PETERS AND BEN GLOVER)
24 Frames - Jason Isbell (written by Jason Isbell)
All These Dreams - Andrew Combs (written by Andrew Combs and Jabe Beyer)
American Middle Class - Angeleena Presley (written by Angeleen a Presley)
UK Instrumentalist of the Year
Spencer Cullum Jr
From a personal perspective, it was pleasure and an honour to be there at the AMA UK Conference and Awards representing Americana UK who are acknowledged so fully. Contacts have been made from all over. And a special thank you to Stevie Freeman, Chair, who seemed to be everywhere and in command, and to one other Board member who knows so much of interest about Americana. Two days in Americana never to be forgotten.