As the good folk of the legendary Bluebird Café in Nashville bring their carnival to town, Getintothis’ Del Pike pops into the Bluecoat for a drop of JD and a slice of good ol’ Country music.
Earlier this year a competition was launched that would give two lucky singer songwriters the opportunity to spend a week in Nashville working with established artists, that would culminate in a show at the Bluebird café, which has recently been a regular location in the Nashville TV series. The café allows artists to perform all day and every day, swapping ideas, contributing to each other’s work and jamming together in front of an audience.
The idea tonight was to re-create the whole vibe of the Bluebird at the Bluecoat. An upstairs room draped in black curtains with blue fairy lights, café style table and chairs and four wooden seatsin the centre completed the picture. The winners were Irish born/Liverpool based Karen Turley, and Kirsty McGee, a slightly more established artist whose song Sandman found its way onto the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s 2013 flick, Trance, and covered elsewhere in the film by Boyle’s beau, Rosaria Dawson.
While Turley takes the more traditional campfire approach to the in the round set up, McGee is a little more intriguing with her tendencies towards a jazzier, often rockabilly approach, like a less primitive Imelda May. The lucky winners were joined by established veteran American singer songwriters Don Henry and Kim Richey.
Henry has been around since the early 90s and has written songs for the likes of Conway Twitty and sometime UK resident Richey has been around even longer and has collaborated with Ryan Adams and Radney Foster. The quartet look like a perfect family at large, but there is no sense of inequality as their two hour set unfolds as the pros pay absolute respect to the newbies and encourage them with warmth and kindness throughout. There is a wonderful atmosphere and the danger of the artists seemingly enjoying themselves more than the audience, is held at bay. Unlike later in the evening.
As each artist has a very different style and approach there is never a dull moment and when they help each other out, this is when the magic really kicks in. Kim Richey’s Dear John, a lovelorn tale set on a riverboat in the South is made all the more enchanting by Kirsty McGee’s incredible bass flute. Her dextrous use of a saw on Don Henry’s All kinds of kinds has a similar effect. Karen Turley’s solo performances of her own Mountains and Dreamer, give Ma and Pa a run for their money and McGee’s euphoric Little Stars, written after a night in the desert steals the show. Kim Richey’s maternal leanings toward the winners, adds to her charm, and the jokey story songs of Don Henry cement the image of a home-farm Nashville family.
This thoroughly rewarding project was a joy from start to finish and Emma Foxall who devised the event has reason to be proud tonight as there are two shimmering stars in the making as a result of her enterprise.
After a half hour break The Late Show commences with the radio legend and former Old Grey Whistle Test presenter, Bob Harris at the helm. Harris has been involved with the Nashville scene for some time now, mixing with the key players, collaborating with them on his radio shows and documenting the phenomenon on TV. Two of his guests tonight are clearly good friends of Bob as their anecdotes reveal. Jim Lauderdale, a prolific Stateside artist with 23 studio albums under his belt since 1986, has worked with everyone from The Dixie Chicks to Elvis Costello and has even had a phenomenon named after him. The trend for country singers to be dropped from major labels, despite their integrity has become known as The Lauderdale Phenomenon after Jim was dropped from RCA, Warner, Columbia and Atlantic despite his high regard from fellow performers and a Grammy nomination.
Beth Nielson Chapman has collaborated with the great and the good to including Emmylou Harris, Paul Carrack and Sheryl Crow and she has provided songs for Waylon Jennings, Crystal Gayle and Bette Midler. Both artists have played The Nashville Bluebird on countless occasions so we are in good company. We are also joined by Andrea Davidson, a comparative new girl from Kentucky who moved to Nashville a year ago and is finding her feet in the song-writing world. She spends most of the set suitably in awe of her colleagues in the round, including Bob. She is particularly impressed by his 1975 interview with John Lennon. Her guitar picking and snare drum kicking are peerless, her voice a little sugary.
All three visitors are incredibly talented and their choice of songs tonight is inspired, including collaboration between Chapman and Liverpool born Siobahn Kennedy (formerly Maher of the 80s folk rockers River City People). Unfortunately, Bob’s radio background meant that increasingly drawn out anecdotal ramblings between songs critically slowed down the pace that was so perfectly executed in the first half. Stories of parties that Nielsen had thrown for Bob on a visit to Nashville with his son would be perfectly entertaining in a group of their close friends, but in front of a paying audience it becomes a little indulgent. The fact that the music, particularly from Jim Lauderdale was so mesmerising, rendered the extended dialogues and repeated thank-yous to all involved all the more tiresome. A welcome respite from the interviews was Lauderdale’s I lost you, a show-stealing corker co-written with Elvis Costello, and obviously so.
All things considered this was a brilliant project and a captivating end performance from the winners and their mentors, with equally majestic performances from the three special guests, but a little less talk and a little more action would be key if this event is to take place again.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody.