On the face of it there’s not much connecting Townes Van Zandt and Shawn Colvin. There’s the obvious connection to roots music and a common attachment to where that music came from. There’s also a common thread of pure songwriting; story telling, melodies, heartbreak, but heck, we could say that of so many of our featured artists. On the AC we’re lucky to get so many fine singer songwriters through the door that we expect talent as a given.
Digging a little deeper however there is perhaps a thread that has run through both these artists lives. In the sixties Townes Van Zandt’s parents ‘sent’ him to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. It was short, brutal and, crucially not supported by any other therapy or counselling. Whatever their intentions had been, there was no real effective cure from the deep sadness and pain that troubled Townes for the rest of his life. Seeing him as a guy who drank a lot, took various stimulants and failed to form permanent relationships is true but unsatisfactory. His life, it seems to me, was similar to many people we all know who have suffered various forms of mental illness along the road. However much we find that difficult to live alongside, for them, the torment and the torture is a constant thorn in the side; from my own experience I rarely see these wounds permanently heal over.
I didn’t speak to Shawn Colvin about any of this. All I wanted to talk about was her songs. It was only as I prepared some questions and read around a bit that I realised how much her own life has been affected by similar issues. She’s written about this extensively and on the way back from the interview we did at AC towers she told me more about her own life. Here, elsewhere but in her own words, is how she’s described her struggle with mental illness:
“I think there’s a misconception that if one is an artist and, like myself, sings sad or sensitive material, that you’re risking losing that if you treat depression,” she said. “But when I’ve been seriously biologically depressed I’m actually unable to do anything.”
“In fact, being treated for depression restores me to be able to do what I do,” Colvin explained. “So, for people who are familiar with my music and like it, they should know that 90 percent of my recorded work has been done while I’ve been taking medicine for depression.”
So, as so often happens here on the AC, a disparate couple of artists – albeit with Texas connections – make up a fascinating pairing for two hours. Troubled, tortured but with grace and healing in their work we give you a very special Another Country this weekend. A special tribute to Townes Van Zandt seventy years since his birth and, one of my own favourite singer songwriters of any generation – Shawn Colvin talking through some of the major songs of her 25 year career. It will be a fascinating listen. Join me if you can this Friday evening from five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
Last weekend I had a great run. We had some friends coming round and I was enjoying some time alone with the CD player while cooking in the kitchen. By my side was a tall pile of CD’s sent in to the AC over the previous couple of weeks and still unlistened to. I’d be lying if I told you I was optimistic. I’ve learned to look out for the warning signs…bad sleeves my children laugh at, worrying hair cuts, unheard of labels and that most tricky record sleeve to predict – the self-release. They were all there. Having done this a few years I’ve always become slightly suspicious of the beautiful sleeve too….it sets up such great expectations that can only be bitterly dashed by track 3.
One tactic I have rigidly try to adhere to is my determination to hear the music before I read too much about it. It’s therefore much more of a joy when you discover a musician, producer, songwriter who is familiar after you start to like a record. Last Saturday I thought I was going mad – in a good way. I began a run of great records that didn’t really stop until Monday morning .It was only some long haired backwoodsman from a southern state that finally stopped it. I have to admit that they’d already ticked most of the above warning signs and it would have been a remarkable record to have defied all of that.
So I’m excited to bring a good deal of these records on Friday night. Noah Gunderson‘s album is a joy all the way through and it was tricky picking one song. The album’s called ledges and it was recorded up in the North West of the states where Noah hails from. Another new name to me is Austin Lucas whose Stay Reckless is already out. He’s also coming to play in Scotland soon…I suggest it’s a date you might want to check out. We’ll also hear from English harmony duo Ward Thomas, 19 year old twin sisters from Hampshire who’ve already spent a good bit of time in Music City. As well as all of that we will reintroduce you to these men:
First recommended to us by an artist who supported them on tour a couple of years back, Caitlin Rose, Deer Tick is the project started by Rhode Island’s John McCauley. Now five albums into their career you might expect them to be wizened veterans but are still a very young band whose audience is still discovering them. They love Iggy and understand the roots of country rock brilliantly. Their songs will break your heart then encourage you all just to ‘go to the bar.’ All that is probably expected. Less predictable is the fact that John’s new bride joined them on the session and she is none other than Vanessa Carlton – yes she of A Thousand Miles fame. If I told you they were married by Stevie Nicks you’d probably not believe me either.
If all this is not enough we will celebrate a wonderful return to the studio with a fantastic band by the great Bobby Bare. Mary Gautier joins a host of country stars to pay tribute to Eddy Arnold and we’ll hear what happens when Dave Grohl met The Zac Brown Band. We thought you’d like to hear what Beck‘s been up to. Beck described the record as coming from the tradition of ”California music” and said, “I’m hearing the Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Gram Parsons, Neil Young—the bigger idea of what that sound is to me.” ….sounds like our kind of thing, I think you’ll like it. We’re delighted to let you hear the first track from the new album by Nickel Creek and, in case you wondered, what Dawn Landes had to say about that very public split with Josh Ritter.
It’s all going to happen in two hours and it starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland on Friday evening.
There have been new people we have discovered on the AC over the years. Many of those have had Country musical education or, at the very least, access to a great country record collection. Last year we were delighted to meet John Fullbright whose Oklahoma roots showed through brilliantly. This Friday however we will showcase the talent of Sturgill Simpson. I cannot think of any (new) artist who we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming over the last few years who has such authentic country credentials.
Raised in coal mining Kentucky his own roots go directly back to the bluegrass he heard on people’s porches growing up in that great hub of bluegrass and folk music. However Sturgill’s route to Glasgow has taken him to some very interesting places. We hear Sturgill’s remarkable story of his 15 year overnight success which brought him to popular acclaim in last year’s Americana awards. We’ll hear about his life in the military, his own personal struggles and about his great hero, his grandfather. We’ll discover how much he’s influenced by Waylon and Willie and find out why he had to goto Tokyo. It’s a great story and as well as all of that he has recorded a blistering session for us. If all of that is not enough there’s a chance to see Sturgill for yourself in Glasgow this Sunday when he plays Glasgow’s Admiral Bar. I’m going!
Roseanne Cash‘s excellent new album is doing very well indeed. We’ll play you some more from that as well as something from the new ‘lost’ Johnny Cash album and to keep it in the extended family we’ll bring you music from a new Carlene Carter album too. We’And if that’s not an excuse to play more of the Carter Family then what is? If that’s not enough we have some fine new things from War On Drugs, Maeve O’Boyle, Ned Roberts as well as something you may just remember from Leanne Rimes.
We’ll celebrate a deserved win at the Radio Two Folk Awards for Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer and share our delight for the gentlemen from The Lonesome Fire. This week our good friend Roddy Hart and his band took America by storm as they played live in from of millions on Craig Ferguson’s Late, Late show. Not only that but this story has gone much further…all will be revealed tomorrow.
That’s Another Country, BBC Radio Scotland Friday at Five past Eight.
I had never heard about Townes Van Zandt until the late seventies when, on Emmylou Harris’s ‘Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town’ she covered his Poncho and Lefty. It enjoyed the song but it failed to get me to check his own albums any further. One of the most probable explanations for that is that I never came across one. It wasn’t till many years later that I owned a copy of ‘At My Window’ and a live album.
However despite this and the many people who have extolled the virtues of his recordings and, in particular, songs I suppose I haven’t ever found myself in the Townes ‘club.’ A couple of years back Steve Earle’s ‘Townes’ album only succeeded in putting me off if I’m honest. I remember us returning from holiday and a pile of records awaited me in my car from AC HQ. I gave Steve’s album a try but after enduring it for half an hour my family,as one, begged me to take it off. I got their pain.
So I am approaching a special on Townes with some hesitation. Part of me is loving catching up (I’m reading ……’s biography and listening to all the songs) but another part is finding this strange, slightly unpleasant character quite a hard nut to crack. I suppose it all comes down to finding a song which you want to play and play again. The only song of Townes that has (so far) come into that category is If You Needed Me and I must say that’s a song any writer would have wanted to write.
So as we approach what would have been his 70th year let me open up this particular blog to you, the listener. many of you have asked us to pay proper tribute to the man and we are delighted to be doing that. But we need some input too. What is so special about Townes Van Zandt? Why is he so highly respected amongst his peers? What are the key albums and which songs would we be foolish to omit? Do join the blog for this particular quest and don’t be afraid to keep us right or equally let us know if his music has passed you by.
Richard Murdoch and myself started this show by declaring to each other that we loved country music but knew very little about it. In the same muddled way we hope we can bring you some of the greatness in Townes Van Zandt and reflect the passion his fans have had for his records over the course of over 40 years. So if you are new to the blog, welcome along ..come on in the digital water’s lovely.
From the 08:30 London Euston to Glasgow Central: The train is barely at Watford and already everyone hates the bloke in Coach B seat 40..yes that’s you sir. The good news is he’s getting off at Preston. The bad news is that’s another 2 hours away.We know that because his ludicrous voice has broadcast it to the entire train as we sit through his pitiful sales conference with his team. As each new colleague/employee/victim comes to the phone they are each addressed as mate. Believe me this guy’s a mobile weapon. Oh no – he works for a mobile phone company – he can talk all day! Two wonderful things happen though: one of these delicious long tunnels which will kill the most resilient of mobilistas and…finally, my ipod and Don Williams. If I ever needed Don to pour oil on troubled waters it was this morning. I’ve looked up and checked…yes….we’ve all gone for that Williams manoeuver..it’s headphones all down the aisle.
I’ve spent the week with some great song writers…step forward, Charlie Dore, Steve Booker and Dan and Rich from The Feeling. My dear friend Charlie – a good friend to the show and one of the funniest people I know – likes to say we spent the day down the song mines searching for nuggets. It’s a good metaphor and funny but like all throw away lines has more than a glimmer of truth to it. It often amazes me how often I step into a studio/room/kitchen/garden room with a fellow songwriter on an uninspired morning and leave after dark with something – albeit not always the great song we hoped for – but a song, we write a song. The only advice I have ever been foolish enough to give to a young songwriter is…finish the song.
This week we get a chance to listen to the songwriter and the singer interacting in different ways. We have the raw surge of Howler, the introspection of Samantha Crain, the joy of Beth Nielson Chapman and even Joni Mitchell covered by Aoife O’Donovan. It’s a theme we’ll explore a little further with Merle Haggard being sung by Suzy Boguss ( I love Suzy…she also came to the rescue in the aforementioned sonic war from B40). We hear from some voices we almost thought had disappeared…good news for Mary Margaret O’Hara, Uncle Tupelo and Lucinda Williams fans.
So it’s all records tonight. Plenty fine new ones and others that will have you scrambling down the back of the sofa for lost change so you can buy one more album you’ve got to have. Finally we recognise a significant anniversary. 100 years since the birth of this man…
He knew how to run a record shop and I bet he wouldn’t have dreamed of ruining anyone’s train journey with a business call. Here’s to you Ernest Tubb.
All this and more this Friday at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
We got a loverly Christmas present from our children. Two tickets to see War Horse in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. Mrs Ricky has never seen it and I’ve only seen it twice. Needless to say we loved it – I loved all over again – and loved seeing my wife’s reaction to one of the best stage productions of recent years. Michael Morpurgo (author of the original children’s novel) says how seven year’s on his novel hasn’t changed but that, in Shakespeare’s words, ‘The play’s the thing….that has transformed the fortunes of the book.’
He’s modest but he’s right. Of course Shakespeare’s quote is quote is from Hamlet and there the acting out of the drama is played for the young Prince to see how much the truth of a deceitful monarch in the stage play will trouble the conscience of his new step father. The power of art to speak to power.
Isn’t that what we love about song? In a week where the passing of a great man of song has led people to eulogise at length about various great aspects of Pete Seeger’s character it’s also fair to say that he would have pointed all of these people back to the moral courage of the songs. Songs of protest, songs of hope and songs of fear for the future….it’s always about the songs.
This week a singer from that great folk tradition of protest joins us live in Studio One. With her live band along for the ride Anabelle Chvostek will be visiting us for the second time. A former Wailin’ Jenny, Anabelle’s current album Rise tracks the story of street protest in the recent Occupy Movement. It’s a in inspiring listen.Bang up to date and a great testimony to songs reflecting the times. Expect great things and some great songs.
In the first hour we will also have Anthony D’Amato with us in studio one. Anthony’s debut album was one of the AC’s favourites of all time. We had him as a session guest 18 months ago and since then he’s been signed to the New West label and has recorded a fantastic new album which comes out later in the year. I’m listening to it now and I can tell you we’ll be playing this one a lot. You can see and hear Ludlow from the album on his website now. Personally I hope we can also get some of the highlights of that first album too…it’s still a great listen. He is, of course, a believer in the power of the song.
As well as that we’ll squeeze in some new records and remind you again why it is we love country music. It all starts from five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
Last week on the AC we were honoured to host – in one room, and almost at the same time – some of the greatest musicians we have had the the privilege of meeting in our Radio Lifetime. Central to everything was The Song. It’s a funny art form. One of my producer pals mother used to wonder at how he could spend so long working in a studio ‘How long is a song..3 minutes? How many times do you have to listen to it?” She had a point. Although I’ve moaned about the fact we’ve all added a minute or so onto the popular song since the sixties I’m still convinced I work with the perfect art form. To break someone’s heart, open their minds or make them realise their whole life needs changed within that precious time frame and on a distant transistor seems to me a fairly noble achievement. This is what we do – celebrate the song.
This Friday we do a lot of that again but we turn the screw a little tighter.Four sets of song writers, one room, a live audience and each artist plays in front of their peers. Intimidating stuff. Beth Nielson Chapman mentioned the hushed reverence of The Bluebird in Nashville last week. This Friday we will try to emulate that sacred space relocating it to Sauchiehall Street. From The CCA in Glasgow we’ll bring you Another Country in The Round live from Celtic Connections.
I believe we have THE best line-up we’ve ever had for this show and I think you are going to love this if you’re in the room or sitting at home by the wireless. So let me introduce you to our guests:
My Darling Clementine are keepers of the country flame. Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish have based their act on the tortuous on off relationships of George and Tammy, Porter and Dolly and Loretta and Mooney. They sing brilliantly crafted country songs and Michael, in particular, has written for many other artist not least, Townes Van Zandt. Stories and songs to break your heart brilliantly.
Blue Rose Code is really one man. Ross Wilson is originally from Edinburgh but has been based down in London over recent years. We’ve been playing tracks from his debut album all last year and frankly , we’re not going to stop. It’s called North 10 and it really is one of the most charming records of 2013.
Aoife O’Donovan until now has been better know as the singer from Folk String Band Crooked Still. She hasn’t always considered herself as either a guitarist or a song writer but the last two years have changed that. Her debut as a songwriter came suddenly and spectacularly on Alison Krauss’s last album with Lay Your Burden Down. We might get to hear Aoife’s own version on the show this Friday. Her own album Fossils is out now and is another AC favourite.
Which brings us to the final act on this year’s bill. Zervas and Pepper are a Welsh duo who we’ve been playing ever since we first heard tracks from their second album, Lifebringer. They’ve already been at Celtic Connections to play at Roaming Roots Laurel Canyon night.When you hear their harmonies and brilliant songs you’ll know why.
I fear two hours is not going to be enough but join us to see how we get all of this in. All live on BBC Radio Scotland this Friday at five past eight.
On Sunday I’ll be talking to actor Deirdre Davis better known to many as Eileen from River City. She has a fascinating story and she will be my first hour guest this week.
As it’s Holocaust Memorial Day we will also be hearing from Zdenka Fantlova. She was 17 when the war began. Her story has been adapted into a play called The Tin Ring, and the ring of the title was given to her by her first love, Arno. Last year our reporter Carol Purcell met Zdenka in Edinburgh to hear her story. You can hear the fruits of that conversation in the second hour of the programme.
We will discuss the morals of Twitter in the light of online abuse. Where do we draw the line and how do we set standards? We talk to some people who may have some suggestions on how to deal with ‘the trolls.’
Last year we heard about Belfast’s 4 Corners Festival. Born to celebrate the diversity of the City and include all sides it’s now in its second year. We speak to two of the people from across the religious divide who have made this remarkable event happen.
We’ll have music from Julie Fowlis, Nick Drake, Dick Gaughan and Ray Chales and we’ll start everything at five past seven this Sunday morning.
On The AC this week an artist visiting us for the fourth time who we are more than delighted to welcome back; step forward Beth Nielson Chapman. We will also be saying hello to someone who’s been around way longer than Beth and, for reasons we can’t really work out, is visiting us for only the first time.
Our excuse for not inviting Rab Noakes before is probably because there is a ‘folk musician’ tag which occasionally blind sides people into forgetting it’s all music. Folk music – and especially sixties folk begged, borrowed and stole from all the great sources around at that time. So if we say Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly do we not cover the music which people now parcel up as Americana? I suggest that it is that great tradition that Rab comes from. Rab’s story goes from Kirkaldy to San Francisco and many points in between including a very early visit (perhaps the first Scottish musician?) to make an album in Nashville.We meet before Rab performs his own show at Celtic Connections and just as he prepares to release a new record. He is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of that Nashville album, ‘Red Pump Special.‘ We’ll talk Elliot Mazer, Bob Johnstone, Everlys, Townes and…everything with Rab as well as setting up the best microphones for his voice and guitar.It can only be amazing. That takes care of the second hour of the second hour of the show…but first…..
Beth Nielson Chapman and her Celtic Collective (that’s my moniker for them) will be in Studio One live on this Friday’s show. Beth will be singing songs from and telling stories about Uncovered. With a name suggestion from Bob Harris and some of the biggest hits of her career this is a record to be taken very seriously indeed. Beth never simply delivers 12 songs. She sets about a project and sees it through to the logical conclusion. It will be our pleasure to let you hear some of these new songs played live with some of the guests from the album and hear the stories behind songs cut by Waylon, Willie, Bonnie and Faith. ( hint: if your songs are cut by artists who can be recognised by first name only, you may just be a first division songwriter) Beth Nielsen Chapman is way more than a songwriter. She’s a brilliant all round musician and has one of our favourite voices from Music City.
If this isn’t enough we will play some great new records including one discovery I’m pretty will be on our best of lists come the end of this year. But that’s a long way away…let’s content ourselves by gathering around the wireless and listening to what we love – Country Music….AC style. It all starts on Friday at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
I’m back on Sunday too…
I’ll spend a lot of the first hour talking to Dan Burt about his fascinating memoir, ‘You Think It Strange.’
We’ll discuss what it means to be Married to the Clergy, talk about a one off concert at Celtic Connections to highlight the role of carers and,in the light of President Hollande of France’s turbulent week we’ll discuss public/private morality. What should we expect from our elected representatives and do we have any right to expect their lives to have a stricter moral code than our own?
As well as that music from Help Albert, Little Fire, Andrew Gold , Bruce Springsteen and Jo Hamilton.
It all starts on Sunday at five past seven on BBC Radio Scotland.
It’s the gift of the DJ and (in our dreams) we imagine the listener punching the air in delight when it comes off. A story I love – which is I am reliably assured is true – that my hero and mentor, whispering Bob Harris can spend the best part of a day getting them right. It’s the segue. It’s sometimes defines how we hear a song; the simple occurrence of a song being sequenced in a particular order means we may hear it completely differently? I wish I could tell you how many times I’ve whizzed by a killer song on the first spin of the album only to swerve of the road in delight when I hear it pumping out of the radio.
The segue too is the gift of the artist. One that has been going through my head today comes from a favourite album of mine from 1974. Heart Like a Wheel by Linda Ronstadt kicks off side two with The Everly’s When Will I Be Loved and moves seamlessly into Lowell George’s ‘Willin.’ I still love hearing it for the sheer delight of the running order. Listening back to it today it’s great to remember that Phil Everly’s masterful grasp of pop lasted for 2 minutes and 5 seconds. Genius.
So much has been said and written about Phil Everly that I feel no need to add anything here that hasn’t been better said elsewhere. I didn’t grow up with the brothers’ music as their fame had come slightly too early for me. I probably thought (mistakenly) they were old fashioned and square and it wasn’t really until much, much later that I realised how great they were and what a fantastic bofy of work they created. Bob’s Stanley’s piece in the Guardian tells the story brilliantly.. http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2014/jan/06/everly-brothers-abba-beatles-modern-music
On Friday we’ll play some suitable Everly’s music and we’ll be talking the Brothers again the following week. I have been promising to dedicate a show to the Brothers for some time and I’m only sorry it will now have to be in such sad circumstances.
As it’s the beginning of the year we have lots of new records to play you. Step forward Beth Neilson Chapman, Roseanne Cash, Sheryl Crow(oh yes) and Bruce Springsteen. Anthony D’Amato has a new album coming and we will celebrate these in the context of the forthcoming Winterfest that is Celtic Connections. Lots of people will be coming into the city of Glasgow over the next few weeks and we hope to divert a few of them over to AC towers to share some songs and stories.
This Friday we will fashion a running order that will excite and delight you. We will celebrate country music in the best way we know by playing some gems and playing you the music that could only have been created because of the wonderful music that went before. You never know, we might even have a car-swerving segue of two for you.
It all starts at Five past Eight this Friday on BBC Radio Scotland.
It’s been a great tradition of country music. Falling in love, marrying, getting divorced, singing about it and…well, getting back together again. You don’t have to be a fan to have a passing knowledge of Johnny and June, Tammy and George and Merle Haggard and……. lots of people.
So this Friday it’s with great pleasure that we celebrate a new couple of country, Jason Isbell and Amanada Shires. Together in Glasgow to play at King Tuts last Friday we booked them in to the AC early to talk and play. Amanda and Jason have both made excellent albums this last year and, for the first time ever, they have been touring together as a self contained double act. there were no other musicians on the tour and the stark and sober reflections of Jason’s new album Southeastern make it a very appropriate record to showcase in an unplugged format. Amanda plays fiddle on that album and her own CD, Down Fell The Doves is one of the AC’s albums of the year – no doubt. They play together and apart and we ask them both what it feels like to be on the road with their other half. (as if I didn’t know!)
We’ll continue this celebration with some other couples – Marty and Connie, Billy Joe and Norah and our faves Zervas and Pepper. All this and a new single from Bruce Springsteen too. Listen out for some fanatstic new things from Rick Redbeard, Jadea Kelly and some lovely old one…yes, Elvis on the AC – that’s always a good week. It all on BBC Radio Scotland. Visiting hour is between 8 – 10.