By (what seemed) sheer chance my car decided to pack in on Friday morning. We’d already done the Easter climb up Ben A’an hours before the mad rush of central belters came nose to tail to escape the city. We were yards from home, three of my grown up kids, the dog and me and the car decided enough was enough. I can’t ever say these things are fortuitous but in retrospect it was the best thing that could have happened on this beautiful holiday weekend. I got the jalopy home and parked it up in waiting for the good Andy to open his garage on Tuesday morning.
It all meant I spent most of the weekend not far from my own front door. Even now I feel as if I want it to continue. It’s after nine in the evening and I’m just in from pottering round in the garden. The windows are open and the birds are celebrating evensong as the bats, who’ve taken up residence, circle their twilight aerobatic display one more time. I’ve turned the music off now and opened all the windows to surround myself with the sound of high spring. I long for it to come in the long, dark winter and equally I rejoice at its arrival. In the past I’ve found myself away from home in these weeks and I’ve vowed never to make that mistake again.
I love the energy of spring. Stand still and sometimes it feels it may trample over you. ‘You can never hold it back’, Tom Waits tells me and many years ago I first encountered Hopkins, the Jesuit poet who wondered aloud, ‘what is all this juice and all this joy?’ Sometimes it’s in the relentless will of the world to blossom into life from the unlikeliest of places that I take most comfort.
My enforced staycation meant I was never far from music too. Each week we face the dilemma of what to play and what to leave out. Increasingly I feel I’m leaving gems aside as new things have come in and, rudely, grabbed my attention. But there shall be gems: Scotland’s own King of Birds, Jim Lauderdale, Lauren Jenkins and George Strait. From Devon, William The Conqueror and from New York City the return of Leslie Mendelson and the return of last year’s discovery, Angelina with a brand new project.
We’ll also welcome a guest I’ve been needing to catch up with for a good while now. Marisa Moss works for Billboard, Rolling Stone and Nashville Scene. For a good while I’ve followed her on twitter as she chastises and encourages Country Radio to pay proper attention to female talent. She’s also a huge fan of country music and she, like the best of us, has eclectic taste. I spoke to her last week and recorded a conversation that takes in ‘Tomato Gate’, ‘Old Country Road’ and Margo Price‘s twitter feed. You will love her enthusiasm and her humour and she picks some blisteringly great new acts she’s been listening to. It’s a packed show and we’re live from 9 p.m. on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.
Against most of my instincts I finally decided to go see ‘Wild Rose.’ What had put me off was the trails and (what I’d heard) of the music. It seems there’s more to the film that the soundtrack and there is at least one lovely moment of the soundtrack which we’ll share with you on this week’s show. The film itself? I think there’s a beautiful supporting performance by Julie Walters and a great thread of maternal love throughout the movie. I’m not sure it begins to understand country music or why women, in particular, make brilliant country music. It seemed to me the main character magnified all the cliches of bloke country without ever showing why the songs might have wormed their way into her heart. I enjoyed seeing my dear friends Mark Hagen and Bob Harris because, if there’s one thing that is true, Bob is as gentle and kind as the Bob in that movie and Mark would always rescue from the wrong BBC reception if you were lost. At its core however there is something true at the heart of the film. Rose-Lynn wants to get to Nashville, and for as long as I can remember that urge is something which has tugged at the heart of all troubadours.
I thought of this as Richard Murdoch (my producer) posted up a 1970 poster for a Mervyn Conn country tour to the UK. It was Conn who brought the huge country gathering to Wembley Arena every Easter back in the seventies and was, in truth, the parent to today’s C2C festival. Country seemed a bit like pop music and some of the artists even had long hair and wore jeans. Radio played its part of course. After Radio One stopped at 7pm we were switched to Radio 2 where the folk and country shows drew us in because they too had a few electric guitars and some killer songs.
It was a huge draw for me too. In 1985 I signed my first publishing deal with ATV Music. It was then a small company up for sale and about to be bought by Michael Jackson. My lawyer took me through the deal. ‘It’s not great,’ he warned me, ‘But on the good side.. it’s short and you’ll be out of it by the time any success comes round.’ He was right, and I was grateful for his advice when I signed a more lucrative agreement at the time when my songs were doing a whole lot better.
I couldn’t really claim any professional discernment in the matter however. What had sucked me into the deal was the letterhead on the initial offer. Emblazoned in gold lettering were the main offices of the company. London, New York, Los Angeles and Nashville. ‘There’s a Nashville office?’ I asked them. ‘When can I go?’
Like so many places, Nashville is a dream. I’m sure Hollywood must have had a similar mythology back in the thirties. Imagining a place is usually better than seeing it; with the exception of truly great cities like Paris, London and New York. In ‘Wild Rose’ they capture the buzz of Saturday night on Broadway, but in reality Music City is not one of the worlds grander metropolises. Highways cut up neighbourhoods and the only real external aid to folklore is the sound of freight trains moaning on their long slow snake through the south. Drive through it and you might well wonder what the fuss is all about. The truth is all the magic happens in small rooms where stories are imagined and brought to life. Compared to these jewels the rhinestone charms of Lower Broadway fade into insignificance.
So this week on Another Country we will again try to unpick some of the gems lurking in the backstreets of that old Tennessee town. Our country correspondent, Bill DeMain will bring us up to date on what’s been happening and what we should be listening to if our dream is to, one day, alight in Nashvegas.
Listen out too for a tribute to the late Earl Thomas Conley, some new music from Tenile Townes, Caroline Spence, The Long Ryders and Reba.….sometimes in Nashville (if you’re very good) you get to lose your surname. Bill will explain everything but in case you’re still not sure join us from five past nine this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland.
Around this time of year thirty years ago I was unfortunate enough to attend a record company sales convention. The intention of these gatherings (see previous blogs for the nature of said events) is to gather the sales force together, wine and dine them and send them out into the retail wilderness ready to do battle. This was in the days when people entered shops and bought records.
On this particular occasion CBS Records were unveiling the product for the following season. Different marketing staff were allocated artists to make presentations. It was less conventional for artists to sit through the events but, on this night, some pre-arranged requirement meant we’d agreed to attend. One hapless staffer came to the lectern to talk up the forthcoming release by Dolly Parton. A horrible few minutes ensued. His photoshopped slides illustrating her past success conceded nothing to her singing, playing or songwriting prowess but instead played out an extended gag about the fact her breasts were (to this callow promo guy) the only thing of notice. It was shocking on a number of levels: firstly that an artist of such legendary status could be represented in this way by the very people employed to promote her career confirmed my worst fears about the music business, but it also made us realise that they could equally be representing our career in exactly the same manner. My wife and I made a point of walking out noisily and never coming back.
Since that awful night it has continued to annoy me that the British media have only been interested in the periphery of Dolly Parton’s career. Time after time I’ve watched TV and radio interviews where presenters will ask her about anything except her music. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether Dolly has cooperated too easily and that perhaps even she didn’t want to talk about the songs. I wouldn’t have been burdened by any of this if I’d not been at the Armadillo in Glasgow in the early part of this century. On the night when Dolly Parton came to town with a bluegrass band and stood alone with just her guitar to sing, ‘I Will Always Love You,’ I knew on the way home I had just witnessed one of the best live events of my life. There have been a few of these – Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, The second half of Springsteen’sTunnel of Love Express show in Sheffield in ’88, Neil Young and Crazy Horse at The Apollo in ’76 and the year before the one and only time I saw Little Feat with Lowell George. But this Dolly Parton show…well I’m not very good at putting any of these things in order so I may as well say it was up there with all of them.
Since that night and starting to present Another Country I’ve made a concentrated effort to get some time with Dolly Parton in a room so I could ask her the questions I feel have been missing all these years. I wanted to tell her how much her music meant, how talented a writer she is, how groundbreaking her career has been (and still is) and I wanted to rid myself of any association of that ghastly record company sales conference thirty years ago. I wanted her to know that, even if she was blissfully unaware, it was wrong and I wanted her to be loved and cherished for the treasure she is. It wasn’t me Dolly…I hated them….and this, this will make up for it. Finally I wanted to disprove that nagging doubt I verbalised there..that somehow Dolly had been complicit in the sub standard ‘churnalism.’
Needless to say any lingering fear that Dolly colluded with the misreperestation was eradicated on Friday 15th February 2019 in London’s Savoy Hotel when I finally got the chance to talk to her about music and nothing but music. Allocated 20 minutes we went well over the time because we simply talked songs and songwriting.
This Tuesday on Another Country you can hear that conversation illustrated by the songs she’s written in a career spanning over fifty years. We’ll play songs written by Dolly, artists she’s collaborated with and great cuts from her brilliant back catalogue and all musical things Dolly related. Our conversation? I don’t think you’ll be disappointed . I know I wasn’t and I feel I finally made up for the night I had to walk out thirty years ago.
We’re on air from five past nine this Tuesday on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.
There’s something great about country’s working music for working’ people kinda schtick. It, inevitably, offsets pretention of any kind and it reminds us of the blues/folk/hillbilly roots of the music we love. At its best it’s Hank Williams but at its worst it forgets the nuanced sophistication of Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich or the new country types like KD Lang and Lyle Lovett.
Of the many sins bro country has visited, the perception that country is about hats/beer/trucks/Friday nights/anybloodynightwithwhiskey is the most egregious disservice to a truly great genre. Songs that stopped me in my tracks are and have always been about stories, melodies and twists (musical and lyrical) which are able to halt you doing what you’re doing and start all over again. Don Schlitz‘s ‘On The Other Hand’ sung so brilliantly by Randy Travis is a great example. There’s regret, honesty, reflection, some resilient humour and heartbreaking melody. Think too of Chet Atkins, The Nashville Sound, Patsy Cline, Crystal Gayle and Rita Coolidge where country is as far from hillbilly as you get..yet still in touch with its roots.
So on this week’s Another Country we shall celebrate some great songwriting that we always need to find time to welcome. The new album by my dear friend David Scott under his long term monicker, The Pearlfishers, is as good an example of where you might want to start. In the good company of Jenny Lewis, Andrew Combs and Sam Outlaw it proves we have nothing to fear when music gets classy.
It was because of Sam that I first encountered this week’s special guest, Roseanne Reid. In the Admiral Bar in Glasgow Roseanne gave me a copy of her first self released EP and I’ve been hooked ever since. She supported me on a few solo adventures last year and on each successive time I was taken with how much people connected to the truth in her own songs. I’m not the only one. Roseanne was first discovered by Steve Earle at his Camp Copperhead writing retreat. Last year she hooked up with Teddy Thompson in New York and recorded her debut album. We’ve been playing tracks from that and this week we finally get Roseanne in to tell us the whole story and share some live acoustic songs. It’s one of those special nights live from Studio One in Pacific Quay and we’re already excited.
Finally, in the week we were meant to be leaving Europe behind (sigh) I will remind you why we are really called Another Country by playing you music we love which comes from our near neighbours. Listen out for Daniel Nogren, Racoon Racoon and Ultan Conlon as well as a gorgeous interpretation of the Great Irish Songbook from Dervish and Nashville’s very own Vince Gill.
We are on air this Tuesday evening from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me live if you can or hear it all again anytime on BBC Sounds.
It was the time of the preacher in the year of ’01/ now the preaching is over and the lesson’s begun.
The words are from The Time Of The Preacher the opening track to Willie Nelson‘s seminal 1975 album, ‘Red Headed Stranger.’ I found myself thinking about that song this week. It formed a significant part of the soundtrack to the brilliant Edge of Darkness when a grieving Bob Peck finds himself trying to unpick what might have led to the death of his daughter. A compelling political conspiracy ensued. It’s still worth watching too.
In these highly charged times of national soul searching it seems appropriate to flag up a few political songs in this week’s blog. Maybe it’s the atmosphere or perhaps it’s simply desperate times but I’m encountering a few country records where some significant artists are wearing their country hearts on their checkered shirt sleeves
I have a deep love of the music of Son Volt and the voice of lead singer Jay Farrar. I missed his earlier output but since I saw him deliver a great set of re-imagined Woody Guthrie songs with mono syllabic intros to a rather bemused Celtic Connections audience I’ve been a fan. Anyone who can keep an audience teased without ever telling them they were great or beautiful deserves our full respect. On the new Son Volt album Jay has turned his attentions to the state of play USA. “These songs are songs of turmoil,” Farrar said in a release. “Questioning what’s going on.” He’s taken his inspiration from Woody himself and it’s potent stuff.
We have played protest songs before and one of the veterans of the Civil Rights struggle has come back with a fresh set of anthems. Kicking off with Change (there’s a title) Mavis Staples new song (written and produced by Ben Harper) is a glorious hymn of inspiration and liberation. On a country tip too Charley Crocket is telling an old story on his forthcoming album – ‘I would stay here and keep on working but there’s no more water in the well,’ sings Charley. You can hear the full song ‘A Life of Sorrow’ on this week’s show when we’ll also remind you that Ry Cooder still has the powerful in his sights on his 2018 album, ‘Straight Street‘.
Elsewhere we’ll use our two hours of radio time fruitfully. There are some great new records out by Mandolin Orange (on vinyl too), Midlake’s EB The Younger, Eleni Mandell and Yola. We will tell you that Steve Earle did indeed make that Guy Clark tribute record and we see it only right to play something from the record and something great from Guy himself.
Is that it? Oh there will be so much more. Look out for some classic cuts from Lanco, Bobby Wood and Dustin Lynch. And, if that’s not plenty to be getting on with we’ll introduce you to a new band from Scotland called King Of Birds.
It’s Another Country, it’s on BBC Radio Scotland and it all starts at five past nine this coming Tuesday evening.
It’s been another great weekend, maybe the best yet, for Country 2 Country in Glasgow. There’s a number of eye catching details but I want to, if I may borrow from Brett Eldredge, take you the long way around.
Let’s start with some of those eye catching details. More people wanted to come, and more turned up to our two Another Country conversations even though we didn’t offer any of the headline artists. Secondly, and crucially, more people (by some distance) came to C2C itself. In short on Friday and Saturday nights the audience would have filled the Armadillo three times over with half a hall again locked out. That’s success by anyone’s standards. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly for me, the Hydro was a perfect fit. It sounded great….at times (whisper it) much better than the Armadillo sounded on some nights in the old days). All the people moaning at me about the venue had either decided not to return or accepted the fact that a bigger venue works. It allows more in, gives them easy access to come in and out without annoying people and, on a number of occasions became an intimate room for some very special acoustic moments.
Maybe’s it’s because I’d spent some time with Drake White on Friday afternoon or perhaps it was just his raw energy but he took the arena by storm and set the tone for the weekend. Drake was impossible to resist; gospel, country, southern rock…southern soul…you get your whole record collection in forty five minutes of Drake time. I took the minutes after his set to walk around the Hydro. Having listened to the Wandering Hearts a few times on record I was probably the most surprised to find I was stopped in my tracks to hear them live. Where the record had left me a little cold, live and acoustic they played a perfect set and caught the imagination of the C2C audience. The Spotlight stage was to become one of the more interesting spaces over the weekend.
I was surprised to see Ashley McBryde looking a little downcast after her set. To me it had been a perfect big stage introduction. You’ll hear a brilliant conversation (well her bits) with Ashley on next week’s programme and I suggest that, after a little reflection, she’ll agree with most of the audience and me that she and her band played a blinder.
There’s some truth in those who feel Lyle Lovett‘s billing was a little odd. But that’s only because country music has taken such a mainstream/pop turn. I’m not sure Lyle was ever going to convince a C2C audience that he was essential listening, but reader he was. It was a beautifully curated performance with some of the weekend’s finest moments coming during North Dakota, If I Had a Boat and his finale of Townes Van Zandt’s White Freightliner. If that’s not country, then we all need to think again.
Chris Stapleton: First the positives. He’s got a great voice, he had the best sounding electric guitars of the weekend….oh how warm and crunchy those pick ups and valve amps sounded…and boy can he play that thing. He’s also of course, got some great songs and the odd well chosen cover. I loved Kevin Welch’s Millionaire, an old favourite. But…..and it’s a reasonably big but, Chris will have to do a little more than sing his songs to his wife if he’s to bring people in to the party. Personally I’d be happy staying home and listening to the records…and eventually that’s what I opted for.
Chase Rice is always going to get credit from me for his intro music (a well known song of mine). Like Drake on the Friday he got the party started and wasn’t going to let a 5:20 starting time dampen any enthusiasm. He made a lot of friends. This night also brought another beautiful surprise from Caroline Jones. Her gorgeous acoustic set was a real bonus for me. I was hoping for something special from Cam. The last time she’d been here she played a brilliant set and established herself with the C2C audience. This year she went to the next level. Cam is a significant artist who had the chutzpah to take the Hydro into her confidence, tell her stories and speak a few home truths (“women enjoy sex as much as men do”). Unlike some of the acts over the weekend Cam’s festival of lights at the end of Burning House was a spontaneous ovation, wholly deserved. Logan Mize worked the crowd well but may come to regret asking for an audience volunteer. Young Aidan (his impromptu harmonica holder) clearly upstaged him.
I’ll be honest. I’d not paid much attention to Brett Eldredge before he was announced for this year’s event. Preparing to meet him I’d listened to a good chunk of his music and I still didn’t know if I’d be buying all his albums. It was then a lovely to surprise to witness him putting in one of the performances of the weekend. Two beautiful moments for me were Brett’s acoustic versions of The Long Way and Mean To Me. Flawless and moving in turn. Brett, you nailed it bro’.
It was a long day and I knew the audience would love Keith Urban. I fear I didn’t see enough of his show to pass any comment but everyone seemed very happy the next day.
Carly Pearce …….Carly will, I’m pretty certain, become a very big star. But again the Spotlight stage brought some real discoveries. The Hydro just loved Ingrid Andress. I think we are going to hear so much more of her. She’s a writer and a half and has a great voice. Watch this space.
Hunter Hayes wowed C2C a couple of years back. He’s an amazing talent. A great instrumentalist and a gifted vocalist. His music could easily sit quite comfortably on a pop/alternative festival line up. At times dense and (for me) a little over busy there’s no question that there’s a lot of clever stuff going on. Country wise when he opened up about his own insecurities of performance he won a lot of friends. Country is nothing if not truthful and Hunter is one of the good guys who gives everything on stage. No one was more delighted than he when the crowd joined in on Wanted. A lovely moment.
So the stage was set for the weekend’s very popular closing act. Lady Antebellum and C2C are a perfect fit. They played it exactly right. Two well placed new songs from the forthcoming album felt like a nice balance in a set stacked with familiar hits. Again they did that Hydro into the Bluebird thing with a beautifully arranged acoustic segment. Everyone just loved American Honey and Heartbreak‘s a modern classic is it not?
Over the next two Tuesdays you can hear interviews from backstage (this week) and our Pacific Quay Conversations (next week.) There will be plenty of music too. Join me if you can from five past nine over the next couple of weeks. It’s all on BBC Radio Scotland FM.
On this week’s Another Country we’ll play you some of the highlights of our Quayside conversations at last year’s C2C. You’ll hear Margo Price, Lukas Nelson, Ashley Campbell and Midland. You’ll get a chance to hear them answer my questions and some of yours.
It’s a tradition we’ve had over the last few years and we’re delighted to be involved in the festival. In the time we have been broadcasting we’ve seen the event grow every year. C2C will again be based at the SSE Hydro as the demand for tickets is so huge the Armadillo can no longer contain it. It’s a success story that cements Scotland’s deep love of country music. And, unless you’ve not been there, you’ll not know this, the audience is much more youthful than you would expect. Young people are digging country music big time.
Many people who consider country music the rather gauche cousin of folk and alt country will possibly feel the festival is not for them. So, let me give you some reasons to be cheerful that it’s C2C weekend:
Firstly, it’s that old chestnut, diversity. If you think you don’t like country music the chances are you haven’t heard enough. One of this year’s headline stars, Chris Stapleton has done more to bring mainstream country music back to its roots than any other artist over the last 15 years. A stellar Nashville songwriter and previously with bluegrass band The Steeldrivers, Chris’s simple roots music has reminded people what they may have been missing when they fell for all those ‘hat acts’ in the early part of the century. As well as this Chris’s collaboration with Justin Timberlake has brought country music to a brand new audience. If you’re going on Friday night you must stay and listen to the biggest selling (by a country mile) artist of the last few years.
If last year’s double act Faith Hill and Tim McGraw epitomised superstar Nashville then the incumbent of this year’s equivalent slot, Keith Urban, is a worthy replacement. Winner of multiple Grammy, CMA and CMT awards (in 2005 and 2006 he picked up everything!) Keith Urban is a country star. Born in New Zealand, he started his recording career in Australia before moving to Nashville and since then he hasn’t looked back. He’s a great guitarist, a huge interpreter of songs and he’ll be headlining on Saturday night.
Lady Antebellum make a welcome return to C2C on the Sunday night. The band played at one of the early festivals a few years back then spent a couple of years off after a hectic release and tour schedule that brought them huge success. Fresh from a fifteen date residency in Las Vegas and bringing together harmony and beautifully crafted pop/country I can testify that Lady A will entertain.
It’s inevitable you might want to take the odd break so let me lead you to some unmissable performance over the weekend. Lyle Lovett on Friday night is one that shouldn’t be missed. Lyle is not a frequent visitor but his unique blend of country swing and jazz should be a really special hour. You don’t need me to tell you how exciting it is to have Grammy nominated Ashley McBryde on this year’s bill. Her star is rising and, if like me, you love her album you will not be disappointed with her live show. We featured songwriter Heather Morgan in our Nashville round last year and she has written a lot of material for Brett Eldredge. Brett has a great country voice and it’s a rare chance to see him on this side of the Atlantic.
Make sure you catch Cam – her performance from a couple of years back was a real highlight and don’t miss Drake White who we have featured as a guest on Another Country. Make sure you are there on Sunday early. Personally, I think Carly Pearce will be a great opener on that night. I’ve loved her singles over the last year and ‘Every Little Thing’ is a country classic.
If you can’t make it to any of our up close sessions at The Quay make sure you say hello as I will be in and around C2C all weekend. Meanwhile listen in on Tuesday evening when you can hear how good C2C 2018 sounded. It all starts at five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland.
In 2017 an album came out which I couldn’t stop playing. It was by the endlessly fascinating Sam Baker. If you want to check back it’s a record which still speaks to our times and is a beautiful sonic experience.
The album, ‘Land of Doubt’ was produced by Neilson Hubbard. It’s one of a number of records we’ve loved on the AC which Neilson has produced. Like all great productions each of the artists Neilson has recorded has been allowed to express themselves in their own way. His back catalogue reads like a who’s who of some of our back episodes: Ben Glover, The Orphan Brigade, Dean Owens, Buffalo Blood, Caroline Spence and Mary Gauthier.
In the spring of that year I was so taken with Neilson’s work I asked my friend Ben Glover to introduce us when I was over in Nashville. Generously, Ben suggested we get together and write. On a lovely, warm late spring morning we all got together, Ben, Neilson, my colleague Gregor Philp and myself and we started to write a song. As the song unfolded I got to watch Neilson at close quarters move between his instruments and the sound board as he nudged us towards completing a song. They told us about their experiences up in Franklin, Kentucky (where Neilson and his wife singer, Audrey Spillman now live) where an old antebellum house had been the ad hoc recording studio for the first Orphan Brigade album. Before lunch Neilson and Ben were hatching plans to take us to the house.
We’d been fully Neilsoned.
The song we wrote that day eventually came out on the award winning Shorebound by Ben Glover and yes, we visited the haunted house. In the meantime Neilson went on to explore further adventures in audio and film and in the last months of 2018 released his first solo record for a number of years. Cumberland Island is a warm, intimate collection of songs which started its creative journey in the days after Neilson and Audrey’s wedding. You can hear more from that record and more about the life of Neilson Hubard in an extended conversation this Tuesday evening.
We will also pay tribute to a Nashville legend, Fred Foster, who died last week. You may well have heard us talking about Fred with Dawn Landes (whose last album he produced) recently, and you will hear Dolly Parton talk about him in a few weeks time when we bring you a conversation I recorded with her about the songs on which her career was based.
Sadly too we will be reminding you about the life of Bluegrass legend, Mac Wiseman who died aged 93 earlier this week.
Elsewhere we will introduce you to the music of Country to Country 2019. You’ll have heard music from the headliners Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Chris Stapleton many times before. But how much do you know about Brett Eldredge, Hunter Hayes, Chase Rice and Dustin Lynch? We’ll show you what to listen out for. We’ll also remind you that over the weekend you can see Cam, Carly Pearce, Drake White and Lyle Lovett.
Perhaps even more importantly we’ll let you know how you can join us for some of our legendary Q and A sessions at Pacific Quay. It’s up close and personal with the stars of C2C and the sure fire way to guarantee your ticket for these sessions is to listen live this Tuesday evening from five past nine. It’s all on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.
In a BBC survey you will read of the gap between the number of successful Male and Female artists in the UK. There were three times as many male than female acts reading chart positions last year. The gap is only going (if you’ll pardon the pun) in one direction. If this seems worrying it’s nothing on the plight of women in country music.
I’ve kept an eye on the Twitter feed of Nashville journalist, Marrisa Moss for a good while over the last couple of years. Unlike many of the city’s other music news feeds there’s an essential iconoclasm about a lot of her output. On twitter I’ve drawn attention to her constant updating the plight of great women artists ignored by country radio. It’s a small detail but that simple fact (recently compounded by an all-time-low of no women in the country top 40) that a large swathe of great talent is being ignored by the gatekeepers of the music and it’s an outrage which needs to be addressed.
It really shouldn’t need said but all this is happening when the women in question are making some of the most imaginative country music of any generation. Listen to the names: Pistol Annies and their component parts: Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angeleena Presley as well as Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Lee Ann Womack…and so many more, all roundly ignored by country music radio. The names I’ve given you are hardly left field; they are simply writing and performing fresh music within the country format. When pressed the gatekeepers will point to their audience – predominantly female – who endorse their decision making. My riposte? How would they know? That audience never get a chance to hear the artists concerned!
So, it was from the good Marissa that the news broke on the latest instalment of #metoo. The Ryan Adams story which, if you are not up to speed, you can google at leisure. It’s not for me to pass judgement on the New York Times article or on the women who came forward but it’s no coincidence she has followed and tweeted about both this and the missing country women. Only last night Margo Price tweeted that the lyrics of her song, This Town Gets Around were really the true story of a previous manager/producer who ‘harassed me multiple times and even slipped me the date rape drug.’ Before you ask, Margo’s not played on country radio either.
Are these two things connected? Well again we have to listen to the women. Reading their stories, it’s not hard to imagine their struggles to be heard. Any person willing to give them a voice and the possibility for their music to reach a wider audience is going to be welcome. If that person has a different agenda it not only stops the voices being listened to but it sets back so much of what we have hoped had been achieved over the last 50 years.
In my time involved with a major record company the staff ratio was so skewed to male personnel that there had been a habit of senior management calling up a local nurses hostel to ask if they could send over some young women for the end of conference shindig. I kid you not. Female staff were retired early, deemed too old to make an impact in a young world while old male stalwarts were kept on, cherished and rewarded. Think of any major institution close to your heart and see if the parallels are there.
So, it’s clear that where ever we imagine we should be, we are still, in the words of a young person from whom I once asked directions in Nashville, ‘a ways away.’
On Another Country we have a simple rule. We play the music we like the best. We try to include the different strands of roots music we’ve always championed. We acknowledge that this particular genre is loved and produced by white people…that’s not something that’s going to change very much. However, there are so many great records being made by women it seems to me to go against every musical instinct to ignore that. On any given week you’ll hear their voices loud and proud and in equal measure; this week is no different.
Listen out for Caroline Spence, Kim Lenz, Patty Griffin and Ashley McBride. We’ll also say a monthly hello to our Nashville correspondent, Bill Demain who pops in from Music Row to give us his news. We’ll be on air from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me this Tuesday evening if you can.
All year round I present a weekly program called Another Country which goes out every Tuesday evening at 8pm. Seasonally I also present a Sunday Magazine show called Sunday Mornings with Ricky Ross. You can find both of these shows at BBC Radio Scotland
I also have a show on BBC Radio 2, Ricky Ross's Sunday Soundtrack, where I play the new songs I love and talk through the common themes which have influenced song and music making over the last 100 years.