Long ago, in another world and a different time I’d visit a little record shop not far from where I lived. On the southside of Glasgow, If I remember correctly it was called ‘Salvation Sounds,’ and was located in the Arcade at Shawlands and was, until this day, the only good reason I ever found for going in that dull sixties pile. I’d browse around for half an hour until I found a couple of things to add to my record collection then retreat home to listen to my new finds.
What made this shop so good was the guy who ran it rejoiced in celebrating new music and championing things he’d discovered himself. It was always a joy to return to see what had changed since the last visit. One one sunny Saturday, I saw a new section, which was simply labelled, ‘Americana.’ It was so good to find that the music I liked had finally got a name. No longer folk/rock or singer/songwriter or even New Country, the A label seemed simple, descriptive and inclusive enough to embrace much of the music I’d loved from way back.
In recent years I’ve become less fond of the term, but in the absence of anything better, I’m relatively happy that we have a name for something that seems to encourage songwriting as a primary asset. So it is that some 25 years on from that time, a great number of fellow travellers will gather this week in North London to celebrate a genre that’s as vague a definition as popmusic. Now it seems, and this is quite handy, if you want to be called Americana – you are, and if someone else calls you that, so be it.
It has been particularly useful when it comes to fitting things in to our two hour show every week. It’s often come down to how in or out of place the record sounds next to the one you’ve played just before it. There is, as you can see, lots of wiggle room. Interestingly the Americana festival in the US has used the term to draw together all manner of R’n’B acts from the sixties and seventies that seem to have been overlooked elsewhere. In a definition of mission creep, they also seem to have assimilated Gospel music….of a certain kind. No one’s complaining, least of all me, but equally no one seems to be arguing about what should or shouldn’t be included. In Country and Folk music some of these debates get a little more heated.
In any case the UK Americana people have their annual shindig this week in London. It’s been going for a few years now and I think I may be a member of something or other to do with it…but am not entirely sure what that means. They do give out awards to UK Americana acts, but again the long list is quite tricky to get your head round as even I, with a radio head-start, find I’m genuinely baffled by most of the names of the acts. I usually get to hear them for the first time on the night, and that can often be a very pleasant surprise.
So, on next week’s AC, I’ll be fresh back from Hackney with all the news of the night and a few new records in my bag. On this week’s show I’m going to play you some Americana gems I may have found at Salvation Sounds all these years ago and bring it right up to date by imagining what artists they’d be displaying in the shop window if (if only) the shop were there today.
Do join me this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland from five past eight or at any time you choose on BBC Sounds.