February 12, 2018
Last Thursday, at the famous Hackney Empire theatre in East London, the UK’s Americana community, along with many international musicians, delegates and guests gathered to celebrate the third annual UK Americana Awards. Having been at the first and second one, which were both held at St. John’s in Hackney, it was incredible to experience the awards in an even bigger venue. With its seats all full, we all realised just how much the Americana community and interest in it has grown over these past three years.
I was honoured to have been nominated in two categories this year: UK Album of the Year for my album Sweet Kind of Blue and UK Artist of the Year, and I’d also been asked to perform, so adrenalin and excitement were running high when I arrived in the beautifully ornate theatre.
The line-up of performers this year was heavyweight with Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters, Imelda May and Mumford & Sons on the bill, along with a great mix of international and British acts, men and, most definitely, women: Americana is a genre that absolutely does not leave out the ladies! It’s notable that at both the UK Americana Awards and the Americana Honors and Awards in Nashville, the awards are not divided into male and female categories – a conscious choice on behalf of the organisers – with the result this year that in the International Artist of the Year category, all four nominees were women – the nominations are chosen by the association’s membership, which shows the respect for women in this particular genre and community – not to mention that it’s a reflection of the strength of music being written and performed by women.
Just prior to my performance, my heart was warmed when Danny Wilson and Ralph McLean presented the AMA-UK’s “Grassroots Award’ to some old friends and supporters of mine, Alan Tyler and Big Steve of Come Down and Meet the Folks. CDAMTF is a live music night that’s been running for over twenty years in London. It was the first ever London show I did, way back in 2002, and I remember catching the train down from Cambridge to Kings Cross, all wide-eyed and completely unsure of what to expect. I arrived early and a man with a rock‘n’roll quiff was setting up a record player and organising his vinyl collection. Little was I to know at the time that Jon the Boatman would later become one of my best friends in the world. I sat at a table sipping an ale and took in the scene around me… your typical, living room-style British pub, but with people arriving in either cowboy boots, a stetson, a neckerchief, and often all three. Cowboys and cowgirls in London – who would ever have thought it! That was my introduction to a whole new community of roots-music loving people who would gather every Sunday to listen to bands and singer-songwriters playing folk, gospel, country, blues, rock‘n’roll – a melting-pot of influences we now call Americana. Come Down and Meet the Folks is a London institution and the friendships I made fifteen years ago remain to this day: they have been my core group of supporters, friends and music collaborators. It’s a truly remarkable thing that Alan and Steve have managed to keep it running for all these years. Big love and cheers to you both and thank you to the AMA-UK for acknowledging their work.
Alan and Steve (that suit!) left the stage to warm applause and soon it was time for my performance. I had chosen to sing a song I wrote with the wonderful Boo Hewerdine called ‘Over My Shoulder’ and it was made all the more special because Boo was there in the audience. I loved every second of it – the crowd were so attentive and in that famous theatre your voice feels like it goes on for days.
UK Album of the Year went to my friend Robert Vincent for his brilliant album, I’ll Make the Most of My Sins – a deserving victory indeed and despite me threatening to not speak to him if he won, he’s such a lovely fellow that I couldn’t help giving him a big congratulatory hug…
I was over the moon to be called up as winner of UK Artist of the Year. It was made especially wonderful that the AMA-UK had asked my friend Frank Turner to present the award. It was Frank who took me on my first ever UK tour in a van, back in 2007 – his last tour in a van before upgrading to a huge bus! I remember we did something like 28 shows in 30 days – the usual Frank style – and it taught me how to play in noisy rock venues. I learned a lot on that tour and had the pleasure of being invited back to join Frank and his band, The Sleeping Souls, on many more tours after that through Europe and the UK.
The night ended on a high with all the performers on stage singing a line each and plucking, bowing or strumming an instrument along to Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’. We sang with a huge photograph of one of our heroes behind us and harmonised our way to a final bow. If you have a look at the photos from the event, you’ll see me sharing a microphone with Courtney Marie Andrews and Marcus Mumford! Then with smiles and hearts warmed, we headed just down the road to Oslo (Hackney, not Norway!) for further celebrations and a barnstorming covers set by The Texas Gentlemen.
Over a week later, I’m still all aglow thinking about it.