Monday 8 April 2024

Gig Quest: Ramblin' Roots Revue - Bucks Student Union, High Wycombe. Friday 5th April to Sunday 7th April 2024


Ramblin' and maverick are sister words in our vocabulary. They conjure up what is indescribable about a music community roaming around the fringes, punching above its weight in quality and comradeship. Sometimes it tags onto the big beasts adding a touch of class to established genres and the semi mainstream. On the other hand, there is something special when it coalesces on its own terms, albeit small in stature yet big in heart. Ramblin' Roots Revue doesn't stand alone when carving a niche. But what it has nurtured over the last seven years is an identity and sense of belonging. While resolute at its core in terms of operation and support, artists and  audience will drift in and out creating a legacy that lingers. The date may be movable due to outside academic forces; the impact and importance to legions of active followers remains solid. 

The aftermath of another High Wycombe gathering is a time to reflect on what makes this event tick. Many will concur that anything north of the capital is an accessibility win. Okay maybe not in the realm of the sadly demised northern outposts of SummerTyne or Southern Fried, but a couple of miles from the M40 will suffice. Offering thirty different sets without a clash across an evening and two full days is as comprehensive as practical with the only debate when to rest aching legs from standing on an unforgiving hard floor for thirty hours. Space is apportioned in the Bucks Student Union to watch/listen to the music seated. However the best experience is on your feet strategically positioned to absorb the stunning folk vibes from Katherine Priddy or dance to the honky tonk tunes offered by Dom Glynn and His Sunday Best. 

David Banks & the Loose Change

Balancing a budget with a music menu to entice folks from around the country and further afield is a challenge met with credence by the organisers. Familiar names mingle with new discoveries to keep an event fresh and welcoming. Ags Connolly and Michele Stodart fired the opening and closing shots with a distinctive sheen. Ags turns subtle evolution into an art form, while Michele is on a glittering streak of output awash with tears, laughter and belonging. Wedged in between these long standing treasures is whatever the Clubhouse contingent turn to their hand to. The rocking delights of Luke Tuchscherer and David Banks are on an active upward curve, and both on top form. Meanwhile, the late night Clubhouse All Star jamboree welcomed back several old faces this year to celebrate the music of The Band. 

Every single festival with a 'ramblin', 'maverick', 'roots' moniker will uncover a new gem. Look no further than the sheer impact made by French singer-songwriter Bobbie who made you feel like a quest to crack the country code had ended. Time will tell, but for forty minutes on Saturday afternoon you felt like closing the book. She was that good. A festival can also be the ideal place to bring music from your periphery into focus. James Hodder has been known in various guises for a few years. His set proved it is never too late to hook into music matching every ideal you look for.

If you wanted a blueprint for a higher plane eclectic offering, late Sunday afternoon sprung from left field. Dallas Burrow brought a slice of 'Texicana' to Bucks with a a demeanour in the mould of Justin Townes Earle at his most expressive. Keiron Marshall uncovered an innate talent to front a stunning blues trio meaning there's no going back now with endless badgering to show more alongside the day duties. More stateside invitees graced the main stage prior to the finale in the shape of Kevin Montgomery's thoughtful songwriting and the powerful alt-country Canadian rock from long time practitioners Elliot Brood. 

Bobbie

The upward trajectory of the music from Kirsten Adamson, Sara Petite and Steady Habits continues to gather pace and they are locked into my musical world for the long term. At the other end of the scale, this was the first opportunity to catch the evolving experience of Brown Horse in a concentrated live setting. The band were just hitting their stride when the Friday curfew came.

Ramblin' Roots Revue 2023 closed with Bennett Wilson (minus Poole). Only brief unscripted cameos from Bennett and Wilson this year, leaving the path clear for Tony Poole to return with a 2024 incarnation of his legendary 70s outfit Starry Eyed and Laughing. You can't go wrong enlisting the services of Emma Holbrook on drums and Jim Maving on guitar, likewise a twelve string Rickenbacker and closing a set with 'Mr Tambourine Man'. Covers are generally rare at this festival, though making an impact when delivered.

The announcement of Ed Harcourt turned a few heads when the line up was revealed. However curve ball bookings aren't unusual, and they rise to the challenge of entertaining fresh ears with sounds from a different sphere. Horns, strings and up front keys did the job here as well as a pin drop floor finale. 


Kieron Marshall

From the buoyant and thriving AMA UK pool, early spots on each day were afforded to: Aayushi from Birmingham with her stunning folk-inspired trio; country influenced Scottish act The Niche Family and the unfortunately afflicted East of Reno, who had the triple misfortune of missing their drummer, a guitarist and breaking a bass. They stoically powered on in true spirit. 

Leading off Saturday and Sunday respectively, albeit on different stages, were Demi Marriner in full band mode and My Girl the River in a slimmed down duo format. There is an added depth to Demi's presence when surrounded by a band that brings the best out of her, while Kris drew plaudits for sharing her extremely important song 'Helpless'. 

Familiar faces popped up in a couple of other acts. Jim Davies, formerly of The Goat Roper Rodeo Band, is now one-third of the lively indie trio Bau Cat. Del Day resurrected his old band, MT. Caburn, for a set ably assisted by a guest appearance from his buddy Danny Wilson on lead guitar. The Vagaband are the veteran of so many Maverick Festival appearances that they also fell into the familiar category. This was in contrast to the final pair of new artists making this Ramblin' Roots reflection in the shape of the exuberant Majorcan rock band The Ripples and forceful singer-songwriter My Crooked Teeth.

Michele Stodart

Stamina was the order of the day to catch every act at Ramblin' Roots this year. Admittedly, a very small handful were a twenty minute sample and a few were listened to from the pews, not the ideal location but needs must. The economics of the event are a delight in this day and age. Inexpensive tickets and a pint for under a fiver, just like your student days, although for many 50p would be more accurate. An ease on your pocket not to be sniffed at, alongside a breakfast that undercuts Wetherspoons. Long may the value for money package remain as kind as the great music on display. 

April 2025 is like wishing your life away, and great ramblin', maverick, roots music is available 365 days a year if you search hard enough. But we all need markers. Maybe Ramblin' Roots Revue will continue to provide one. Cheers for setting the festival scene for 2024. 

Friday 23 February 2024

Gig Quest: Rhiannon Giddens - Town Hall, Birmingham. Thursday 22nd February 2024

 


Rhiannon Giddens is a beacon for meaningful music. The self-described 'cultural archaeologist' brings many facets to the stage underpinned by definable musical talent and a sense for enlightened justice. This Limerick-based North Carolinian is in a buoyant phase of a celebrated career. The wider world has embraced a new album delivering a rare delve into entirely original material, while seismic potential surfaces from playing banjo on Beyonce's dip into country music. For a smaller set, the enticing prospect of touring with a full band has built upon the esteem of generating appreciation from more slimline stage set ups. Twelve months on from a duo performance at Birmingham Town Hall with partner Francesco Turrisi, the multi-dimensional six-piece line up returned to the zone and the transformation was immense without shedding any intimate personal appeal.

A major development between shows was the liberation of Giddens from a fairly intense performer to a majestic band leader. It transpires the musicians in tow have been around for a while, but in the five times seeing her play live over the last nine years their full presence can't be recalled. Memorable nights are born from inventive bouts of excellence and the barometer of Rhiannon Giddens stock edged further upwards after two stunning sets in the final throes of the current tour. 


Momentum was a key factor. A tentative first set received an energy boost via Dirk Powell's cajun instrumental medley after a cautious start. The opening peak was reached with the vibrant airing of 'You Louisiana Man' off the the latest album YOU'RE THE ONE just before a halt for intermission. The second half wasted little time in hitting the straps and the pace soared until the crowning closing moment of the whole venue in active unison to a rousing rendition of 'Up Above My Head'. 

Powell, from Lafayette Louisiana, is a widely renowned American roots purveyor with multiple strings and keys filling the air this evening from a musical prowess. He was the architect of the back-to-basics segment when the the band stepped up front to deliver a timeless take on 'God Gave Noah the Rainbow Sign' and another upbeat old time rural song injecting retro energy into the air. 

With the fiddle and banjo of Giddens holding court in the centre, the front row was completed by Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbo bringing African rhythms to the sound. He also thrived in the spotlight when afforded the space to spin a couple of tunes.

The sturdy backfield of drummer Attis Clopton, bassist Jason Sypher continually hopping between stand up and electric and the aforementioned Turisso added a dynamic solidity. The latter, a firm fixture next to Rhiannon Giddens in all aspects of her life, brought an air of his Italian roots with an instrumental piece titled 'Briggs' Forro', although international horizons are blurred when music emanates from the keys and accordion of this distinguished performer. 

The set list called at various points of Giddens' solo career. Highlights from the new album included the poignant 'Another Wasted Life', the compellingly uplifting 'Hen in the Foxhouse' and the accomplished 'Yet to Be'. Another top moment from a special night was an emotive version of 'We Could Fly' off the FREEDOM HIGHWAY album. As per usual, the spoken moments exuded passion, intellect and insightful intuition. 

While intent shifts into a genre-less sphere, the music of Rhiannon Giddens spawns evidence of certain styles being re-energised and re-focussed. It shines a light on embedded traits and paves the way for evolution. Country, folk, old-time string music and any other type pulling in the talents of this performing maestro is given a boost. Although strong forces dictate the mission on many fronts, Rhiannon Giddens purrs with entertainment value. Wrap the message with appeal and its lessons will prosper.