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Folk/Country/Americana in Liverpool - Profile

  by Steve Kinrade

published: 9 / 6 / 2021

Folk/Country/Americana in Liverpool - Profile

In the last couple of years there seems to have been a considerable rise in the number of Liverpool based musicians who could be labelled as working within the Folk/ Country/Americana genres, which may seem to the outsider as a substantial departure to the established view that all music emanating from the city is spray-tanned with the essence of the Fab Four. But is this perception a correct one? Or has the genres of Folk, Country and Americana always had their Liverpool champions? The ebb and flow of the River Mersey has historically acted as the pulse of Liverpool. Even before Liverpool became Liverpool, when just a small fishing village on the edge of the pool, this magnificent river was always destined to be the catalyst of cultural and economic growth. It has ushered many things - good and bad - into a city which has then forged these components into something of its very own. As previously stated, when music and Liverpool are placed within the same sentence, the result to the casual observer usually equals The Beatles. But such opaque perspective misses the point: that mop-haired combo were just yet another example of the rich musical heritage that has existed for many years before. They weren’t the definite 'Liverpool Sound'….just a variation of it. You actually could argue that they were Americana before the term was even coined. And from the time of the sea-farers bringing home records from America to the present day, nothing has changed. Those historical and external influences are still being drawn on to produce contemporary music steeped in the Folk/Country/Americana tradition. But why - at this time - is there seemingly an explosion of artistes mining this rich cultural seam, adding so magnificently to the handsome heritage that already exists? It may surprise people to learn that Liverpool was once known as the “Nashville of the North”. Kevin McManus excellent treatise Nashville of the North: Country Music In Liverpool traces the introduction and development of Country Music in Liverpool from the perspective of 1950’s Hank Walters, The Black Cat Club and others. The Liverpool folk movement at the time was equally well documented: Gregsons Well, The Spinners, Jacqui and Bridie, Mike Hart, The Liverpool Scene. And there are more - just approach that well known local musicologist Spencer Leigh, who will school you on the importance of The Bothy Folk Club, The Word Gallery and the contributions of Billy Maher, Stan Ambrose, Chris Wilde and Julie Matthews. This Folk tradition is steeped in the city’s involvement with the trade union movement, pamphleteer and protest movements, and this ethos is probably best personified currently in the music of Nick Ellis and Alan O’Hare of Only Child. Indeed, O’Hare opines “…the folk tag is put on a lot of songwriters with acoustic guitars, but it is something else entirely.” Although Liverpool has always had a healthy music scene - currently promoters such as Mellowtone, Harvest Sun and Liverpool Acoustic keep the live music flame burning, the city is bedevilled by it shrinking number of venues.These promoters and others gamely plough on against a tide of closing venues - Cultural Cnuts against the incoming pandemic and economic tsunamis. The 81 Renshaw Street venue - which was arguably the best small venue in Liverpool - has shut its doors; the latest blow to the gigging fraternity. But art always seems to adapt. Like water, it attains it’s own level and seeks out the cracks of future possibilities. Perhaps the main component in the recent prominence of Folk, Americana, and Country has been the rise and continued success of the open mic culture in the city. As Jon Lawton of Crosstown Studios - probably at the epicentre of this “movement”, if it exists - observes “When I was younger, it was definitely harder finding a gig playing original acoustic music. Fast forward to the last few years, and it feels like the “open mic” culture has become dominant. Maybe because they are easier to find, but also there is no pressure to sell x amount of tickets….” The presence of LIPA within the city has almost certainly been influential, and with many musicians coming to stay and study here, the open mic culture has been enthusiastically embraced. As Liverpool producer Tom Percy points out, the recent trend in the charts has been for solo acts, and this has ultimately filtered down to the grassroots. The logistics of putting on a gig for solo performers are a lot easier. As Rob Vincent reflects “…the main issue is that there are less bands being formed and playing live, maybe due to smaller and less venues and more people trying to make it as singer-songwriters” However, is Folk/Country/Americana really the dominant genres being performed within the city at the moment? This is debatable, with Mellotone’s Dave McTague offering a differing perspective, championing the increasing popularity of Grime and African music within the city. And let’s be clear: the Indie contingent will always be with us. But what is crystal is the absolute abundance of talent that is creating music within the parameter’s of the Folk, Country and Americana genres. Liverpool boasts Rob Vincent and Anna Corcoran who won UK Album Of The Year and UK Instrumentalists Of the Year respectively at this years AmericanaFestUk Awards. Then we have the likes of Visions Of Albion, Thom Moorcroft, John Jenkins, Cal Ruddy, Seafoam Green, Motel Sundown, Sophie Bernice and Evie Moran. Examples of their fine work, and others, can be find in the curated Spotify Playlist below. Can the Folk / Americana/ Country music coming out of Liverpool be evidence of a new musical movement? Perhaps - perhaps not. As previously stated, it may seem more dominant because of the popularity of the smaller venue/open mic’s culture. The lockdown has probably made solo/duo livestreams easier to produce also. However, IAlan O’Hare is on to something when he observes that “Americana has always been present, its just been placed in a glass box of genre/branding over the last couple of decades,” And by the same token, Folk and Country and all the influences in between have always been present, existing to be drawn on by each successive generation in their quest for creativity. This is what we are really seeing at the moment. And this joyous spike of activity could well be a forewarning that Liverpool’s musical community is ready to go “pop” once we come out of lockdown. Folk, Country and Americana are nothing new to Liverpool, for they are musical expressions that are woven so tightly into the city’s cultural tapestry.The ebb and flow of ideas, like the tidal movement of the River Mersey, will always be a part of Liverpool’s creative psyche. Because, as Jung famously stated all those years ago, “Liverpool is the pool of life”. And as long as Liverpool is connected to the Mersey, the river that both physically and metaphorically enriches the City with new ideas and influences, it will emain so. Liverpool is a Sound City indeed

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Folk/Country/Americana in Liverpool - Profile
Anna Corcoran

Folk/Country/Americana in Liverpool - Profile
Cal Ruddy

Folk/Country/Americana in Liverpool - Profile
Robert Vincent

Folk/Country/Americana in Liverpool - Profile
Visions of Albion

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Steve Kinrade profiles the growing Folk/Country/Americana scene in his native Liverpool.

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