Greystones, Sheffield, 22/2/2017
published: 17 /
Nicky Crewe is excited by the Grahams' first date of their UK tour. From New York via Nashville, Route 66, American railroads and the Mississippi River, their music makes connections wherever they play
Nowadays everyone talks about The Journey.
The Grahams make theirs a real one, taking inspiration from road, rail and river trips and their influences from fellow travellers, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and the Carter Family.
They kicked off their latest tour of the UK with an appearance in Sheffield. Fresh from jetlag, having arrived in the country the day before, their energy and enthusiasm was amazing. As a band they were tight and together, and as performers they were exciting to watch. Introducing their songs with explanations and banter makes a gig like this in a pub backroom so intimate that by the time you get to meet them at the merch table you feel like you have known them all your life.
Coincidentally, that’s part of the story and the deep connection behind the Grahams. Doug and Alyssa Graham have known one another since early childhood. Raised in New York, they were childhood and teenage friends, eventually marrying.
He’s the cat in the hat with his beard in a plait. She is the beautiful woman with a stunning voice and the gypsy in her soul.
Their songwriting celebrates those old American traditions of following the railroad and the rivers across the country’s wide open spaces for stories and characters. It’s folk, it’s country, it’s even protest and it is also amazing rock music. There are echoes of the Band and Springsteen, even Van Morrison, in there and that makes sense too. They are carrying the torch, whether it’s from a houseboat in a swamp on the Mississippi river, a train across the prairies or more recently a Harley Davidson along Route 66.
Alyssa’s voice can go from a whisper to a scream, from the gentlest of harmonies to driving rock, as she plays rhythm guitar. Doug can do things with acoustic guitars that seem impossible, playing a dobro or with a simple pick up. Backed by Houston Mathews on drums (who also did the fabulous art work for the tour poster) and Shane Tutmarc on bass, this band are going to go from strength to strength on tour.
The set included songs from their recent albums, 'Griggstown', 'Trouble’s Coming' (about Trump), 'A Good Man', 'Revival Time', 'Tender Annabelle', 'Blow Wind Blow', 'Kansas City', 'The Wild One', 'Gambling Girl', 'Tall Cathedral Pines' and 'Lay Me Down'. As a debt of gratitude to Neil Young and his influence on them they did one of the best versions of 'Down by the River' I have ever heard, with all the menace and beauty of the original.
They also had a novel approach to leaving the stage before an encore! There’s no space for a conventional exit, so they simply turned their backs to the audience before finishing the set with a storming version of 'Glory Bound'.
There is a shared fascination with country music and the Nashville influence whether you come from Yorkshire or New York State.
The Backroom at The Greystones pub is one of the legendary venues of Sheffield. The combination of good beer and great music is a winning one with audiences and artists alike. There’s a lively programme of bands and open mic nights, with blues, folk and acoustic and Americana artists from both sides of the pond.
They were supported by local duo the Sowerbees.
This was the Grahams' third tour in the UK and through February and early March they played venues as varied as the Sage in Gateshead and The Ropetackle in Shoreham, finishing in London’s Kings Place. Take the train, ride the motorbike, follow the river the next time they tour to catch them.