Susanne and Steve from British County Airplay (The BCA) were just one of the Country Music promoters who were invited to cover the very first British Country Music Festival last weekend, which was held at the prestigious Winter Gardens, located in the heart of Blackpool. One of the UK’s most popular seaside resorts.
Built on the six-acre Bank Hey Estate, The Winter Gardens was officially opened on 11th July 1878 and has since welcomed a host of stars to her many stages.
And now, it was time, for some of the best artistes from the UK’s Country Music scene.
Friday teatime kicked off with Emma Moore on the Arena Main Stage. Now we have only just discovered this talented young lady, who has a vocal that is sweet and mesmerizing one minute, and warm, rich and powerful the next.
Unfortunately, Emma was first on, so not many people got the chance to hear her beautiful voice. But she was very much appreciated by the early birds.
Next, Joe Martin took to the smaller of the two Arena Stages. Joe was one of our first ‘Artiste of the Week’ (AotW) back in 2018. He performed some new and old tracks from his repertoire during his acoustic performance. Displaying not only his vocal ability but his fantastic musicianship, along with his songcraft and his natural ability to interact with the crowd.
One of the songs he performed was his self penned “Denver”, from his 2017 album ‘Small World’, which gave us the reminiscent storytelling of Don Mclean. With quite a range to his voice, Joe kept his audience captivated, taking us into the evening, and giving us a taste of what’s to come on his next CD.
Meanwhile, in the Gillow’s Bar, the musical talent of Scottish singer-songwriter Sandy McLelland was performing an acoustic session. Sandy has had a long and respected music career and is in great demand up and down the country. In fact, after the weekend, he was scheduled to travel up to Scotland for varied dates, stopping off for some BBC radio interviews on his return trip.
Accompanied by his partner Dee and her beautiful harmonies, they kept everyone entertained with their well-crafted songs and great vocals. Although on this occasion, they didn’t have the rest of the band with them; it made for a more intimate setting in this smaller room, but with a larger audience at an early stage of the festival.
Following Sandy was our 2018 BCA Artiste of the Year Award Winner Emily Lockett. And it must be said, “What a difference 12 months has made”. Her confidence on stage has really grown, along with her knack of capturing her audience with her songs. So it just goes to show that hard work and dedication in your craft does pay off.
You could have heard a pin drop while she played her self-penned songs to a large crowd, who had gathered to hear her beautiful clear voice, giving us a performance that was very self – assured and yet down to earth. Finishing her set with “That Girl”, she had everyone clapping to the beat and then calling for more.
Back in the Arena Room and Norwich based group Sam Coe & the Longshadows were out on the Main Stage giving us their usual first-class performance, with some great songs including “Whiskey Dreaming”, which sounded brilliant live, and “Make Believe”, a track from their next album release. Although quite a few people had gathered by this time, it didn’t look a lot in this large room, but that didn’t distract from their enjoyment.
Back in the Gillow’s Bar, Molly-Anne was keeping her audience enthralled with her folk-infused country. They were clapping and singing along, which is always a crowd-pleaser. But with Molly-Anne’s great stage presence, it’s no wonder.
By this time the room was full, which helped with the atmosphere. Not that it needed it, with such a great artiste gracing the stage. Molly-Anne’s vocal shined, as she performed her upcoming single “California Calling” from the forthcoming EP of the same name. Molly-Anne also told us here at the BCA, that she has an album out soon, so watch this space!
The relaxed environment of the Acoustic Sessions in the Gillow’s Bar went down well and the Arena Room was a great place to prepare us for the evening’s entertainment to come.
But before everyone congregated into the Empress Ballroom, the last act of the day on the Main Stage in the Arena was Simon James. This was the first time we had seen him with his full band, ‘The Deep River Pilots’, and also joining them on stage, was his ‘Musical Wife’ Sam Coe, providing backing vocals and playing keyboard. That’s an ‘in-joke’ somewhere, haha.
Simon is very much a roots country artiste, which in this day an age of Americana and country-pop, is very refreshing. And with the full band behind him, it really filled out the songs, which we had only heard before in acoustic sets.
Simon performed the title track from his latest CD ‘Happy Ever After’, which is a BCMA nomination album. The hauntingly rocky “Wishing Well”, and not forgetting “Last Goodbye”, which Susanne said, reminded her of Gary Moore’s blues side.
By 7 pm, everything had moved into the Empress Ballroom with the proceedings hosted by Matt Spracklen, music blogger and presenter on Country Hits Radio.
First on stage was one of the best singer-songwriters here in the UK. Gary Quinn started his set with “Lonely Eyes” followed by one of Susanne’s favourites “Body Language”. The crowd had already gathered around the stage, so it was no surprise that his choice of songs were well received.
We have seen Gary two or three times now and he never fails to entertain. Plus it was good to hear songs we hadn’t heard before. Gary finished his set with a great rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places”
Following Gary was the multi-award-winning singer-songwriter and producer Danny McMahon, who was once again on top form.
Danny’s country is classic storytelling that rocks with pop hooks and crosses genres. His set included his UK iTunes no.1 hit “When I See You”.
Danny is a great lad, who has worked hard to get where he is today. Putting in the work backstage too, with his own production company. He clearly has his feet firmly on the ground and is grateful for his audience, which shows in every performance. Like others, Danny had to find his niche. And now he has found it, he needs to stay true to what he does. Because what he does, is Danny McMahon.
Next up, was Rob Heron & The Tea Pod Orchestra. A 6 piece western swing band who took a while to set up, but once they got started; they gave us a fun time, of what they called “Good Ol’ Country Swing, The Geordie Way”.
Susanne and I thought it was reminiscent of Simon Crum, but it would have gone a lot better if they had looked like they were having as much fun as they sounded. But that’s just our opinion.
Although not really for us, the assembled audience loved what they were doing, and this is the main thing. But they seemed so intent on getting it right, that they forgot to enjoy it. Well, that’s how it came across, which was a shame, as they were going down well. It would have much better if they transmitted their enjoyment towards the audience, which kind of distracted from how good they were. By the end of their set, they seemed to be more relaxed and did have fun. And so was the crowd in front of the stage.
Liverpool’s country queen Laura Oakes was next on stage, which we’ve seen several times. This singer-songwriter is a multi-award-winner and it shows in every performance and tonight was no exception. Laura was belting out song after song with ease and the crowd loved her.
Sarah Darling brought the first evening to a close with a very polished performance. Keeping the audience on their feet and getting them involved, she was really enjoying herself, which showed and transmitted to the assembled crowd in front of the stage and in the seats around the Ballroom.
Well, this was just the first 8 hours of the festival. With so much to come; it was back to the B&B for a good night’s sleep. (However, this was wishful thinking)
(Scroll slide left to see photos)