As 2017 heads for the door marked exit and 2018 takes its first tentative steps onto the stage, it’s always good to look back on what has been achieved in the previous 12 months and take stock of what went on. Have the seeds planted in previous years borne fruit? Has momentum been maintained? Did I have fun?
Here’s what went on…
The year began with me putting the final touches to the new album American Odyssey – there were some harmonies needed which my sister Jules AKA Tiny Diva supplied in a couple of quick sessions – then the task of mixing began. Engineer Ian tends to do a mix after each recording session so final mixing was not an epic task to undertake. He did a mix of each track on his own where he seemed to sprinkle a little fairy dust, subtly bringing out elements in the recording that had maybe got a little lost in overdubs. I lived with the results for a few days, playing it on every audio device I have: from the quality hi-fi system in my music room, through headphones on a laptop computer, and on the CD player in the car, and I made notes on any changes I thought were necessary and Ian made those accordingly. We repeated this procedure until I was happy. American Odyssey was complete. I spent the next few weeks telling everyone I knew that I had made the best recording of my career.
Most of February and March was spent in the US. I spent time in New York, Kansas City and Nashville. The main event was being back in Kansas City for a music festival/conference called Folk Alliance International. Five days of workshops, seminars, showcases and gigs in the usually corporate environment of the Westin Crown Hotel. I was there as part of the British Underground – sponsored by the Musicians’ Union and PRS for Music. It was great to meet up with acts whose careers I’d followed from afar such as Jack Harris, Bella Hardy, Sam Kelly and Gwyneth Herbert.
FAI is an excellent opportunity to be introduced to industry people it would normally be hard to make a connection with such as record label representatives, publishers, booking agents and artist managers. I was also able to be up-close with or interact with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Darden Smith, Danny Kortchmar and Billy Bragg.
Of course, I also took the time to consolidate my relationship with KC with shows at The Dubliner and a farewell gig at Johnnie’s Bar, where just about everybody I know in town was present.
I then drove down to Nashville to spend a couple of weeks catching up with friends and people I had previously co-written with.
The next few months were spent preparing for the release of the new album. There were meetings with my label, PR companies, and CD duplication companies. I’m well aware that it’s called the music ‘business’ but this is my least favourite aspect of my career – albeit a necessary one. If people don’t know about the record, how can they buy it? If the logistics of making it available via digital technology or good old-fashioned CDs are not given due attention, people will not be able to purchase it.
There were interviews with radio stations and magazines. These were not a problem because the story behind the album was my three-month tour of the US in 2015 so there was a lot to talk about.
In between this, I managed a trip to Australia. I was hoping that I could develop a similar routine as I do in the States but the costs of just getting there outweighed any chance of making a profit from touring. This is a shame because it’s such a beautiful country; I loved being there, and would love to see more of it.
The single Travelling Man was released in late July. The BBC played it, saying: “You will be singing this for the rest of the week… It’s a great song.” While the folks at Folk Union said: “There’s something about that type of country that I love… it takes me back to 1979 and Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello et al.”
The album was released in August. VENTS Magazine wrote: “The trials and tribulations of life on the road are captured in a set of songs that draw on classic Country, gritty rock n’ roll, swampy blues rock and 60’s powerpop in equal measure.” The Daily Country called it “an outsider’s love letter to the United States.” Americana UK said it was “a sonic postcard”. The icing on the cake, though, was RnR Magazine saying: “It’s like listening to a musical roadmap and at each stop there’s a good song with something to say.”
During the summer I played some festival dates with my backing band The Chancers as well as solo house concerts up and down the country.
The last few months of the year have been constructive in preparing for 2018. There are a bunch of songs that have been written since the tour of 2015 that are finding their way into my live set, so I’m keen to produce another acoustic EP along the lines of Restless Celtic Heart (which started life as a ‘white label’ to sell at shows alongside Songs From the Last Chance Saloon). Recording on that should start in April.
I’ve also been researching and planning a return to the US for the coming summer. If I can get the stars to align I hope to be spending a month in the Midwest and then either a month travelling up the Pacific coast of California from San Diego to San Francisco or venturing into new territories such as Montana and Wyoming.
2017, you’ve been great, but bring on 2018! I can’t wait…