Day three of The British Country Music Festival had left some of the best acts until last, including rising star Catherine McGrath, AMA-UK Song Of The Year nominees Worry Dolls, troubadours Jake Morrell and Worry Dolls, and a former member of The Wandering Hearts.
“I was singing in the shower this morning and I felt for my neighbours”
Tim Prottey-Jones’ self-deprecating humour was becoming familiar to TBCMF since his turn presenting the all-star songwriters’ round the day before. Here, he took centre stage, opening up proceedings on the main stage in the world-famous Empress Ballroom at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. He made his name as a member of The Wandering Hearts, but Prottey-Jones’ frontman role with The Fatherline allowed him to showcase his vocal range and passionate delivery, especially with a heartfelt cover of Brandi Carlile’s The Joke.
The band also showcased their first, and so far only, single, Before The Trend Set In, plus revealing track This Work Is A Drug. Given that this was only the group’s third live show, they were remarkably tight.
The Fatherline were so proficient, in fact, that two thirds of the members joined Jake Morrell’s backing band straight after their own set; Prottey-Jones even contributed a subtle shoulder dance during particularly catchy tunes. Morrell launched straight in with his early hit Wire and Thorns, which was championed by BBC Radio 2’s Dermot O’Leary in 2015.
Morrell also played Long Way Round, co-written with UK country starlet Emily Faye, and new track Freewheelin’. The set highlight had to be Englishman which was undoubtedly the song of the British Country Music Festival, given its confidence that British country musicians don’t need to go to America for inspiration or to live their dreams.
“You look great from what I can see of you, which is absolutely nothing”
2019 has been a whirlwind year for Megan O’Neill. She’s toured almost non-stop, including supporting ACTUAL Tom Jones and co-headlining with Jake Morrell. She’s also off on a tour of her native Ireland. With all this, she’s barely had a chance to play with her band recently, so it was safe to say that she was *really* amped up for this set.
Her delight showed in her performance. She fired off songs from her recent album Ghost of You such as the title track, Let’s Make One Up and Without.
Anyone not yet familiar with O’Neill’s work was treated to a cover of Little Big Town’s Girl Crush. She also previewed songs from her forthcoming album, including Ireland, her upcoming single Rootless, and a really intriguing blues rock number called Devil You Know.
“We’ve heard you really love singing songs you’ve not heard before with complex choruses!”
Worry Dolls were looking forward to an extensive ‘lads on tour’ trio tour of the UK but first they relished the chance to showcase their sweet songs with a full band, including multi-award winning pedal steel player and guitarist, CJ Hillman, plus ‘Bear’ on double bass.
Worry Dolls’ folk-Americana music is especially notable for Rosie Jones and Zoe Nicol’s close harmonies, showcased on songs like Train Is Leaving and Miss You Already. They spoke at length about the art of songwriting (“We don’t usually drink and write but…” and their delight at being nominated for the Song Of The Year award at the Americana Music Association awards a few years ago, giving them the golden opportunity to perform with Mumford & Sons and Robert Plant. This was a few years ago so it’s great to hear they’ve been hard at work writing potential new songs of the year, including the powerful up-tempo tune Tidal Wave about grief, Firefly, and Leave Your Light On.
“Country music tells a story. That’s what makes it country”
It’s been a pleasure to watch Catherine McGrath’s development over the years. She’s risen from a slightly shy appearance as a teenager at Two Ways Home’s inaugural The Round Up songwriters’ round in early 2017 to this headline performance. That’s the beauty of TBCMF, giving prominent main stage slots to UK and Irish artists that would usually be somewhat sidelined at a festival. McGrath grabbed the opportunity with both hands, giving a confident and compelling performance that left everyone smiling almost as much as her. With catchy head voice songs like Hell Would Have To Freeze Over, Wild and I Thought It Was Gonna Be Me, comparisons with Taylor Swift are inescapable (and favourable). Haters gonna hate so traditionalists may not be impressed with her pop production – which she fully acknowledged and embraced with a Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream cover. McGrath said it best when she said “country music has evolved a lot.” Her influences span the genre too, namechecking Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves and Sam Hunt as well as Swift and Rascal Flatts.
Furthermore, by positioning country’defining feature as storytelling, she made the case for her own place in the genre. From that shy teenager, she’s developed into the artist who spoke most eloquently and at length about country music during the entire festival. Her songs, too, tell her truth, while also being relatable for young women today.
To catch up on Day 1 of the festival, including photos an videos of Sarah Darling, Laura Oakes and many more, click here.
For coverage of Day 2, packed with acts like Ward Thomas, Twinnie and The Adelaides, click here.
The British Country Music Festival 2020 will be back at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens from September 4-6, 2020. Tickets are on sale now.
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