Closeup on the 2020 AMA-UK Americana Awards

Highlights of a star-studded night featuring Joan Armatrading, Nick Lowe, Billy Bragg, The Milk Carton Kids, Amy Speace, Brian Fallon and many more!

January 30, 2020
Troxy, London

As the official photographer for the AMA-UK awards ceremony, we had a unique view of the event so here’s our round up of the highlights.

The 2020 ceremony took place at Troxy rather than the Hackney Empire. Thankfully, the temporary home was just as impressive, with Art Deco grandeur all around.

The red carpet was suitably star-studded with a litany of award nominees and celebrities including Martin Freeman and Brian Fallon.

UK Song of the Year nominee Danni Nicholls opened the show with a heartfelt performance before ‘Whispering Bob’ Harris OBE took his rightful place on the podium to begin the ceremony.

The first award was one of the most hotly anticipated as it embodies the grassroots impulse of recognising incredible musicianship, and it is entirely member voted. The award went to Si├ón Monaghan, who has played drums with Stick In The Wheel, The Wandering Hearts, China Crisis and the AMA-UK’s Americana Clash house band just a few days earlier. (We’re still patiently waiting for her and Michele Stodart to start a band on the back of that performance, to be honest!) Monaghan was surprised and thrilled, waxing lyrical about the organisation and its members: “We’ve got to continue on this awesome journey together.”

President of Thirty Tigers, David Macias came out with fighting talk: “it feels only fitting that I’m going to challenge Liam Gallagher to a fight,” he said. Really throwing the cat amongst the pigeons at an Americana awards he dropped the mic with “Beyonce made the greatest music video of all time.” Somehow within this monologue he had enough time to announce the new International Artist of The Year, Brandi Carlile.

Grassroots Award winner Mark Whitfield of Americana-UK talked about writing about music in his bedroom 20 years ago…and still doing that now, but being recognised for it! Judging by the thunderous applause and cheers, he was one of the most popular winners of the night.

Americana artists – and evidently comedic double act – The Milk Carton Kids performed, presented, and surveyed the scene from an interesting perspective given that they host the U.S. Americana awards. “It’s like the Nashville version but with class,” they concluded. They hit back at false advertising, though: “Whispering Bob doesn’t whisper.”

Next up was Amy Speace with the most moving performance of the night; Me and the Ghost of Charlemagne. She soon stepped back on the stage for the most delightful reason, as the winner of the International Song of the Year award. She was almost in disbelief that the song could offer than it had already given. She explained “I wrote this song to keep myself alive.”

She dedicated it to musicians who keep going despite hard times (sample lyric: “every day I quit this job/by night I take it back.”) The joy was bittersweet; her mother was there to witness the happy occasion but sadly her father had passed away. In a nod to him, she gripped the award and declared “I did something with my life even if I didn’t go to law school!”

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Ferris and Sylvester were at an earlier stage in their careers but were just as honoured to receive Bob Harris’ Emerging Artist award. They thanked “everyone who’s taken a punt on two crazy kids with a dream.”

Broadcaster and AMA-UK board member Baylen Leonard took the opportunity to thank Bob Harris for his example and guidance in radio and in the Americana community. He also marveled at how things have turned out because of Americana: “I’m hanging out with all the people I wanted to hang out with in high school but wasn’t cool enough…and I can still be fully embraced for wearing double denim!” He then presented Harris with a richly deserved Outstanding Contribution Award.

Yola made video cameos throughout the night, accepting the awards for UK Album of The Year and UK Artist of the Year. Meanwhile, Jade Bird was recognised for having the Bestselling Americana Album of the year by a UK artist.

If you’re familiar with the grassroots Americana scene, you may well have come across Peter Donegan’s epic performance of his father’s seminal track, Rock Island Line. Billy Bragg was honoured to present Peter with Lonnie Donegan’s posthumous Legend Award.

Bragg was unequivocal: “Lonnie Donegan didn’t have the credit that he was due,” given that he was responsible for getting Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie in the charts, and appealing to teens back when “there was only music for adults and novelty music for children.” Bragg and Peter performed the song together, and the atmosphere was electric.

The pace didn’t let up for a moment: Nick Lowe won the Trailblazer Award and performed Love Starvation.

Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini presented the prestigious Lifetime Achievement award to Joan Armatrading. She was humbled by the honour: “I don’t get a lot of awards.”

She chose Shingai to perform her hit single, Love and Affection.

As per tradition, the show ended with a spirited group performance of May The Circle Be Unbroken.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of an event that also featured appearances from Merril Osmond, Brandy Clark, Ida Mae and so many more. Head over to the AMA-UK website for the full list of award nominees and winners.

The ceremony ended but the party was just beginning. The crowd moved en masse to the other end of the room for a quick-fire covers by Billy Bragg, Sunny Ozell, Michaela Anne to name just a few.

The AMA-UK Americana awards ceremony is going virtual for 2021. Here’s how to get your tickets for the awards, 14 hours of showcase performances, and a John Prine Tribute Show, airing January 26-28, 2021.