On the day that the United States voted Donald Trump into the White House against a backdrop of non-stop apocalyptic news coverage we weren’t quite sure how a night of Americana would go down in Brighton. In fact, we weren’t really sure what ‘Americana’ even means any more…
Gwenifer Raymond, tonight’s opening act, took to the stage alone and sat down squinting against the bright purple lights, mumbling a brief introduction. The subsequent flurry of fast and rolling arpeggios, peppered with harmonies, was quite unlike anything we’ve heard before. Her playing has much in common with what we would consider ‘classical guitar’, punctuated with some brutally percussive right hand work.
The second song took us into what might be recognised as Americana: a brooding and stroppy slide blues riff. Old blues, really slow – think Muddy Waters on ketamine. This tune then morphed into a building crescendo with surprising key changes before sliding back into that revoltingly agreeable old-time riff again. After telling the audience that she’s “gonna tear this shit up” she picks up a banjo and does exactly that with a bewilderingly savage foot-stomping tune that sounds too fast to be from the days of olde.
Throughout the rest of the set we witness an entertaining mixture of drone-like classical pieces, uptempo folk, Gaelic melodies and old-style southern blues. It takes a lot skill to hold people’s attention when you’re performing alone, especially when there’s no vocals. Yet Gwenifer’s musicianship and the remarkable range of her material (most of them originals) makes it impossible to look away for a moment. She ends on a lightning speed jig that makes our ears spin like tiny windmills on a sandcastle. You would be well advised to wear asbestos shoes to dance to this.
Lymington four-piece Stanford Road are up next. They launch into the catchy ‘Independence Highway’ which is a great introduction to the rest of the set. Terry and Rachel share vocal duties, adding apt harmonies to a solid band that sound not unlike The B-52’s or the Fastbacks. Terry also plays the guitar, Matt plays bass and Warren is filling in on percussion. Tonight he’s sat on what we like to call a ‘thumpbox’; a box which is simultaneously thumped and sat on. We’re sure there’s a proper name for it but we don’t want to know it. The overall theme of the music is melancholic, but these tales of broken relationships are often set to rather upbeat country rock as in the cheerful ‘If You Were Mine I’d Leave You’.
Stanford Road deliver a very solid blend of country rock with some chugging blues thrown in as well. Terry and Rachel’s vocals never fight for space and sit pleasantly with the simplistic, stripped-down (and free of any FX) acoustic music. Despite sounding sparse, it doesn’t lack energy and it’s full of conviction. Stanford Road have great presence, great voices, solid musicianship, catchy songs and a constant flow of self-deprecating humour; so it’s hard to find any faults.
We left the venue with a better understanding of ‘Americana’, a genre which encompasses a loose and wide range of styles such as blues, bluegrass, country, rock and folk. This diversity is what made the gig so interesting. We even managed to forget for a few minutes about the oaf on his way to the White House…
Hope & Ruin, Wednesday 9th November 2016
Words and photos by Matt Upchuck