The British Country Music Festival 2023
The British Country Music Festival, taking place at Winter Gardens in Blackpool every year is a unique event which showcases the very best talent on the UK scene. It fosters an inclusive environment where people from all around the world, old and young can celebrate Britain's premier stars of the scene and this year was no different.
The Friday night saw Donna Taggart headline as she put on a spellbinding performance on the stage of the Empress Ballroom. The Dunwells had captured the hearts of the crowd as they stepped off the stage and played acoustically in the centre of the dance floor, it was a moment which endeared them to the audience. The talk of the town though was Jade Helliwell who played an energetic set to really get the party started in the Vegas of the North!
A highlight every year are the songwriter carousel's on Saturday and Sunday. In the Horseshoe Pavilion on Saturday the room was full as organiser Marina Blore chatted to writers in between their songs. There were a number of singer-songwriters of Irish origin who showcased excellent lyricism and tugged on the heart-strings with the stories behind the songs. I particularly liked the songs of Chris Fox who opened the round, he had a lovely tone to his voice and really well written songs. You could hear a pin drop in that room.
I've really enjoyed the music of Kirsten Adamson in recent months so I was delighted when she was announced as playing the festival. Adamson and her band were playing The Arena shortly after the songwriters set had finished. Born into a musical family, Adamson knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, her vocals are clear and powerful, her songs are strong, she is an all round entertainer.
Chloe Jones, a fellow Mancunian, played the acoustic stage inside The Arena. She instantly got the crowd on her side when she played a slow ballad, 'Meet You There' but made it into a drinking game as she rhymed off various places in America and the crowd cheered and raised a glass to everyone they'd been to.
Once the Empress Ballroom opened, Simeon Hammond Dallas, who had previously grabbed my attention at the songwriters carousel, put on an energetic performance with her band. She put on a lovely mix of upbeat country, blues and Americana and her personality shone through when she spoke between her songs. Megan McKenna is another natural on stage, and I particularly enjoyed her countrified version of 'Sweet Caroline' as did the rest of the crowd.
Most people were there for the one and only Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Nash was born in Blackpool and it was quite a coup that The British Country Music Festival had managed to persuade him to return for a hometown show. He was delighted with his stick of Blackpool rock! What ensued was a musical masterclass as he captivated the audience, telling funny stories behind the songs in a conversational tone. He had a lot of material to pull from and his set showcased some classic songs throughout his career. There were many new attendees to the festival who had come just to see Nash but were pleasantly surprised by the days events and vowed to return next year regardless of the line up. It shows the vision the organisers have to be able to select acts that may sit on the fringe of the genre that will help people realise that actually, this is country music and they do actually like it.
The Sunday's Songwriters Carousel seemed to go down just as well as the one the day before. Taking place in the Empress Ballroom it saw many of the acts line up for a special acoustic session before their full band shows later. When they had concluded the round the applause was deafening. Kylie Price made a brief cameo last year at the Songwriters Carousel but the New Zealand native returned for a full set this year which I was delighted about. She had the audience in uproar as she wore her heart on her sleeve in between songs. Not only did she make everyone laugh with her stories and speaking in first person, she showed her vulnerable side as she teared up whilst talking about her late father. She had a lovely tone to her voice and her writing was powerful.
Campbell Jensen headlined on Sunday after recently moving to London. They impressed me when they opened for Jimmy Webb last year in Manchester and of course I've been a big fan of Ashley Campbell's solo material too. The pair are just sublime together, their voices blending so well and when they have such skills on the guitar and banjo it's mesmerising to watch.
Overall, it was a fantastic festival once again, the talent across the three days was outstanding and it shows that the scene here in the UK is truly thriving. Roll on 2024!