Under The Apple Tree Roots Festival, September 2016, Cadogan Hall, London, United Kingdom

Under The Apple Tree Roots Festival

Saturday 10th September 2016

Cadogan Hall, London, United Kingdom 

John Bull/Rockrpix


It’s a grey rainy day in Chelsea as alluring ladies in high heels totter into the Peter Jones department store and the cafes and restaurants around Sloane Square enjoy a boost in custom in mid-morning. Soon, around the corner the first of the UTAT Festival days put on by Bob Harris, family and team and the seasoned crew of the lovely Cadogan Hall will start. The sun shines inside the venue, as it were with a host of acts from all over the place prepare to deliver their music their way. The mix is archetypal Harris, electric and acoustic, male and female and he and I discussed the bill in some detail in a conversation piece you can find here: http://bit.ly/2cbAHGt

Usually there are some points to criticise about festivals, even if one is there as press. I bought a ticket not long after the day was announced, not really worrying who was on the listing to perform but wanting to be part of the event ; one of our crack photographic team John Bull is eager to attend and ducks and dives around the two performance rooms, capturing the vibe. Here, you would be hard put to carp – there are two stages, the timing is such that you can see all performances ! there is food and drink, a merchandising corner where a lot of signings are held and CDs and vinyl are bought by the fans, sometimes just after seeing an act for the very first time. The excellent programme has a clear page telling you who is on where and when as well as brief biographies. All this, kids and no mud or wicked elves taking your money before announcing the acts! The event starts at midday and is finishing soon after 9 pm so no awkward late journeys home.

Stevie has us all listed and Bob introduces me to Miles and other family members – young Dylan is to host the upstairs stage which he does with some zeal and not a trace of The Whisper ; he has inherited the enthusiasm though. Throughout the day, the artists are keen to thank Harris, team and venue for the welcome, as they perform. Patty Griffin leads us all through a mischievous whispered ‘ happy birthday’ to Bob, who has tipped one particular act to me, knowing my leanings from old.

So that’s the overall picture, as for the music here’s what I managed to take in on the day…….

CATHERINE McGRATH is a 19 year old singer and writer from Northern Ireland and today accompanied by another guitarist. Her voice is high and clear and embraces melodic runs with a breezy elan. It would be hard to pick a better opening act for the day. Her songs include ‘Hey Mama’, ‘Cinderella’ – what if the shoe fits me? – the bitter ‘Hell Will Have To Freeze Over’ and a version of ‘Love Yourself’ by someone called Ruskin Beaver. She chats softly to the audience between songs and charms the pants off them. Warners seem to be on the case and rightly so.

DAN BETTRIDGE is a young Welsh character, obviously steeped in music of all vintages, breaking through on BBC Introducing and now releasing a single ‘Rosie Darling’. There is a pinch of Rodney Crowell in his delivery. ‘New York Midnight Train’ is well-received. A version of ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ as covered by Bonnie Raitt is brave and just about gets home. Closer ‘Feel So Blind’ is well played by the trio but steers very close to ‘People Get Ready’.

LEWIS & LEIGH are a female from Mississippi and a male who isn’t. Their voices blend then circle each other, sometimes sounding close to the mighty Red Sky July. Songs like ‘Rubble’ are a fine listen. Two solo performers teaming up but avoiding Civil Wars, thus far. Hey, that’s the first joke for Americana followers. The pairing get away with the hypnotic tread of ‘The Devil’s In The Detail’, a train song and an acapella intro. The keys and electric guitar work sounds organic and fluid. ‘Ghost On My Side’ is likely worth a listen.

CHRIS DIFFORD/BOO HEWERDINE finds the guitar duo delving into their songbooks, Boo on first solo then the urbane Difford joining him, maintaining his Tony-Hancock-With-A-Guitar persona, often experienced at Squeeze shows. Fine writers they are, best heard when not playing exactly the same guitar strum and bringing in some interplay. ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ is tunefully whacked out, with origin tale to suit. Boo’s ‘I Started A Joke’ was a fresh edition, sans tremulous delivery. The versions of ‘Up The Junction’ and ’Cool For Cats’ kept the faithful happy. A good inclusion to the bill

SMALL TOWN JONES base their songs around acoustic guitar embellished with atmospheric FX-tinged electric, which 3-d’s the songs to great effect. The latest record is ‘Sky Down To The Ground’ and Jim Jones’ songs resonate with atmosphere. Of all the upstairs acts, this pair had the best use of dynamics and tone and to that end, Jim’s companion should try a Mooer Slow Engine in his splendid rig. Mine’s getting some serious use on material of this ilk

JUDITH OWEN has a version of her orchestra with her and husband Harry Shearer in the audience. Her waspish stage demeanour is much in evidence as she bounces her piano off nimble bass and crisp percussion (Pedro Segundo) and her amazing three piece string section. The material is mainly from her latest album ‘Somebody’s Child’ which you can read all about here: http://bit.ly/1rd4S6E

The setlist is magnificent and in the renowned hall sounds epic. On cello we have Gabriella Swallow, viola Meghan Cassidy and violin Lizzie Ball. The album title cut,’Tell All The Children’, the tender ‘No More Goodbyes’ and a bounce through ’In The Summertime’ underlined the versatility of this writer and song-picker. ‘’’Give In’ spins a dense jazz ambience, with Wes Montgomery string parts ; even better, an eerie cello solo jumps out of Owen’s edition of ‘Aquarius’ – sweet psychedelia! The rolling ‘Why I Love My Baby’ ends a killer set. No other act had this impact and range today yet it fitted in perfectly.

I actually got to thank Shearer for retweeting our pieces on his own site; speaking to Owen later and in a rare moment these days where I actually drop my guard, I confess to being strangely drawn to her and her music BUT a tad in awe of her apparent high-maintenance personality. This draws a laser-eyed semi-denial..the demeanour is just down to being emotional, she breathes. And yes, Harry is a saint. I thought as much. Her vibrancy and smile demand surrender. A dangerous beauty, indeed. I am left thinking of roses and thorns.

THE LAKE POETS is one Martin Longstaff, with a debut album produced by our man Dave Stewart. With the appearance and voice (Sunderland version) of TV Dec’s cousin, he delivers the most downbeat box of songs since early Lenny Cohen. Every topic dwells on the damaged, ill, lost, lamented…does he play Lou Reed’s ‘Berlin’ at social events? Seriously this is one downer of a setlist, somewhat at odds with his gentle guitar accompaniment, lighter stage banter and highish voice. One song – ‘Rain’? – nicks the chords of ‘Southern Man’.

His phrasing bears traces of Joan Armatrading. ‘Black & Blue’ is a particularly daunting song. ‘See You Tonight’ channels the positive and is a delight whilst ‘Shipyards’ for his late grandfather is affecting. With that, The Dark Lord of Folk is gone…

BLAIR DUNLOP has one hell of a voice and a confident delivery, playing alone on the upstairs stage and including numbers from his ‘House of Jacks’ album, his second release as I understand it. He truly sounds like a man on a mission and his biting guitar style creates a good platform for his messages. I sense some anger which as I know is fuel to every great writer in music and more so, in comedy. .

ANDREW COMBS is something of a revelation. The Nashville singer songwriter looks like a cross between comedian Ben Miller and a young Ry Cooder and plays his guitar with a steady flowing pulse, punching his songs home. There is sometimes a pinch of almost Appalachian waver in his vocal delivery but it steers clear of overkill and mainly sounds just right. You can hear what he had probably soaked up to arrive at his own style – Don Maclean, Guy Clark, Buddy Holly? He jokes that if he’d known the noble ambience of the venue he light have dressed up a little, pointing to his denim ensemble.The co-write ‘Laura Lee’ has pace and feel, with a Beatlesque descending chordal run. Older song ‘Too Stoned To Cry’ is not a favourite of his mother’s, he tell us. A stirring ‘Ramblin’ Rose Kinda Blues’ presses all the buttons. Bob – good call on this one, as I tell him later

SCOTT MATTHEWS has a selection of guitars, his own songs, a cellist – Danny King – accompanying him and a high voice which reminds me of someone to the point of annoyance. No.not quite Colin Blunstone..who ?The music is fragile, with keening cello lines per FX and hesitant,,plucked guitar lines. It almost cries out for an indie film to embellish. It is ten years since he put out ‘Passing Stranger’ his successful album and he is now releasing ‘Home part 2’. Then I remember who he sounds like – Thom Yorke. A 12-string is used on ‘Where I Long To Be’ which is indeed in ‘High Dry’ vein. For gentle presence, this act scores high, especially on the twinkling ‘Stay In Bed’. The songs didn’t connect with me at all, though

DEXETER of course are instant party and have no problem rousing the upstairs house as the maple Rickenbacker basslines thud through the songs and the ensemble voices blend to carry the tunes along. Their enthusiasm just jumps off the stage into the audience’s hearts. I last saw them at The Garage and that band spirit certainly made them more fans that night, some of whom may well be here tonight. I wish they would do ‘Meet On The Ledge’! But for now try their ‘ Four Thousand Miles to Nashville’ album to get a taste of their songs

WARD THOMAS are on a roll. The first home-grown country act to crash straight into the album charts at Number One, this very weekend. You can read our review of the album here: http://bit.ly/2comMQe With full band and even two songwriting mates joining in at the end, the young twins’ show has pace, tenderness, ringing guitars, well-judged keyboard work and a springheeled rhythm section.

Thus far they seem untainted by the fame they have attained through countless performances here there and everywhere and enchanting radio hosts as they go; Boomerang’ makes a lively starter; ‘Material’ uses that eerie piano. The glorious harmonising on ‘Guilty Flowers’ is a joy. Turns out ‘Cartwheels’ was partly inspired by Patty Griffin. The bitchy ‘Who I’m Not’ is venomously delivered and ‘When It’s Not Me’ pulls at the heartstrings. They don’t forget to namecheck the band and leave the audience smiling and revved up with an encore of a runaway-train electric take on ‘A Town called Ugley’ which the crowd laps up like honeyed ice cream.

PATTY GRIFFIN plays the guitar with a headlong rush to make the chords ring out and then lets here weathered voice do the rest. Her between song banter is dry and reflective – she has made the trip over from Texas just to do this show for UTAT and seems honoured to be there. As she admits at one point, straight love songs are not her forte and the one she does run through here tonight is unremittingly caustic..that bloke’s ears must still be ringing, however many years later!

I think her first song was called ‘Pies’..one end of the guitar strap comes loose but she doesn’t stop playing, supporting the guitar body by raising her cowboy-booted leg! The song ends and she states that we had just heard ‘the Jethro Tull version’…

‘Good & Gone’ has power and pulse. On a driving John Lee Hooker style riff, Griffin pounds out the figure and sings flat out. Patty then gives us a song that Emmylou Harris nabbed. A Rodgers & Hart song is delivered with chordal precision and feel. Griffin has a stage presence ten times her actual size, a trunkful of edgy songs and just enough of a Joan Rivers tinge to seal the package. A worthy headliner

OK ..the tree is now watered, may it grow and bear fruit…and Bob, please do ring Marty Stuart!

Pete Sargeant

(Thanks to Bob Harris, the whole UTAT team and Cadogan Hall and my lensman John Bull  from Rockrpix whose own site is: http://bit.ly/2a24xQ6)




Rockrpix is John Bull… or John Bull is Rockrpix… Much the same.
I’m based in South East London… and I love shooting Live Music, Keep Music Live! – Its my ‘Thing’