REVIEW: BCMA Awards Weekend

pvmcalzrThe annual BCMA Awards were held last weekend at the Heston Venue in Middlesex. The two day event featured the cream of UK talent with performances from 6 acts on Saturday with the actual awards ceremony taking place on Sunday evening. We were attending our first BCMA awards event and had no preconceptions. It’s held the same week as the annual CMA awards in Nashville but obviously this is where the similarities end. We are rightly proud of the development that UK country music is making, and the efforts of the BCMA are to be commended in this regard.

Whilst acknowledging the limitations imposed by the relatively low profile of UK country music, the BCMA hosted an impressive event. The venue is located very close to the M4 and is easily accessible. It was also chosen to adequately accommodate the numbers expected to attend and the organisers got this spot on. The room was full on Sunday evening.

The room was set with large round tables towards the front which accommodated the various sponsors with general seating thereafter. Lighting and sound were superb and very professionally organised.

Saturday was a chance for the artists to enjoy themselves and reflect upon what has been a very good year for our music. Emma Swindells opened proceedings. It’s not easy to open the show and she was well received. Emma is responsible for organising the Wolverhampton Country Night which is a monthly event and is helping to raise the profile of UK artists. It’s growing nicely and attracts artists from far and wide to our local area. She’s a great girl and we were pleased to see that her talent is being recognised.

Dexeter are a band that have now been recognised nationally with a recent showcase on Bob Harris’s Radio 2 show. We have already seen The Shires and Ward Thomas break through to the next level and Dexeter are favourites to follow this direction. Deeanne and Gareth have more than paid their dues and deserve the plaudits that come their way. They showcased their new material and also some of the old favourites from their ‘Four Thousand Miles To Nashville’ album.

They have always been very popular with the UK country fans but also have developed strong bonds with their fellow UK artists and many were there to support them. Their style of country music lends itself to the party crowd and the only slight criticism is the fact that they were allocated an early slot. The dancing crowd had not found their feet and although Dexeter were very well received, we can’t help think that the reaction would have been stellar when the effects of the bar had loosened the crowd inhibitions.

They were followed by Beau Fuller. Beau is a Missouri native who has been associated with BCMA for a few years. He did a two song solo acoustic set which seemed a little odd as everyone else performed at least four. He had a decent voice but didn’t seem to win over the crowd who we suspect were totally unfamiliar with him or his music. It was a long journey for a short set.

Southern Companion followed. We had seen them at FSA festival in Newark. They had a Sunday lunchtime slot in Newark which can easily be the time when bands are not appreciated by a crowd with Saturday night hangovers. However, they were so good that they rightly received a standing ovation and were the band that most of us were raving about from that weekend. Darren Hodson, who fronts the band, is the UK’s very own Zac Brown. He wears a ZBB cap but admitted to us that Mrs Hodson is the true fan. The fact that we dare to make the comparison tells you a lot about his talent. The band are superb and were on fine form at the BCMAs. They performed tracks from their ‘1000 Days of Rain’ album that came out earlier this year, which went on to win Album of the Year on Sunday. They are out on tour with Dexeter next year and that has to be an essential entry in your concert diary.

Thorne Hill has been one of this year’s break through artists. Where has he been before now? He has seemingly come from nowhere and has dominated most of the summer festivals. He released his album ‘No More Holding Back’ earlier this year which seems to have elevated him to another level. We know that he appeared at C2C in 2013 and has released music before but we also know that Thorne himself accepts that he wasn’t quite ready at that stage. He is a top live performer and the crowds love him. Only Thorne could turn what had been a sit down gig into a party. His first words on stage were….

“There’s plenty of room here at the front for dancers. This isn’t a sit down gig”. From that moment the atmosphere changed. He has the personality, the stage presence and the songs to carry this off. We then had the familiar rocking set list and a party crowd that lapped it up. He might be the perfect front man with a great singing voice but his band certainly play their part. We know that he considers himself very lucky to be backed by some of the best UK musicians. He is out on tour with Narn this week at venues around the UK.

After Thorne’s show, Gary Quinn closed the evening. He appeared with Mr ‘Jack Of All Trades’ Luke Thomas who accompanied him on lead guitar. Gary was never going to allow the audience to settle and they didn’t need too much prompting to return to the dance floor. Gary’s songs were not written with a party crowd in mind but that didn’t matter too much. There is great respect for Gary Quinn in the UK and the audience were quite happy to sway along with the mellower tracks. It was a taster for the main event but those who had decided to make a weekend of it had a great night of almost exclusive UK country music.

We all returned to the same venue on Sunday evening for the awards presentation. Most had decided to spruce up for the occasion and the party frocks and suits were dusted off. The awards were interspersed with music and the show was opened by Holloway Road who performed two songs, including their new single ‘Where We Are Tonight’

Most are now familiar with Holloway Road and their stage energy sets them apart from their peers. Again it’s an act that should have been saved for a later slot but they got the proceedings off and running nicely and demonstrated why they will be on every festival organisers list when next year’s events are booked. This band are going places.

The awards were hosted by Radio Two’s Baylen Leonard who added a professional sheen to the whole event.

We were impressed with the video presentations that accompanied every award. It’s the nearest we will get to the mega Nashville events. The first award of the evening was the Horizon Act of the Year which was to recognise the artist that had broken through in 2016.  Southern Companion were worthy winners. Darren admitted later that the band had been held up in traffic and had only just arrived when the award was announced. He was totally amazed to win and his acceptance speech was straight from the Chris Stapleton book of accepting awards with a hugely appealing modesty.

UK song of the year was awarded to Luke and Mel for ‘Bad Habit’. They had stiff competition but retained the trophy that they won last year for ‘Something About A Woman’. We would love to hear a full album from them but it has to be said that they absolutely nail it when applying the “quality rather than quantity” test.

Ashton Lane were the next musical guests performing a couple of songs from their last album. We haven’t seen them since C2C in March but it’s always a pleasure to hear their impeccable harmonies. Tim and Esther are often seen on the European circuit so it was good to see them in London.

UK album of the year was awarded to Southern Companion for ‘1000 Days Of Rain’, an award that Darren was absolutely delighted to win. The Shires won this award last year. They have been signed by Big Machine Records. Let’s hope that that Scott Borchetta continues to keep one eye on the UK scene.

The next award was for Duo of The Year. Holloway Road triumphed despite competition from a group of very strong artists including Ward Thomas and The Shires. Jack and Rob had changed into their outfits to accept the award with a mixture of amazement and joy. They were very popular winners.

The next award was Male Vocalist of The Year. Again this was a very strong group of artists including Ben Earle from the Shires, Irish country music stars Nathan Carter and Pete Kennedy, Gary Quinn and Thorne Hill. Most in the room were rooting for Gary or Thorne and it was Gary who won the award. Gary is one of the nicest guys on the circuit. He has great voice and plays a huge part in the organisation of Buckle and Boots festival. There is huge respect for Thorne’s contribution also but his time will definitely come.

The music returned with an appearance from Cortni Bird. She’s from Florida and is preparing to release her first album. She has a low profile in the US and no profile here so it was a little surprising to see her on the bill. Her two songs hardly raised much enthusiasm from the BCMA members who seemed to share our indiffence for her pop-inspired music which seemed a little out of place at a country music gig.

The US theme continued for the next three awards. All were international. International Act of the Year was awarded to Phil Vassar. He appeared at Buckle and Boots and was absolutely superb. He also had Gary Quinn on his ‘Songs From The Cellar’ show that appears on UK TV and will be hosting Darren Hodson this week. Phil is a supporter of UK Country Music and was a worthy winner. He also recorded a thank you video for the BCMA crowd.

The international song and album was awarded to Chris Stapleton who sadly and rather predictably was not present to accept his awards! Whilst it’s good to acknowledge the best in the industry we wonder if the international awards merit inclusion at the BCMAs.  Stapleton is one of the humblest guys in the business but will these awards figure at all for him? Vassar is well known to Gary Quinn and Karl Hancock, the organiser of Buckle and Boots. It was reasonably obvious that he would triumph over Little Big Town, Dixie Chicks, Thomas Rhett and Kip Moore. We stand to be corrected but for us, the inclusion of international awards didn’t add anything to the evening and could have been omitted.

Two UK artists who deserved their place on the stage were Red Sky July and Katy Hurt. Red Sky July have graced the UK scene for a number of years now and had received nominations for Group of the Year and Album of the Year (‘The Truth and The Lie’). They performed a couple of songs from that album and didn’t disappoint.

Katy Hurt was nominated for Female Vocalist of The Year. She is surely destined to win at some point although this wasn’t her year. We were hugely impressed by her appearance at this year’s awards. She has a gorgeous voice and her songs seem to get better with every listen. She’s someone we will be paying close attention to next year.

Three important awards were presented between those two acts. Justin Johnson received Musician of the Year for his work as a drummer with a variety of bands including Thorne Hill. He backed Thorne on Saturday and managed to fall backwards at the end of the set and disappeared behind the back curtain! Thankfully he was unhurt and received a huge round of applause when he collected his award. He has been responsible for production duties on many UK artists releases this year and has quickly become an adopted Brit.

One of the top awards is for Group of the Year. This year’s winners were Jess and The Bandits. Jess Clemmons has also become an adopted Brit who has been warmly accepted on the UK Country Music circuit. They are hugely respected live performers and Jess has a voice that compares with anything that is heard on US country radio. Deserving winners from a very strong list of nominees.

UK Video was awarded to Luke And Mel for ‘Bad Habit’. Luke admitted that the age old problem of budget restraints are felt more acutely with video production than almost any other area. It’s a budget that is met by record companies but most of our guys are independent artists. This is where the US guys have a huge advantage. The video was filmed at their old stomping ground Gullivers in Manchester, and was directed by a student director.

One of the BCMA’s traditions at award ceremonies is the induction into the BCMA Hall Of Fame. This year there were three inductees although sadly one was awarded posthumously. Jim Duncan’s knowledge of the UK scene is unmatched and his tributes to Geordie Jack, Darren Busby and the late Lyn Jones were both insightful and touching. No one could have done this better and the audience were respectful to guys who had dedicated their lives to our music.

Two times award winners Luke and Mel took to the stage next. Luke is a great guitar player and we wonder why he wasn’t nominated for musician of the year. Their two-part harmonies are superb and we were treated to a live performance of Song of The Year, ‘Bad Habit’

The two remaining live performances were Jess (without the Bandits apart from Luke Thomas) and Glen Mitchell who appeared with SaraBeth. Jess didn’t make any reference to the missing band and performed her two songs sitting on a stool. An acoustic performance is hugely enjoyable when it allows the audience to appreciate the vocal talents of the performer. Needless to say the audience enjoyed Jess Clemmons’ performance.

Before Glen and SaraBeth took to the stage, the final awards for Female vocalist, Entertainer of the Year and a Special Achievement award were presented. We have commended Laura Oakes throughout the year; she is not only a great singer but also a very fine songwriter. Her songs are always memorable and she retained her crown this year despite huge opposition from Jess, Claire from Raintown, Katy Hurt and Chrissie Rhodes from The Shires.

Jess might have been disappointed not to have won but she walked away with Entertainer of the Year so she ended the night with two major awards. We will be looking out for the band’s new music that is promised early next year and are sure that 2017 will continue to be onwards and upwards for Jess and the Bandits.

The final award was presented to The Shires to recognise the great strides that they have taken in their career this year. They filmed an acceptance speech in Australia that was shown to the audience but are now in the US with their new Big Machine representatives.

We sadly had to leave the main room to undertake interview duties and missed Glen and SaraBeth’s set but we witnessed the crowd surge to the front for the dancing which began in earnest.

So ends our review of our first BCMA Awards. It was great to see so many old faces and be part of the camaraderie that the UK artists have for each other. The drinks were flowing post-show and if you have seen Dan’s interview videos you can probably smell the alcohol fumes!

Thanks to all of the sponsors. Thanks to The Buckle and Boots crew Karl, Jan and Laura who allowed us to sit on their table and special thanks to the various guys and girls who have such amazing talent. Finally, thanks to BCMA who put on a great awards show.