Grand Union Songwriter's Evening - 10th November

Last night saw the highly anticipated Grand Union Songwriter’s Evening held at Bush Hall in London. I had never been to a concert at Bush Hall before so was initially unsure what the venue would be like. From the outside it looks quite run-down but from the inside it is a lot better and the high ceilings really help the acoustics. The doors opened at 7:30pm and there already seemed to be a buzz in a crowd excited to hearing British country music showcased in such a way.

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Hannah Jane Lewis set list
Tailored To You
Missing Piece
The Long Way
My Time
End Up Here
The Worst Way
17 Again

Hannah Jane Lewis was the first artist to take to the stage. She was accompanied by a very tight four piece band who supported her well throughout her set and included all the songs from her debut EP in her set – it was released yesterday in the UK. Hannah is an impressive vocalist and was able to keep the crowd interested throughout her set with a sense of ease on stage. My favourite track from Hannah's set was probably 17 Again. It had a strong accompaniment from the band and I thought the sentiment of the song worked well. Hannah also delivered another strong performance on this.

I was able to ask her a few questions before she performed.

Are you looking forward to this evening?

Yes, I really am. I think I’ve known about this since maybe April or May so I’ve been excited about it for a really really long time, feels kind of crazy that it’s here.

Are you keen to get in to Country To Country next year?

Really keen, I would absolutely love that because I went to it last year and I saw some of the pop-up stages but at that point I wasn’t really familiar with the country community yet so I would absolutely love to. Now I have a more stable set and know what I’m doing and I’ve written a lot more songs so it’s the right time for me to do it.

Are we going to hear any new songs tonight?

Yes we are going to get new songs, definitely [laughs]

How does this rate as a venue for you?

This is amazing, I’ve been wanting to play here for a really really long time and I saw Kacey Musgraves here earlier this year and I was watching and listening and I thought ‘it would be a dream come true to play here’ and this happened! [laughs] It’s really amazing, I’m very very very excited, I think it’s beautiful. It’s a good atmosphere, especially for an event like this.

Would you want to do more of these kind of events?

Yes I do, I do love small venues and I love doing it acoustically but I also love playing with my band and we have so much fun so I love doing big venues too, I love performing so any venue is all good with me.

You’re getting quite a big twitter following now, how are you finding that?

Yes [laughs] I’m really trying with Twitter. I used to not have any clue how it worked because I’m really not good at computer things but obviously you need to have one if you’re trying to do this, or anything really! Trying to get your name out there in anyway, so I have been trying, trying to tweet as much as I can and gain some followers.

How does it feel working with Raintown, Gary and Jeannine?

It’s great, I love them. I really look up to them all, I think they’re brilliant in their own individual ways. I talk to them a lot and they’re all so friendly and so nice. What I really like is everyone is so willing to help each other out sometimes I suppose people get competitive and they kind of keep to themselves and they don’t do that because they don’t want you to get one step ahead but everyone is literally all about helping each other which I think is really special so hopefully there’ll be more events with all of us.

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Jeannine Barry set list
What I Long For
How I See Me
Stand Up
Here To Love You
Someone Else
Unto My Maker
Mind Games
Give Me Something

Hannah was followed by Jeannine Barry. Jeannine is another impressive vocalist however I did feel the sound levels of her band overpowered her at points when she didn’t need the production and the softer songs in her set such as Unto My Maker showcased an strong softer side to her vocals. Unto My Maker was in fact my favourite song from her set with it's softer instrumentalisation allowing more of a focus of Jeannine's vocals. This was the first time I had seen Jeannine perform live and I thought she delivered a strong performance.

Shortly before the concert started I was able to catch up with Jeannine and ask her a few questions.

Are you looking forward to playing tonight?

I am, I really am. It’s a fantastic venue and I’m really looking forward to it yes.

And you’ve got a new EP out, how’s it been with that?

I do, it’s available on iTunes and everywhere you can buy music [laughs] you know [laughs]

How are you finding the venue?

This one is a very big one, compared to the others [other venues] but it depends. I played at Jamm Brixton not that long ago to support Mark Morriss which was a rather big venue as well and a very nice one as well but I do prefer this one, I like the romantic look definitely. I do like the smallest to bigger gigs, it really depends on what kind of show. Sometimes we’ll just do an acoustic set and it’s just the guitarist and me, it could be a pub, just getting out there and letting people know that I’m there.

Where’s your dream venue to play?

The Bluebird maybe? I would really like to go to Nashville and play there which is actually on my plan for next year because I now have management in America and they want to get me over there to Nashville. I’ll be there around end of March, it’ll be my first time to America. I’m not really that kind of person with the touristy stuff, for me it’s more about going to the restaurants and bars, what the locals do, see the culture and meet the people is more what I’m into, I’m not so much into sight-seeing, like maybe if I go to New York yeah but I generally I prefer to just hang with the people

Is there a song you wished you’d written?

At the moment I really really like that song written by Kacey Musgraves called “Undermine”. I think that’s a pretty amazing song. I play it a lot actually when I play cover songs in my set.

Are there any artists you’d want to collaborate with?

I would like to work with Pink. She’s been a pretty big inspiration to me, I think she’s a fabulous women and her music always inspired me because of the lyrics, to bring a message across. She’s such a strong woman and she stands for something and I really like that, obviously her voice!

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Gary Quinn set list
Live Each Day
I Forgot About You
A Day I Find Love
Power Of Me And You
On Your Way Out
Dodge Your Bullet
He Don’t Show Her Anymore

Gary Quinn then took the stage. With just himself and another guitarist, Gary’s set was the most stripped back of the night instrumentally but that just added to his performance. He has a great deep tone and is a very talented songwriter. In my opinion Gary always delivers a very emotive performance throughout his set and certainly plays to his strengths. I recently reviewed Gary's album and found at the time my favourite track was He Don't Show Her Anymore. This stayed the same for me out of his set, it is a very touching song and as I mentioned previously Gary's emotive performance adds another dynamic to it, as well as having the stripped back instrumentalisation.

I was unfortunately unable to catch up with Gary during the show however he had previously expressed his excitement in the build up to the show.

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Raintown set list
Light The Fuse Up
If This Was A Love Song
Writing On The Wall
I Won’t Dance Alone
Gone Like That
Falling Backwards
Love’s Got A Hold
Picture Of Us
Just One Kiss

Lastly, Raintown performed a mostly high energy set that closed the show off nicely. Performing a mixture of tracks from their most recent album and their upcoming new release they seemed at ease up on the stage. Their band were very professional and the audience were kept entertained throughout the whole set. Perhaps my favourite song of theirs from the performance was I Won't Dance Alone. One of their relatively slower songs it has a lovely touching story behind it and was a showcase of the duo's vocals however Writing On The Wall was also a strong track.

Before the show started I was able to catch up with them and ask them a few questions.

Are you excited to play tonight?

Yes, we are very excited. It’s the first time we’ve ever played in the Bush Hall, it’s a beautiful venue and we’re so excited to share the bill with such talented artists as well like Gary Quinn, Hannah Jane Lewis and Jeannine Barry – Claire

Last time I saw you was Country To Country [back in March], how has the reaction been from that?

It was a big reaction for us. What me and Claire spoke about at C2C which is something that we don’t get to do a lot which is we didn’t have to explain what we did. We were in front of an audience who totally understood what kind of country we are, what kind of things we do and in that respect it was great and to be honest fans wise we did very well and we appreciate and are really greatful to everyone who took the time afterwards to come and have a chat, bought the CD and obviously hooked up on Facebook and Twitter and all these things. That was great, absolutely great and we look forward to fingers crossed be involved next time round as well – Paul

Have you applied to be on the pop-up stages again next year?

Yeah, we’ve got everything crossed for that for next year – Claire

It would be awesome. It’s certainly a great bill and I think any of the artists here could do great on it. I think what we’ve got here tonight is four really good young artists, good acts, each doing something slightly different as well. I think we all have the things that make us strong and hopefully it’s one of these things that this could be a platform to maybe do something like this more often – Paul

How are you finding the venue?

Well it’s a ten out of ten venue – Claire

Absolutely, I think just its history of the artists that have played here and I think when you look outside and you see The Killers have been here and Adele has been here and Amy Winehouse has been here and you think....and obviously Kacey Musgraves fairly recently as well and I think that kind of thing makes it a little bit more special as well. You’ve got an opportunity to play a great venue, a great crowd will be in tonight and I think it’ll be a fantastic night – Paul

What do you think of the country music scene being a lot more popular now? Are you enjoying that?

It’s fantastic. We first started about four or five years ago and saying the word country was like a bad word especially were we come from it was like ‘country’? People still think it’s like maybe back in the 1970s, although we love country from every decade and every type of country but now people are really starting to go ‘country’s getting really popular now here in the UK’ and I think it’s actually getting round a lot more of the commercial radio stations as well – Claire

Well I also think there’s artists like the likes of Lady A, Sugarland, Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church, they’re coming here and people are going ‘oh right that’s country music now’. They’re talking about really relevant things, they’re not shy to say and talk about all the things that go on in day to day life. It’s not always about oh my dog’s died or my husband or wife’s left me but those songs are there and rightly so because that’s still part of life. I think at the end of the day, what we have got going on in the UK right now, not just ourselves but this whole group of young country acts that are coming up is that we’re talking about things that are relevant to us in the UK, it’s just the fact that that all transcends geographical borders now and I think that’s the beauty of country music, it’s always done that. It just so happened it’s always come from the US to here and now we’re all getting into this vibe, we’re getting into this whole way of being. Yes we’re not cowboys and all these other things, nor do we pretend to be. What we’re talking about is being influenced by a style of music that talks about everyday life – Paul

I know that country music fans seem to be a big family even if it’s just online people speak to each other from all over the world just connecting through the genre – Claire

Tonight we’ve got some friends in from Holland, from France, we’ve got a girl who came home early from Australia to be here tonight and you think to yourself that’s incredible and that’s the power of the internet, that’s the power of social media. That’s the beauty of it, we’re in an environment now where that’s the positive aspect come from the internet. The positive things are that we can touch out globally and touch people and vice-versa they can come back. It’s us that’s on Facebook, it’s us that’s on Twitter, me and Claire, you’re not talking to somebody we employ so if somebody says something we agree or disagree with....great example, we posted about Taylor Swift yesterday on Facebook and said regardless what you think, what she has achieved at twenty-three years old is absolutely incredible and she’s getting a Pinnacle Award at the CMAs and rightly so. You get some really negative comments but the point is, they’re listening to the hype, I wonder how many actually listen to a Taylor Swift record. We have a friend in Nashville who said ‘at the end of the day I’m not her demographic but I respect what she does and what she’s achieved so I think that’s the thing you know, for us it’s definitely going the right way, I don’t think it’s going to go any other way now, I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger. C2C’s getting bigger this year, doing Dublin as well and that’ll just continue to grow. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a C2C tour at some point in the future that takes in some of the major cities throughout the UK, not just London and obviously Dublin this time - Paul

Are there any artists you’d want to collaborate with?

We’ve always had a big soft spot for Brad Paisley, it can’t get any bigger than Brad, aim for the stars! [laughs]– Claire

There’s people we’d love to share the stage with, if nothing else you’d learn so much. Keith Urban, Brad Paisley....You know how they do all those things at the CMAs, were everybody gets together? I’d love to do that. When Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan all came on with “Boys ‘Round Here” [at last year’s awards] and all sang it and then Brad [Paisley] came on and played guitar, that’s what it’s about . Even that whole thing with Zac Brown and Luke Bryan at the start [of this year’s awards] where they mentioned the fact they’d fallen the end of the day, when push comes to shove they’re obviously really good friends and that’s important so it’s great for the community of country music fans in the UK. I think what we need now is for one of us, all of us preferably, but at least one of us, to start breaking through into the mainstream because if one breaks through we’ll all start to get that opportunity, Mumford & Sons did it for that folk, rock, pop thing, there’s no reason why this group of artists can’t be at least instrumental in bringing about positive change for country music in the UK. - Paul

Are there any songs you’d wish you’d written?

Right off the top of my head, “She’s Everything” I wish I’d wrote, that’s going to be our wedding song – Paul

Yeah, our first dance at our wedding – Claire

We tried to get Brad to do it! [laughs] – Paul

I think the first time we ever heard Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”. It was one of those songs where you instantly get hooked on it right away - Claire

Even looking back, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” Garth Brooks [his version] “He Stopped Loving Her Today” from way back George Jones. That’s the beauty about country, you hear songs where you go ‘that is so simple’ Not easy, people get mixed up. It’s really simple but the actually talent is taking something and making it so simple it’s universal and that’s the beauty of country music so this conversation could go on [laughs] - Paul

Grand Union

Overall it was a brilliant night. All of the artists seemed comfortable and at home up on the small stage and it was nice to get to hear the stories behind their songs, something that I know a lot of people welcomed. The set-up for the night brought a relaxed atmosphere between the stage and the audience and it was organised very well. I hope that it is the first one of many and I would definitely recommend attending any evenings such as this in the future.

Thanks to Malcolm Stone for the pictures