“British country music – there’s no excuse for it”
As pithy soundbites go, they don’t come much better. In the space of just nine well-chosen words, the author managed to drive a soon to be bloodied knife into the heart of anyone foolish enough to enjoy playing or (God forbid) writing country music, while also being a resident of the United Kingdom.
And there is a part of me that agrees with the sentiment – which incidentally was expressed by a doyen of the English folk scene. Country music and its trendier spinoff, Americana may have some roots in the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and England, but lyrically and musically they speak to an American experience.
Aspiring to Pastiche
So if you’re based in London, Aberdeen or Swansea and you happen to play in a Country or Americana band, all you can really aspire to is pastiche, or at the very best a heartfelt tribute that sits somewhere to the left of the real thing.
One problem with Country is that the lyrical tropes are pretty specific to America. Words that conjure up visions of endless roads, roadside bars and trains that take fifteen minutes to roll by, don’t sit well on the tongues of Brits. Even ‘cheatin’ songs – certainly a universal experience – exist in Country music as an almost heroic, if often tragic, counterpart to the the constricted morality of the Bible Belt. ‘Cheatin’ isn’t just ‘cheatin’ in country music. Cheatin is the plot McGuffin that allows writers to explore sin, salvation and redemption. The same stories have a different resonance in the context of an increasingly Godless UK.
The Case for the Defence
So-case closed. UK country – there’s no excuse for it.
But there is a case for the defence. As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from Americana. In particular, Americana has taught me that telling stories that illuminate the lives of ordinary people is an incredibly rewarding thing to do.
So I put my hand up. The lyrical structures that underpin much of Americana lie at the heart of an awful lot of my songs too. That’s not to say that I’m writing about American themes – most of my songs are set firmly in the UK. But they are stories that often – as is the case with Americana – explore some of the more awkward corners of the human heart.
So file under Anglo-Irish Americana. Or better still file under songwriter that draws on elements of folk, roots, Americana, Blues and Jazz in service of narrative lyrics.
I’ve included some of my favourite UK America tracks in the playlist above. It includes: Danny and the Champions of the World, Yola Carter, Bear’s Den, Billy Bragg and many more.