Morgan Evans plays Erskineville as part of Sydney Fringe

Country Music in 2015

2015 was the year in which I’ve begun to reacquaint myself with my love of country music. As I wrote a few months ago:

Despite my inner-city reputation, I actually know a fair bit about country music, and I have lots of great “special experts” to draw upon to supplement the areas in which my knowledge is a little short. Having grown up in Lismore, I grew up with a lot of country music. Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynnn and the like were the soundtrack to my youth. And then having lived in a number of other country towns, I learned a lot more. I visited the Tamworth Country Musical Festival several times, as well as other festivals like Barmera and Gympie, and there was was even one year where I was a judge for Tamworth. For me, country music, the authentic stuff (I was never into anything cheesy) has been a strong part of “who I am”.

But having worked in “capital city radio” over the last decade, my attention has been drawn away from country music until recently when my attention has been brought back on a few levels. And so I’ve been listening to a lot of country music over the last few weeks, and revisiting some wonderful “old friends”.

It wasn’t intended. It was something which came out of the re-structure of the ABC announced back in November. As a result of the changes, the people looking after “ABC Country” were made redundant, which meant responsibility for keeping the station on air fell with me. Realistically, there’s not a lot of work required, as the station operates pretty much as an automated playlist station without presenters.

That said, it’s important for it to remain contemporary, which means adding in new songs, and it’s important that it should sound like a radio station, and not someone’s ipod! So I took it on, and was determined to achieve a few things. First, we’ve changed the station identifications which I hope bring a little more “life” to the sound, especially as they feature “real people” who are country fans. Second, we increased the amount of Indigenous performers on the station to include some wonderful new performers like Dewayne Everett-Smith, as well as classic performers like Roger Knox and The Mills Sisters. Third, we’ve increased the amount of Australian content from around 25% to about 70% at the moment. Fourth, we’ve introduced a new category of music called “classic country” which pays respect to some of the great performers of the past. And I have a great team of “volunteers” (country music fans within the ABC) as well as paying for some people with expertise in the area to help with the transformation. Honestly though, it’s been for LESS than the smell of an oily rag :) And for me it’s been a real passion project, mostly done “out of hours”. I genuinely love listening to the station, and I’ve re-developed my passion for country music. I love it.

So, with that in mind, here are my favourite country music tunes from this year (and the end of 2014)

Adam James is an Indigenous singer from Queensland. I think he’s terrific, with great songs. This song makes me a little sad with its lyrics.

Here’s some other Aussie favourites…

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve even managed to sneak in a couple of Swedish tracks in to ABC Country, as part of the desire to play more than just country from Nashville. Though a couple of years old, I love this tune from First Aid Kit, who I saw play in Sydney a few years ago.

I love this song by Canadian, Dean Brody. This song has a “Life At The Outpost” feel about it. Totally catchy.

Strictly speaking this song was from the end of last year, though I only discovered it this year. It’s from an American singer and the lyrics deal with same sex relationships.

In a more “traditional” sense, I really loved this song from Justin Standley.

My favourite band from the year was Melbourne-based Mustered Courage.

And in particular, I loved their cover-version of September

They’re also playing at Meatstock, in 2016 which I am totally looking forward to.

Oh yeah, and I become totally addicted to the TV show, Nashville.

It’s good to be back, loving country music.

Army Of Lovers at Melodifestivalen

På svenska

This week, Swedish TV SVT, has announced the hosts for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest as Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede. I’m really excited about this, as I like them both very much. But as much as I love Eurovision, I’m more of a fan of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading up to Eurovision. Eurovision is fun, but Melodifestivalen has passion. While the UK looks at Eurovision as a bit of a joke, the Swedes take Melodifestivalen very seriously.

But one of the things which has kinda annoyed me in recent years has been the tendancy for Swedes to sing in English. Yes, I know Swedish is not exactly the universal language of pop. But when ABBA, for example, won Eurovision in 1974, they sang in Swedish at Melodifestivalen, and then in English at Eurovision. I think this is a cool model. As much as a universal language interests me, I’d like to think people could speak their own languages too.

Also increasingly, I’ve noticed over the last few years an awful lot of Swedish pop singers have only been singing in English. But in the last year I’ve noticed a few Swedish singers have discovered their “Swedish Pride”. Interestingly, some of the most obvious ones have been the children of immigrants. I wonder if this is a response/reaction to the rise of the anti-immigration party, Sweden Democrats, or am I reading too much into it? Here’s a few examples:

Also lately, I’ve seen some great pop clips with some really strong imagery from Stockholm. Here’s a few examples:

I actually recognised someone from the last clip. Small world.

Morgan Evans plays Erskineville as part of Sydney Fringe

Morgan Evans at Sydney Fringe

Even though I only discovered him about six months ago, I’ve become a bit of a fan of Morgan Evans, a country singer from Newcastle. And when I say country, I really mean contemporary country/rock. I’d doubt there’s any redbacks on the toilet seat in his repertoire.

“I’m going back to Nashville with literally just a backpack and a bunch of CDs”, he told us, in keeping with tonight’s “low-key” show at Erskineville (part of Sydney Fringe). There was just him and two others on the back of a truck, performing in front of probably no more than 100 people.

The show was made up of largely new songs, and though unfamiliar to many people, I noticed one woman in the front row who sang along to virtually every track, even the new ones. In between, he chatted about the “risk” involved in the decision to move to Nashville for a year, including a busted relationship. After Nashville and after last week’s Gympie Muster, thirty minutes on the back of a truck in the inner city of Sydney must have been quite a contrast all round. A terrific show.

Neneh Cherry

“For her first time in Australia, it would have been good to have some more of her older songs”, my friend said, as we made our way out of the Sydney Opera House tonight. I agree with that assessment. As much as I really do like her new material, it was classics like “Buffalo Stance” and (my personal favourite) “Manchild” that really got the audience excited.

I read with jealousy, Youssou N’Dour had joined her on stage at Womadelaide the other the day, performing their wonderful duet “7 Seconds”, and deep down I hoped he would have been there tonight also. It really is an amazing song.

But there again, Neneh Cherry is also an amazing performer. The show was full of energy and excitement, and even though she’s now 51 years old, retains a wonderful edginess. The drum and bass instrumentation of her latest work really worked for me, and I was amazed at both the sound, performance and graphical background to the show. I was also amazed at how good her voice is. In a 90-100 minute show, it never gave up.

Great stuff.

Melodifestivalen 2015 #3

Even though I’m no longer part of the culture of “Friday Afternoon Work Drinks”, I do remember this stage of my life very well. You would go to the pub, talk about work, and then, as the drinks kicked in, you would turn to other topics, and before you knew it, you were in a dodgy karaoke bar singing “Dancing Queen”. Through your “beer ears” you thought you sounded okay, when it fact you sounded pretty awful. And what happened to remind you of this was the appearance on stage of your workmate (who had ditched his tie and jacket) and who suddenly revealed to everyone he had a really great singing voice.

That guy was a contestant in the third heat of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish competition which selects a contestant for the Eurovision Song Contest, and his name was Andreas Weise. When he appeared on stage, I thought he would be another boring old male blonde Swede who would sing something of little consequence, only to be forgotten about minutes later. In fact, his performance was one of the best in this heat.

Along the way there were other tracks such as “Insomnia” by Ellen Benediktson (good, though probably a little too similar to Loreen’s “Euphoria”); “För din skull” (For your sake) by Kalle Johansson (boring); “Living To Die” by Andreas Johnson (the songs title says it all, it’s time for Andreas Johnson to move on); “Don’t Stop” by Isa Tengblad (boring in my view, but popular with the tweens); and “I See You” by Kristin Amparo (gorgeous voice, though I can’t remember the song only half an hour after having watched it).

But my favourite of the heat was “Jag är fri (Manne Liem Frije)” (I am free) by Jon Henrik Fjällgren. He won Sweden’s got talent last year with a song about a friend who died. Though originally from Colombia, he’s part of the Sami community and works by day, seriously, herding reindeer. The song he sang was “rousing” and “catchy” and sung in “Joik” which is a traditional Sami form of song. A big call to make at this stage, since there’s still a further heat to go, and then “Andra Chansen” before the final, but I think he has a really good chance of representing Sweden at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Unfortunately the video of his performance isn’t available online yet, but here’s the video from when he won Sweden’s Got Talent.

Update – The video clip for his song has now been uploaded

Melodifestivalen 2015 #2

I’m quite a fan of the Swedish pop singer, Magnus Carlsson. To be precise, Magnus who was in Swedish pop bands Barbados and Alcazar, not Magnus Carlson (one “s”) who was in Swedish indie band, “Weeping Willows”. I even met him once, briefly, at a bar in Stockholm (see photo below). Although his obsession with recording Christmas albums is something I still don’t understand (beyond the fact they sell well), he can be relied upon for really great pop tunes. His self-titled solo album remains a firm favourite. Along the way, he has released songs in both English and Swedish, and has competed in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading to Eurovision on several occasions. Thus, when I heard the news a few months ago he would be competing again this year, I was pretty excited.

His song this year, “Möt Mig I Gamla Stan” (Meet me in the old town (part of Stockholm)” is “classic” Magnus Carlsson, and although I like it, and it has made it through to the final, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a bit “old school” to make it through to Eurovision. Over the last decade, with one or two exceptions, the Swedes have tended to vote for younger, more contemporary sounding singers and songs than the classic “key change schlager” songs they’ve been known for many year.

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm
Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Aside from Magnus, there were two other songs which stood out for me this week for completely different reasons. Even though they were a bit off tune in their performance, and there’s nothing much to the tune, I thought “Groupie” by Samir and Viktor is a bit of fun, with a lyric that declares the end of the “selfie”. Totally forgettable, of course, but they had a good energy, even if the song was pretty rubbish and they couldn’t really sing. I also really liked “Forever Starts Today” by Linus Svenning, who competed in last year’s contest with “Bröder” also. It’s one of those rousing Eurovision sing-a-long numbers with a killer hook. Linus is a young guy with tats who, in Australia, probably wouldn’t be caught dead competing in a Eurovision pop song contest, but who in Sweden is totally at home.

Other competitors this week were: Emelie Irewald with “Där Och Då Med Dig” (a nice enough ballad); Neverstore with “If I Was God For One Day” (a fairly dated sounding 80/90s power ballad); Marie Bergman and Sanne Salomonsen with “Nonetheless” (a pretty song with lovely harmonies); and Mariette with “Don’t Stop Believing” (pretty good song, powerful, and with a slight Tory Amos feel to it).

Song Of The Year – Tove Lo Habits

Of all the new music I saw/heard in 2014, this was the one that stood out.

Yeah, of course it’s from a Swedish artist, and I love the fact she doesn’t try to hide that in her video clip (unlike a lot of other Swedish artists these days who are doing their best to hide their Swedishness by filming their clips in the US).

I love the song musically, as it has a good melody and lyrics.

But I really love the video clip, as it captures both the elements of “the selfie” and the self-destructiveness of youth culture.

I also really love the vulnerability she shows in the clip. Hopefully honest.

Can’t go home alone again
Need someone to numb the pain

PS… Here’s another song from her with lots of Sthlm scenery.