This piece was originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Country Way of Life Magazine. The Autumn 2019 edition is out in September
News of Bob Harris’ recent heart problem, which has forced him off air until he’s better, passes the baton to his son Miles, an absolute spit of his dad.
Together with Bob’s wife Trudie, the MD of Whispering Bob Productions as well as director of the UK branch of the Americana Music Association, the 27-year-old Son of Bob is a broadcaster of quality. It’s in the genes.
Along with brother Dylan, who is in A&R and artist management, Miles is in the family business of supporting the best artists and giving them a platform to express themselves. In recent years that has been with the Under The Apple Tree project, using his dad’s home studio to film sessions with bands and artists, many of whom are friends of the family.
The famous studio ‘Under the Apple Tree’
In 2019, after several years putting on stages at Silverstone during Formula 1 week and at Country2Country, Miles and Bob teamed up for a national tour. This was a fine idea executed brilliantly. At each stopping point, a local act opened the show before Ferris & Sylvester brought their fine musical stylings.
Wildwood Kin, with awesome harmonies and emotionally charged songs, headlined the night, playing teasers from their second album and offering covers of the likes of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground.
I went to the tour’s closing night in Norwich, where Morganway opened. I’ll talk more about the sextet in the next magazine but they were as terrific as ever and a perfect opener. Also popping up around the country were Loud Mountains (Oxford), Eleanor Nelly (Liverpool), Demi Marriner (Birmingham), Foreign Affairs (Bristol), Worry Dolls and The Blue Highways (London), Roseanne Reid (Glasgow), Callum Pitt (Newcastle), Keto (Nottingham) and Robbie Cavanagh (Manchester).
Ten gigs in the space of 17 days is a big undertaking but there were no signs of exhaustion when I chatted to Archie Sylvester after the final gig of the tour. The duo’s plans include festivals – Isle of Wight and Glastonbury – and work on a new album.
They told Maverick Magazine that a full-length release will follow their Made In Streatham EP: ‘We listen to albums. We have a record player at home. We really value the album setup and we feel like our music is going to fit into that.’
Ferris and Sylvester are one of Britain’s best acts, I think. Their set was astonishing in its range and depth. The singles London’s Blues and Flying Visit were terrific, but it was their stagecraft that impressed me and their connection with the audience.
There is a reason why we are in an era when acts who break through the fourth wall are doing well: Ed Sheeran can play stadiums with songs that can be sung on Grafton Street in Dublin; Lewis Capaldi is essentially a Scottish balladeer who is quite good at interacting with people via social media; Adele and Coldplay both bring intimacy to the masses. So do Ferris and Sylvester, and big things await.
Under The Apple Tree’s MO is to bring music to people’s ears, ‘amazing artists who deserve to be heard by everyone’. Bob Harris had a national and international platform to do so, and he helped break Marc Cohn in the UK by championing Walking On Memphis. He has been a cheerleader for acts as varied as Mary Gauthier, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Ashley McBryde, Kacey Musgraves, Sam Outlaw, Walter Trout and Catherine McGrath. The Wandering Hearts had a session on Bob’s Radio 2 country show before they even put out an album.
Music is so easy to find nowadays that you could drown in it. Champions like Bob and Miles offer a filter: if they like it, you might too. It’s easy for a major label to sign a Lewis Capaldi or a Kacey Musgraves, but it pays to let them grow into the artists they want to be. Foreign Affairs, who are managed by Dylan, are Bristolian brothers who make great acoustic roots music; they will join Curse of Lono and Robert Vincent for a gig put on by Under The Apple Tree at Bush Hall in London on October 25 as part of Country Music Week. Previously they have put on afternoons showcasing acts they love. In 2017 they brought a bill including Robert Vincent, Catherine McGrath, Wildwood Kin and Seth Ennis.
In 2016 I had delighted in attending the Under The Apple Tree stage at Country2Country, where I looked on in awe at the likes of Balsamo Deighton, Laura Oakes and Kimmie Rhodes. All three of those acts are among the hundreds who have recorded sessions for Under The Apple Tree. Their Youtube channel Whispering Bob TV houses most of those sessions and I recommend you set aside some time to plunge in. You may find your next favourite act.
Bob Harris has an award named after him at the UK Americana Music Association awards for emerging artists. In 2019 Curse of Lono won it, following The Wandering Hearts (2018) and Wildwood Kin (2017). Curse of Lono have popped into the studios a couple of times. There is a video of their song Pick Up the Pieces on Youtube, part of the 360th session for the channel. Opening with an acoustic guitar, the song is full of lush harmonies and great instrumentation, including a box organ. It is rootsy, authentic, organic and everything great music ought to be. The band are at The 100 Club the week before they play Bush Hall; they term their music ‘Cinematic Southern Gothic Rock’, which is correct.
As of June 15 2019 there have been 419 sessions for Under The Apple Tree. Morganway have been on twice, with their second visit due to be uploaded soon. In fact, when I reviewed the band’s 2017 EP, I mentioned that Bob Harris would love a band like this; they were on their way to play Hurricane and their version of Dancing In The Dark. You can find their Bruce cover on the Unique Covers playlist on the Youtube channel which also features Laura Oakes’ take on Rocket Man, Ellen & The Escapades doing Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, Sam Outlaw doing White Christmas and Foreign Affairs doing a good job with Tennessee Whiskey. The Adelaides, meanwhile, mash up Jolene and Daddy Lessons, combining Dolly and Beyoncé.
Under The Apple Tree have found the perfect mix of the old and new, traditional and contemporary and serious with fun. The live show was fantastic and managed, when I went, to pack out a mid-sized venue in Norwich on a weeknight. I can’t wait for the next one, or indeed the London show in October.
UnderTheAppleTree.com is the place to find more information, while the Youtube channel is WhisperingBobTV. The Country Show is on Radio 2 on Thursdays at 9pm.
Ferris & Sylvester tour the UK this autumn, as do Wildwood Kin whose self-titled second LP is out on October 4.