Morganway’s debut self-titled LP

October 15, 2019

This piece appears in the Autumn 2019 edition of the Country Way of Life magazine. Ask for a copy here. The magazine includes album reviews, features on country festivals and a debate on the TV show Nashville.

In March 2018, a man named Gary Lafferty filmed the Country on the Clyde performance of Let Me Go by Morganway from the balcony of the venue. The song sounded a bit like Fleetwood Mac trying to be an indie band and was sung by SJ Mortimer, who is married to the band’s guitarist Kieran and sister-in-law to the main songwriter Callum, whose surname is Morgan. Nicole Terry, a maker and player of violins, was borrowed from SJ and the Flying Pigs, where Kieran also played guitar.

In the video Morganway’s third original member, Matt Brocklehurst, plays keyboards in his fingerless gloves while SJ sings effortlessly and in harmony with Callum. Kieran is allowed eight bars to play guitar over the top of, with a bottleneck slide which was quietly received by a crowd who probably didn’t know what they were seeing and were politely appreciating some great country-rock.

There is something about that performance, which has a total of 548 views as I write, that enraptured me 18 months ago. Possibly it was the cohesion of all the parts or the fact that they looked like a band with a vision. Other people had called them country; the band themselves preferred Norfolkana, a mix of UK rock and US country music.

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I had a long chat with Callum Morgan in person in 2017 and then by phone in 2018, and saw his band in various showcases in London across 2018, enjoying talking Watford FC with their former bassist Rory Hill. The Morgan twins know their heritage, talking effusively about Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac. I also spoke to SJ backstage after a London gig in 2019 and learned she was a big fan of Queen and classic rock, which may explain her tendency to break into a rocker’s wail.

At Buckle & Boots 2018 I picked up a copy of a live album called Driving to the City, which included many songs which would end up on Morganway’s debut full-length album. Released after much anticipation on August 2 2019, it followed two EPs which built on the folk-country-rock soup I had fallen in love with. The 11 tracks showcase every side of the band and the album can be divided into two halves: Side A with five tracks and Side B with six.

Side A begins with the moody My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You, an old favourite written by Callum Morgan with Yve Mary B, their former singer, which has had 106,000 listeners on Spotify in its original form. The ‘my love, my love’ chant runs through the song, whose opening line is fab: ‘I was alone when I left my home/ Staring ahead at the great unknown’. It’s a philosophical love song: ‘Do you believe in love when it’s unkind?’ and ‘Love’s not real till it tears you’ are the mark of a good lyricist. The protagonist consoles himself (‘I told myself play it cool…’) and sets up a lush final 40 seconds. Across the album, the production by George Nicholson (who is credited as a co-writer on many tracks) is brilliant, with Ed Bullinger’s drums governing the tempo and Kieran’s guitar meshing well with the new addition of Nicole’s fiddle.

Let Me Go is track two and sounds just as good as it did in Glasgow in March 2018. ‘I will love you so if you let me go’ is one hell of a lyric, and SJ goes on to sing about wanting to ‘learn to fly’. The guitar and fiddle get a showcase and it’s a proper band track, much like Hurricane, which is track seven on the album and second on Side B. The line ‘Hit me like an avalanche’ is sung solo by SJ in a spine-chilling moment where you believe that she wants to be hit pretty hard. Equally avalanche-sounding is Kieran’s squealing lead solo in the track’s final minute, which gives way to a coda sung solo by SJ over the fading instruments. Live, this track is astonishing; on record, no less so.

Hurricane is a reliable set closer and also benefits from being a tight 4:00 banger, cut down from the five- or six-minute version that they can play live, a version of which is available on Youtube. I remember catching them in Canary Wharf in a posh ballroom in early 2018 when they played You Can Only Die Once, a chugging rock track in the brooding key of F minor which comes in at track three of Side A and may be the surprise breakout smash. It’s such a melodic track, again produced immaculately, and Callum’s acoustic works well with Kieran’s electric guitar washes. The third verse is almost whispered then crescendos with a quicker vocal delivery and intensity. It’s a confident song that is sensibly placed after the equally terrific Let Me Go. You can’t only listen once…

Side B kicks off with live favourite London Life (‘Some are trapped, some are free, some spend their life wanting to believe/ They’re the man they wanna be’), then Hurricane and Frozen In Our Time, which was a teaser track for the album that showcases SJ’s vocals, among the best in the UK country scene. The final vocalisations are gorgeous and tie in with the abstract nature of the lyric.

I think I first heard In A Dream (Coming Home) – Side A, track four – in their set at Camden’s Monarch at the end of July 2019. It’s driven by a shuffle from Ed’s drums and has a folk-pop feel. The lyrics include the line: ‘So many people but you’re still alone/ The more you understand, the less you really know’. Callum is barely 30 years old and he’s already cracked the meaning of life, or he’s familiar with Greek philosophy.

Side B has a tough task in finding three tracks to follow Hurricane. On the heartland rocker New Way (track eight), Callum sings over a rotating four-chord jam about how his ‘defences are down’. Track nine is Daylight Rising: Matt’s piano sets the mood for the first few moments before SJ softly sings over a gentle groove about ‘the coldest winter’ and breaking tides. It’s another song co-written by Yve Mary B, whose folk stylings are still present in the band; she is now a solo artist but deserves mention for her lyrical contributions to tracks like Let Me Go, Frozen In Our Time and Hurricane.

Matt gets a writing credit on track ten (Side B, track five). I See People starts with a Springsteen-style chord progression, then Callum sings expertly over Nicole’s fiddle of ‘a girl from years ago/ Pain was all she’d ever known’. The chorus includes an unexpected ‘hey!’ which contrasts with the lyric in the third verse. ‘Love was the sweetest kind of suffering’ again shows emotional depth (perhaps Matt, the band’s Quiet One, contributed this line) and the song will be a staple of the band’s live set as they go into 2020 to promote the album around the country.

Morganway support CC Smugglers on several dates in the autumn, while their friendship with Kenny Foster may lead to a joint-tour somewhere along the way. If I speak it into existence, maybe it’ll happen; anyhow, the album was mastered by the same chap who mastered Kenny’s latest album and both acts will be at Millport Festival.

When I heard the band play I Want No Other Love, the closing track on the album, I felt it could double as a set opener. SJ and Nicole sing before the rest of the band come in chanting ‘tonight, night night night’ before the middle of the song sees them break into the line ‘there is no other love’. The fact that the last third of the song doesn’t explode in the way Fix You by Coldplay does is testament to the understated nature of the band, who may well become your favourite soon.

The album is sophisticated and varied, a product of its influences without being a copy of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac or anyone else. Adding a fiddle to the mix has pushed the band on, while Ed’s drumming is flawless throughout, with no flourishes or fills beyond keeping the tempo (I hope this comes across as a compliment!). The Morgan twins are driven to succeed and, with SJ as vocalist, have a collection that both stands out and is outstanding.

Having joined the journey in 2017, I cannot wait to see what album two will be like. In the meantime I will keep rotating both sides of album one, a modern classic.

Morganway can be bought and streamed via listnin.co/morganway and through morganway.co.uk


The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown: Fortnight Commencing October 14 2019

October 15, 2019

Bubbling Under: The Outside Chancers – Absent Friends

40 NEW Gareth Nugent – Your Man

39 Stuart Landon – Taking It Back

38 RE-ENTRY Backwoods Creek – Coulda Been You

37 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – My Father

36 Simon James ft Sam Coe – Oh Honey

35 Jade Helliwell – Put It On You

34 Kevin McGuire – TNIY

33 Hannah Paris and Josh Gleaves – Crazy For You

32 RE-ENTRY Sasha McVeigh – Rock Bottom

31 NEW Worry Dolls – The River

30 Joey Clarkson – Sort Yourself Out

29 Jess Thristan – Time of our Lives

28 The Wandering Hearts – Jealous

27 Izzie Walsh – Clouded Mind

26 Megan O’Neill – Lonely Weekend

25 Binky – Drug In My Head

24 Katy Hurt – Unfinished Business

23 Danny McMahon – Boys Cry Too

22 Kezia Gill – I’m Here

21 The Fatherline – Before The Trend Set In

20 NEW Ags Connolly – Say It Out Loud

19 Lucy Blu – Row Your Own

18 Gary Quinn – Bumpin Into You

17 Jake Morrell – Freewheelin

16 Holloway Road – Lightning

15 Remember Monday – Find My Way

14 Morganway – Let Me Go

13 Ward Thomas – One More Goodbye

12 Two Ways Home – Speed of Anything

11 Ferris & Sylvester – I Dare You

10 Yola – Love All Night (Work All Day)

9 The Blue Highways – He Worked

8 The Luck – Vertigo

7 Curse of Lono – Valentine

6 Robert Vincent – Lady

5 Foreign Affairs – Faded

4 Jess and the Bandits – Love Don’t Give a Damn

3 The Adelaides – Good Love

2 Twinnie – Social Babies

1 Wildwood Kin – Time Has Come

The playlist with all songs in full: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HVF5xDxWo8vsXb2Yr2Y7n?si=pacmF3uVR_eascWt9kX2gA


The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown: Fortnight Commencing September 30 2019

October 2, 2019

Bubbling Under: Gareth Nugent – Your Man

40 Laura Oakes – The Middle

39 Stuart Landon – Taking It Back

38 Joey Clarkson – Sort Yourself Out

37 Clara Bond – Crown

36 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – My Father

35 Simon James ft Sam Coe – Oh Honey

34 Curse of Lono – Valentine

33 Robert Vincent – Lady

32 Holly Rose Webber – Heartbreaker

31 The Wandering Hearts – Jealous

30 Jade Helliwell – Put It On You

29 Kevin McGuire – TNIY

28 Ward Thomas – One More Goodbye

27 O&O – Tears in the Rain

26 Gasoline & Matches – Tequila’s a Healer

25 The Adelaides – Good Love

24 Binky – Drug In My Head

23 Izzie Walsh – Clouded Mind

22 The Fatherline – Before The Trend Set In

21 Megan O’Neill – Lonely Weekend

20 Foreign Affairs – Faded

19 Katy Hurt – Unfinished Business

18 Jess Thristan – Time of our Lives

17 Hannah Paris and Josh Gleaves – Crazy For You

16 Jake Morrell – Freewheelin

15 Kezia Gill – I’m Here

14 The Blue Highways – He Worked

13 Lucy Blu – Row Your Own

12 Jess and the Bandits – Don’t Let Me Take You Home

11 Holloway Road – Lightning

10 Gary Quinn – Bumpin Into You

9 Remember Monday – Drive

8 Morganway – Let Me Go

7 Danny McMahon – Boys Cry Too

6 Two Ways Home – Speed of Anything

5 Ferris & Sylvester – I Dare You

4 The Luck – Vertigo

3 Twinnie – Social Babies

2 Wildwood Kin – Time Has Come

1 Yola – Love All Night (Work All Day)

The playlist with all songs in full: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HVF5xDxWo8vsXb2Yr2Y7n?si=pacmF3uVR_eascWt9kX2gA

Hear an hour-long audio version of this Chart at mixcloud.com/blastocast from Sunday October 6. You can also hear past Charts at that address.