The Best Bit of Buckle and Boots 2021

Here are the nominees for the best moment of the fifth live edition of Buckle & Boots…

Emma Moore showed pride in her locks and belting out Caylee Hammack’s Redhead alongside tracks from her own EP The Table.

Jake Morrell sang warm, companiable songs like This House and Englishman, with Poppy Fardell singing harmony vocals and Tim Prottey-Jones keeping the tempo on the drums.

Tim’s own set was full of well-crafted pop songs like Fire, Good Life (written with Jake), Bite The Bullet and several which have still not been released. He had a full tent and a full heart, and is one of the champions of UK country thanks to his Homegrown show on Chris Country Radio.

Sam Coe, with some young family members in branded tee shirts, stated in her set that ‘If you think it feels like country then it is’. She certainly has some stories to tell and sung them with panache.

Making her B&B debut, Taynee Lord performed in a denim jacket with her first name in sequins on the back, saying that her ace new single I Don’t Want Flowers is based on a true story.

The Shires led an early evening singalong to Dreams and Islands in the Stream while playing some of their best-loved songs, including a song written about their desire to ‘build our own Nashville underneath these grey skies’, at a UK country festival which experienced two days of drizzle. ‘We wish you could see what we see onstage,’ gushed an emotional Ben.

I discovered that Donal of Matt & Donal, who played an array of classic country covers on Saturday evening, was recovering from a bad fall that caused an injury that sounded so severe that it was almost a miracle that he was performing. They played Wagon Wheel, naturally.

The trio Outlaw Orchestra, meanwhile, interpolated both I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman into their turbocharged set that will probably see them move to the main stage next year.

Jade Helliwell has been trapped in a webcam with her partner Luke Thomas, broadcasting weekly sessions for a year. She emerged as a fully-formed butterfly with white tassels and charm on her headline set on Saturday night, and performed her catalogue with a full band and a receptive crowd.

Jade teamed up with Gary Quinn and Kezia Gill for the weekend’s two supergroup collaborations: Saturday night’s live electric mixtape of contemporary covers of songs under the Honky Tonk Roadshow moniker had them singing tunes by Chris Young, Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs and Brad Paisley, whose The Mona Lisa prompted the famous conga of country fanatics; and Sunday’s acoustic Song Swap. Kezia’s take on Telephone – Jade’s ode to her grandpa – reduced the women next to me to blubbering. Gary interpolated Eye of the Tiger on his version of Kezia’s survivor anthem I’m Here, while festival host Karl Hancock answered guitarist Luke Thomas’s request for some Jaegermeisters at 2 in the afternoon.

Jade is nominated again for bringing out seven or eight of the lasses playing at the festival, including Lucy Blu, SJ Mortimer from Morganway, Sally Morris from Gasoline & Matches, Emilia Quinn, Kezia and Emma Jade, who all sang a final chorus of Maren Morris’ song Girl. All boats rise with the tide, and Jade knows that the UK country movement needs unity (her boyfriend Luke’s dad BJ Thomas is a key part of the British CMAs) and direction. The only way is up!

During the acoustic set, I realised that a Best of UK Country would have to contain tracks by Gary (He Don’t Show Her Anymore), Kezia (Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman) and Jade (Repeat), as well as the usual major-label suspects like Ward Thomas and The Wandering Hearts, who have both played the festival in the last five years.

Laura Evans sang a sweet song about Aberdare alongside her love song Heartstrings and a fierce cover of Chris Stapleton’s Arkansas, accompanied by Eddy Smith and his band, while Rae Sam proved that she can do it live as brilliantly as she can on record, with an impressive set that included her single Wildly Me. I hope both ladies made some new fans on Sunday afternoon, and it was smart programming to put them on back-to-back before an evening of top-notch guitar music sung by blokes.

One of those men, Kevin McGuire, was playing his first live gig with his band for 18 months. Alongside his irresistible singles like Seeing Things and Hottest One Yet, his cover of Escape, by Enrique Iglesias, was inspired. ‘If you feel like leaving, I’m not gonna beg you to stay’ was unmasked as a country lyric.

Alan Finlan looks like he could be a potential Luke Combs on Stars In Their Eyes. He’s another future main stage performer even if he has the tendency to shout rather than sing, but that’s what nerves can do. Emma Jade croaked through the duet Battle of the Bands, wishing she could sing it again, but that’s what perfection can do.

While Recovering Satellites were singing about a Wichita Lineman in the tent, Backwoods Creek were Walking In Memphis on the mainstage. Along with coruscating originals which they are unleashing onto their audience, they have a new bassist in George Price who may be their secret weapon once they decide to give him a bass solo. They’re going from strength to strength, and it was nice to meet some of the partners of the band who were there to support one of the most exciting live bands in Britain.

Morganway were second from the top of the bill on Sunday. They played old pearls like London Life and My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You, a blistering cover of You Oughta Know and future classics like The Man and Come Over. At one stage, singer SJ lost herself in the melody of Hurricane and threatened to explode. An EP and an album will follow and bigger stages beckon.

As for Tebey, the headline act who came over from Nashville and had to quarantine, he looked overjoyed, as a ‘little kid from Canada’, to be headlining a UK festival. He covered Fast Cars and Freedom by Rascal Flatts, Avicii’s Wake Me Up (which he’d recorded with Emerson Drive), the Justin Moore song Somebody Else Will (which he wrote) and Garth Brooks’ Friends In Low Places. He mixed in his own smashes like Denim on Denim and Good Jeans and, threw tee-shirts into the crowd and played a solo version of his new single Song of the Summer, alas without duet partner Una Healy. Maybe in March for Country2Country, or during his planned UK tour in 2022, Una and Tebey will sing together if the world falls into place.

Tebey is keen to build a connection with us and he’s not the only one. Several US acts were missing – Trent Tomlinson, Craig Campbell, Queeva and John Gurney were all KO’ed by Corona – but William Michael Morgan beamed two songs in via video. Along with Alyssa Bonagura, he was the only US performer across the weekend, which made the festival a celebration of UK country. Alyssa did get to belt out Man! I Feel Like A Woman with SJ as part of the closing jam, where various singers sung famous songs accompanied by Backwoods Creek. Special mention goes to a girl called Terri who tore through Sweet Child O Mine and came offstage buzzing with adrenaline. Dreams can come true at Buckle & Boots.

I spoke with several acts across the weekend and you can hear words from Joe Martin, Poppy Fardell, Callum and Matt from Morganway, Alyssa Bonagura and two-thirds of the Outlaw Orchestra when I count down the UK Country Top 40 chart at the end of August. It was also super to see familiar faces interviewing acts, taking their photographs, manning the merchandise table, serving at the bar, being Matt Spracklen (who left Surrey at 4am to spend a day at the farm) or just drinking and celebrating the joy of live music in a field in the North-West of England.

After 18 months of social distancing, social togetherness will be the new trend, even if it involves staggering after one too many beers or straining your vocal cords in an effort to talk politics with Callum from Morganway.

So what’s my favourite moment of the weekend? In the words of Bruce Forsyth, they were ALL my favourite. The award is shared.

Buckle & Boots will return in 2022. For more information head to buckleandboots.co.uk.

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