If The Shires and The Wandering Hearts are in the top tier of UK Country music, then just beneath them are three acts who are vastly experienced on record and in the studio.
Over 2021, with gigs at both Buckle & Boots and The British Country Music Festival, Tim Prottey-Jones has been honing a set which includes tunes like Fire, Until I Do and Good Life. He also brought out a cover of The Joke by Brandi Carlile, singing the first chorus a cappella and silencing a room that would chat all the way through Gasoline & Matches.
Tim’s tunes combine poppy hooks and wonderful vocals, and in a solo gig he had to point out where the guitar solos usually occurred. Tim, of course, is one of the gatekeepers of country radio thanks to his Chris Country Homegrown show, making him more than just mere talent, and he is openly grateful to the UK scene for embracing his music. Drinking For Three, his set closer and a middle finger to the obstetrician who told him he’d never become a dad (‘my son just turned three!’), sounds like a smash.
Sally and Steve, the duo who perform as Gasoline & Matches, played a set of softer songs which fit two acoustic guitars. Their 2021 has already included a studio version of Never Have I Ever, performed here with a dash of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Old songs like The Artist, about a breakup, and Not Into Country show fine interplay between the vocalists and the guitars. Steve’s soloing was exceptional and he is an asset to the UK scene. They played a full band show Under The Bridge in Chelsea at Nash Nights, where it’ll be too loud for the crowd to talk over.
Katy Hurt headlined the wee venue in Islington which often puts on country acts (I’ve seen Phil Vassar do his thing there. I think she’ll headline a festival next year, after her appearance in Blackpool on the main stage. In 2016 I saw her perform at Buckle & Boots in the middle of the afternoon and was very impressed with how her voice floated over some heavy guitars and drums. With more years of gigging behind her, she is even more confident onstage as she celebrated the release of the first single from her debut album.
‘I’ve been waiting a decade!’ she gushed, but is still not a full-time performer, having to do lots of grunt jobs to pay the bills. She puts her experience into the aforementioned single Sounds Good In A Bar, with its four-note singalong riff proving a well-chosen first cut from the album. Judging by the rest of the set, there is a panoply of fine melodies, particular opener Believer. These sat alongside old chestnuts like See Ya Later, now with added dance moves, and Drink. At the end of one song Katy went right up to the top of her range, rivalling musical theatre pro Tim for expertise.
At one stage Katy lamented her decision to headbang while wearing lipgloss, with her long hair sticking to the makeup. The high point of the set came with her career song Unfinished Business, where she was overcome by emotion and had to compose herself before the second verse.
The band make a lot of noise, even if drummer Joe had a bit of Lars From Metallica syndrome, standing up to thwack the tom-toms. Gab Zsapka, whose lead guitar work rivals Steve’s, was sensational when he stepped a foot to the left to take a solo, with Katy shimmying away behind him.
When I look to compile my UK Country Festive Fifty in December, I will remember the showmanship and prowess Katy showed. Keep your eyes open for the album announcement from the hard-working, hard-Hurtin’ star.
Sounds Good In A Bar is available to stream and download now