The new home of Peter Conway’s country extravaganza is perfect for country fanatics. Situated in the old East India Docks which drove the industry of Empire, there’s a stunning view across the Thames to the Millennium Dome and, if you want a complete American experience, a diner whose staff were delightful and made some delicious sweet potato fries.
After a first evening headlined by Shy Carter, who was preceded by Sarah Darling, Arbor North, Manny Blu, Matt Hodges and Ruthie Collins, a similar eclecticism was on show for the second. Early attendees enjoyed a spectacular opening set from Essex County, who previewed not one but two forthcoming singles: Fire Up was given a brilliant wigout at the end, while power ballad You In Tennessee offered impressive variety to their amped-up set.
Notable was the presence of singer Nate behind the drumkit, playing solos with one hand and using his legs to propel the backbeat. There was even a ‘viral moment’ when guitar wizard Mark fell onto the floor and literally hit the Dust during the song of that name. It was a fabulous start to what would be probably the best night in the whole of London that evening.
Candi Carpenter, who possessed a new engagement ring and a haircut which exactly matched that of her fiancé, opened with a singalong called Serial Killer. As heard in Blackpool as part of the 2021 British Country Music Festival, Candi’s voice is a magnificent instrument and she deployed it on her cover of Radiohead’s Creep. The fact that she preceded it by a blast of yodelling only made her more assured of her performance: who else would mix country hollerin’ and angsty British rock?
The topics which Candi covered in her songs included vampire stories, exorcists, issues with food (‘literally trying to disappear’ on the song Skinny) and, on Go Ahead and Sue Me, blackmail and non-disclosure agreements. We can sense why Candi hasn’t been as successful as she ought to be and it’s nothing she herself has done. Alongside her duo project The Church of Roswell, she has pivoted to roots music and what sounds like Broadway torch confessional. She could turn her forthcoming album, whose title she was forbidden to announce, into either a one-woman show or a musical.
‘We’re not playing any ballads!’ said Tebey, who instead brought out the bangers. Happened on a Saturday Night, What Was I Drinking and his platinum smash Denim on Denim (‘about to go double platinum!’) all sounded tremendous, aided by the drummer smashing a cymbal which had been manipulated to sound like a computerised cymbal. New song Sink With The Sun was inspired by heading to Mexico to write the forthcoming album Tulum.
He also played Justin Moore’s number one Somebody Else Will, which he co-wrote, and his first Canadian number one Who’s Gonna Love You (‘if I don’t). He’s working ‘this territory’, as he called the UK, where he has some ancestry; after hitting Buckle and Boots in 2021, he has a big footprint over here. He would take the party to The Long Road over Bank Holiday Weekend, which was also the destination for DJ Hish, who played music in between the sets in Trinity Buoy Wharf and who had kickstarted Nashville Meets London Week with a DJ set on a boat down the Thames.
Sam Palladio (Gunnar from off of Nashville) was in the crowd to support his friends The Wandering Hearts, who were introduced by the leather-jacketed compere Matt Spracklen, a huge fan of their debut album Wild Silence. The trio have enjoyed weddings and babies in the past few years after a difficult journey to their second album, from which they played opening track Hammer Falls, fabulously atmospheric Build A Fire and Dreams, co-written with their friends Connie Smith and Marty Stuart. Marty was bumped up to the Saturday night headliner at The Long Road, which allows more time for bluegrass jams and stories from his 50-year career.
With AJ sporting shoulder-length hair and impressive facial whiskers, the trio looked the part, although there was perhaps too much crowd chatter throughout their acoustic set. Wish I Could was aided by some funky percussion shakes from Tara, who took lead on If I Were, while Chess plonked a mandolin when she wasn’t getting tied in knots telling anecdotes about their past few years of relative social media silence. The music, when it’s as good as their set closers Devil and Fire & Water, says all they need to say.
It is very rare to see the former fourth member of the band in the same room as them, but Tim Prottey-Jones was playing drums for Kyle Daniel that evening. He was muttering the count and gurning impressively while Kyle played songs that would sit alongside those of Chris Stapleton or Brothers Osborne. Accordingly, there was a faithful cover of the latter’s song Stay A Little Longer, complete with a pulsating breakdown.
A Friend With Weed (‘is a friend indeed’) was well received, as were tracks from his recent EP Following The Rain, released on his Groovin’ Buddha imprint. Everybody’s Talkin’ and Runnin’ From Me both sounded fine, with plenty of guitar riffing and spotlights for keyboard player Chris, who came across as the next Jools Holland. Kyle, who married and had a kid during the pandemic, will be welcome back over in the UK whenever he fancies it, even if by his own admission it’s harder to smoke cannabis over here than over in Nashville.
There were two unannounced guests who were able to be squeezed into the evening. Seaforth, whose support slot with Chris Young had been kyboshed by Covid, introduced themselves to some new listeners with three songs. Anything She Says and Good Beer were both very fun, the former running into I Want You Back impressively, but they have struck gold with Breakups, one of the finest songs from Music Row in recent years. They were heading on to the main stage at The Long Road too, picking up even more new fans. (Read the review of their EP which came out this weekend here.)
Drake White, who has survived a stroke which paralysed the left side of his body, is more or less an adopted Briton today. Having headlined Millport Festival, he made a two-song cameo before the main headliner. Hurts The Healing distils Drake’s mission statement to provide good times through music, and would certainly be a highlight his own Long Road set. Music Row chewed him up and spat him out, and he’s all the better for it.
Priscilla Block was elevated to headline status to close out the festival. What she lacks in vocal range she more than makes up for in performance. Over an hour, she and her raucous band fulfilled her remit of starting a Block Party. Priscilla stuck her hand and her drink in the air, praised Busch Light beer and proved she was more than a TikTok flash in the pan. A new song about ‘THE breakup’ was very writer’s round-friendly and sat well with her torch ballad Like A Boy and her breakthrough song Just About Over You, co-written with Sarah Jones, who was part of the band.
She left out her song about PMS but included a medley of songs which all came out in 1995: Check Yes or No, I Like It I Love It and Any Man of Mine. I hope it’s not too much of a denigration to say they would get hefty tips if they played it on Lower Broadway, because Priscilla’s music takes the bar experience to the masses. Hence her new song Off The Deep End, whose chorus boasts that ‘you can find me at the bar…batshit crazy!’
With Ashley McBryde doing this sort of thing, Priscilla is a more PG-rated version of that. I’d compare her to Lizzo in her unapologeticness, and what Priscilla shares with both Ashley and Lizzo is that mix of confidence and vulnerability. Peaked In High School apes Ashley’s Fat and Famous, but Ashley would never put out a song about thick thighs saving lives. Ashley McBryde goes to a hen party: that’s Priscilla Block’s shtick.
Peter Conway said some thanks just before Priscilla. He has moved the outdoor version of the Nashville Meets London nights at Pizza Express Holborn from Canary Wharf to this new venue, which suits the music and the crowd. ‘See you in 2023!!’ he yelled, as if ordering us back next summer.
The next indoor event is on September 27 with Alan Fletcher, recently retired as Dr Karl from Neighbours, returns to London to promote his latest EP. Tickets are here.