In conversation with the great Leah Sherlock on the most recent Behind The Sounds podcast, Sykamore mentioned that she is the daughter of rodeo performers and would save up her pocket money to buy country albums. She was looking forward to her first ever gig in London, following her first English gig in Liverpool at the start of a week which coincided with the Americana-UK Awards.
I had to let my grandma down to attend this gig, which fell on the same day as a popular annual quiz that she always gets a family table for. I mention this because ‘family’ is on my mind this year, as I work on a big essay on country music in the UK. There were plenty of familiar faces in the crowd who were ahead of the curve on the expertise of Sykamore in the homely Camden Club.
The title track of her album Pinto was written in 2018 and came out in 2022 after a delay because of the pandemic. Sykamore introduced it by comparing a bumpy, careering relationship to a ride in a very old car (the Ford Pinto). It was a perfect closer to a set which had seven fat-free country tunes which reminded me of both Tenille Townes and Ron Sexsmith, two Canadian wizards of melody.
New song Emotional, which she rhymed with ‘protocol’, was both hooky and folky, and Wallflower had a smart chorus which emphasised the narrator’s stomped-on heart. We Were Alright was a lament for faded love. Highway Towns was another metaphor, as Sykamore used the small town as a jump-off for a song about relationships, while California King pricked the hubristic pomposity of a guy.
Record High, meanwhile, was a sort of drinking game where the artist suggested we take a sip of alcohol every time we recognised a famous title: ‘Highway to hell…stairway to heaven’ was a smart antonym, in a song which benefitted from being written with the evening’s headliner.
Jeff Cohen is part of the UK movement, even though he was born in Brooklyn (the clue is in the name). Jeff became a music licensing executive in the last days of the record industry in the 1990s but took the plunge at 34 to become a songwriter. ‘I just turned 37!’ he joked.
He moved into writing songs for TV shows, was in a band and started working with US acts like The Band Perry, Kristian Bush and Evan and Jaron. Crazy For This Girl, which I recently discovered and which Katie Holmes once sang on Saturday Night Live, is one of his as well. Jeff segued into the theme tune for Paw Patrol, another of his compositions, which an audience member had requested.
Tony Moore, who runs the Camden Club, is an old friend and gave Jeff a lovely introduction. Our intrepid writer, whose voice is similar to many Nashville songwriters in that it sounds untrained and raw, opened his set with the Big & Rich song Holy Water. Kristian Bush’s song Walk Tall was a three-chord jam performed in Jeff’s thrashy style, while In Her Eyes was in the other, mellower style. He dedicated that song to a victim of dementia and told a quite incredible story about the power of music and the brilliance of Josh Groban, who recorded the studio version of the song.
Jeff has worked with British and Irish artists, including Megan O’Neill and Ward Thomas. Among his credits with The Shires are two career songs: A Thousand Hallelujahs and Daddy’s Little Girl, both of which he played with Ben Earle watching on. The pair had a writing date on Monday, which would be rather hazy because Jeff’s beloved Philadelphia Eagles had booked their Superbowl place the night before. He also ran a verse of I See Stars into a Jake Bugg song he’d also written, and told any songwriters in the audience that a song may be 75% done and sound fine, but if you keep working on the other 25% it can be great.
Amazingly, he threw in the factoid that he dated Jennifer Aniston in his introduction to One and Only, a song by Teitur that the producers of Friends wanted for the Chandler and Monica wedding. Jeff cajoled the audience to join in on the final chorus, a moment he and we enjoyed.
‘Seeing people sing my songs will never get old,’ Jeff said. He has an album out shortly which will include a dedication to his partner, The Way You Look At Me.