Plus full details of the winners
Last night’s 11th UK Americana Music Awards recognised the UK’s thriving grassroots scene while honouring established greats, in the grand, cavernously reverberant setting of Hackney’s St. John’s Church.
In a night including awards for Billy Bragg, Dan Penn, Margo Price, Allison Russell and Michele Stodart, Jason Isbell was a frequent star presence. Presenting his International Trailblazer Award, Nick Hornby effusively emphasised his “bravery, integrity and honesty”, noting how sorry he’d been when Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers.
“I didn’t quit, I was fired,” Isbell replied, flashing a smile, before reminiscing about early days with the DBTs playing London’s much missed Borderline club aged 22, “shocked to be so far from home” and finding their Alabaman music recognised. He widened his thoughts to Americana’s place in the 21st century. “Forty years ago, people who made music that sounded like this were huge stars,” he noted. “I used to think I came in too late. Later I realised I would have been dead!” With such stardom long gone, what valuably remains, Isbell believes, is the musically devoted community represented tonight.
Isbell then leaned into his acoustic guitar to sing “King of Oklahoma”, a song about a man falling behind in every way sung in a tone of rising defiance. “Cast Iron Skillet” was better, the guitar ticking and tolling in steady time as he considered small-town racism, violence and doom, asking in a lilting voice: “Tell me, how did you ever get so low?”
Dan Penn received the International Lifetime Achievement Award. Unable to attend in person, the great Southern Soul songwriter followed recorded plaudits from Elvis Costello and Mike Scott with a considered video address from his studio. Penn recounted hooking up with Spooner Oldham, and writing “two good songs” at Chip Moman’s American Studios – including “Dark End Of The Street”. “I’m grateful to the community,” he said. “If I was there, I’d sing for you.” Instead, Michele Stodart’s all-female house band were joined by singers including Billy Bragg and Elles Bailey in a climactic Penn medley including “Dark End Of The Street”, “Do Right Woman” and “I’m Your Puppet”.
Bragg paused to testify on what that dark street had been found to mean through the years, from interracial love affairs to “our fellow citizens who rely on foodbanks” and “people whose houses are being bombed to rubble as we sing our songs tonight”.
Earlier, Bragg was honoured for the Bestselling Americana Album by a UK Artist, his career-spanning box-set The Roaring Forty. Responding to Americana’s most viral recent moment, Oliver Anthony’s welfare-bashing working-class jeremiad “Rich Men North Of Richmond”, he sang his typically direct riposte, “Rich Men Earning North Of A Million”. “Come on and join a union, brother,” he counselled. “Find out where the real problem is.” Bragg’s band then joined him for his posthumous Woody Guthrie co-write, “Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key”. Bragg also presented the Grass Roots Award to the Americana Music Association UK’s recently retired founder, Stevie Smith, responsible for much of the domestic scene’s current health.
Allison Russell won International Album of the Year for The Returner and International Artist Of The Year. Like Margo Price, who won International Song Of The Year for her single “Radio”, Russell couldn’t make it to Hackney, but marvelled at her awards company via video. “Just to be nominated alongside our queen, Lucinda Williams…” she said, sealing her gratitude with a kiss.
Michele Stodart also won big with UK Artist Of The Year, and UK Album Of The Year for Invitation. The sometime Magic Number was delighted, noting she’d been ready to give up music. She added that music had been a “lifeline” during her “insanely shy” childhood: “We moved around a lot, and music was the thing we clung to.” Stodart dedicated the pedal-steel-inflected “Push & Pull”, about the troubadour life’s price, to her daughter.
Bob Harris Origin Artist award-winner Jonny Morgan was enjoyably irreverent, spilling the beans on a recent disastrous move to Canada with his girlfriend (“She now lives in Toronto with a lovely barman called Mike”), and luring Harris last year to an après-awards liquid breakfast at Hackney’s Wetherspoons. “We need to get you in the studio, mate,” Harris opined of the lovelorn West Countryman, who sang one of the bruised results, “Sometimes It’s Grey”.
Jason Isbell handed pedal-steel guitarist Holly Carter her UK Instrumentalist Of The Year award, again musing on the wider context of a scene where it’s harder than ever to earn a crust, with session work where skilled musicians could earn big mostly gone, and players such as Carter honing their skills from love.
Lauren Housley & the Northern Cowboys won UK Song Of The Year for “High Time”, and with Housley’s glamorously glitter-wristed green velvet jumpsuit, deep-throated vocal and bulldozing country-soul sound, they sonically filled this cavernous old church. Fellow nominees St. Catherine’s Child performed “Every Generation”, heavy on harmonies, pedal-steel and fiddle, and English songwriter-pianist Elles Bailey was UK Live Act Of The Year.
A film acknowledged AMA-UK’s wider work during a preceding week of networking, talks and an Americana Songwriting Workshop with displaced people including a Ukrainian refugee, showing how this roots music is belatedly reaching out to an ever-widening community.
And here’s the full list of nominations and winners…
UK Album of the Year
Far From Saints – Far From Saints
Michele Stodart – Invitation, presented by Helen Thomas (Head of Station for BBC Radio 2)
Roseanne Reid – Lawside
Ward Thomas – Music In The Madness
International Album of the Year
Allison Russell – The Returner, presented by Nina Nesbitt
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors – Strangers No More
Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Weathervanes
Margo Cilker – Valley of Heart’s Delight
UK Song of the Year
Hannah White – “Chains of Ours”
Kirsten Adamson – “My Father’s Songs”
Lauren Housley & The Northern Cowboys – “High Time”, presented by Drew Holcomb
St Catherine’s Child – “Every Generation”
International Song of the Year
Chris Stapleton – “White Horse”
Maren Morris – “The Tree”
Margo Price feat. Sharon van Etten– “Radio”, presented by Frank Turner
Noah Kahan – “Stick Season”
UK Artist of the Year
Michele Stodart, presented by Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke)
International Artist of the Year
Allison Russell, presented by Simeon Hammond Dallas & Andy Facer (Andy from 5F marketing representing Sweet Home Alabama)
War & Treaty
UK Instrumentalist of the Year
Holly Carter, presented by Jason Isbell
Joe Harvey White
UK Live Act of the Year
Elles Bailey, presented by Immy Doman and Risa Tabatznik (The Green Note)
Far From Saints
Ferris & Sylvester
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
Lauren Housley & The Northern Cowboys
The Hanging Stars