Static Roots Festival Oberhausen Germany 12th / 13th July 2019
The fourth staging of The Static Roots Festival took place once again at the Zentrum Altenberg in Oberhausen on the 12th and 13th of July. A metal processing and zinc manufacturing facility up to 1981, ironically in the present day pedal steel and heavy metal guitars are the only testimonial to its previous life. It has also proven to be the perfect facility to host the event, offering ideal indoor and outdoor facilities. A feature of how the event has grown year on year, was the announcement earlier in the week that all the tickets were sold out, the first occasion that the festival reached its capacity. Whereas in previous years the majority of the punters were travellers from Ireland and the U.K., this year’s audience included a greater number of German attendees, no doubt fuelled by the positive feedback the festival has deservedly earned. An international event in every sense of the word, this year’s line-up featured acts from Ireland, U.K, Spain, Canada, America and The Netherlands.
Our own John Blek has been making quite a stir in the current traditional folk revival and his polished performance as the festival opener was further evidence of his growing stature. An artist whose guitar style has reached even loftier heights in recent years, matching his reputation as a captivating troubadour. Songs from his current album thistle & thorn dominated his set, together with The Barman, The Barfly & Me, his signature song from his band John Blek & The Rats. His invitation represented the annual slot chartered for Irish acts in memory of the late Willie Meighan, whose input at Kilkenny Roots Festival was hugely influential in promoter Dietmar Liebecke’s commitment to stage the festival.
The Brother Brothers were the second act to appear on the Friday evening. On their final date of their tour of Europe, the duo’s performance drew comparisons to the harmonies of The Everly Brothers / Simon and Garfunkel. However, more than simply pretenders, they have created their own mould of laid-back Americana, crossing over into bluegrass territory from time to time. Combining exquisite bloodline harmonies with some dazzling guitar and fiddle playing, the identical twin brothers were the ideal early evening act, entertaining the audience with mellow songs and relaxed stage banter.
Ramping up the volume several notches was Californian John Murry. Currently an adopted son of Kilkenny, he performed on stage as a three piece, accompanied by Yvonne Conaty on bass and keyboards and Mick Cronin on drums. His storming and ultra-passionate set included some charged psychedelic guitar runs, decorating his material with an even more distinctive cutting edge than usual. When he’s on top form his performances are memorable and Static Roots caught him at the top of his game. Tailing off his set with his signature song Red Coloured Balloons, another forty-five minutes from Murry and his band would still not have been long enough!
It’s difficult to comprehend that Leicestershire three piece The Wave Pictures have been performing for two decades to date, given their youthful appearance. Frontman David Tattersall is renowned for his crafty and incisive lyrics and the band’s stage show is indicative of a well-oiled machine. With the ability to seamlessly crossover from 60’s sounding underground pop to a more current indie sound they wooed and engaged in equal measures.
Making a return visit to the festival following their storming performance last year, it was business as normal from Cordovas. The Nashville supergroup’s recipe is starter and main course of The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers, with a slice of Tom Petty for dessert. We’re transported back to the tail end of the 1960’s with full on three guitar onslaughts, a cracking rhythm section and sweet, sweet harmonies. The set included three encores before the power plugs were literally pulled on their storming performance which brought the house down.
With the stature, appearance and deep baritone crooning of a Texan country balladeer, it’s difficult to fathom that the heavily bearded Ags Connolly in fact hails from Bedford in the U.K. His deep vocal and back catalogue is unapologetic classic country and with his fellow countryman Joe Harvey Whyte at his side on pedal steel, he belted out a series of songs that wouldn’t be out of place from the stage at Robert’s Western World in Nashville. His relaxed between song banter included tales from his travels to Texas and a classic and not uneventful meeting with one of his heroes James Hand. His song I Saw James Hand was a high point of his set. Not unexpectedly, the time-honoured country themes of misery and liquor featured in his country songs, including his classic love song I Hope You’re Unhappy Now!
Orphan Colours have established themselves as one of the most popular live bands to emerge from the U.K. Americana scene in recent years. In simple terms they are a top-notch rock band with a sound that leans more towards Springsteen and Petty than the more countrified side of Americana. If Ags Connolly managed to loosen up the lunchtime gathering, The Orphan Colours had heads bopping and legs twitching throughout their set, which included in the main, material from their current album All On Red.
Canada’s best kept secret Joe Nolan was the wild card in the line-up and it’s unlikely that too many people were prepared for the charismatic performance that he pulled off. Aided with no more than an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a poetry book he wooed, cajoled and moved the gathering from laughter to tears. Echoes of Jeff Buckley emerged in a performance that featured material from his most recent album Cry Baby, together with a song written the previous night in his hotel room, inspired by the passion of John Murray’s performance that evening.
Luke Tuchscherer and band, who took to the stage next, livened things up with his driving set of heartland blue collar rock that breathes Springsteen and Neil Young in the live setting. Announcing that he was in fact half German, he launched into a kick ass grungy set featuring material from his impressive current album Pieces. It was an uncomplicated, high jinks, ear bleeding execution and if Joe Nolan’s performance left most shell shocked, Tuchscherer brought the smile back on many faces.
The appearance of Joana Serrat was well anticipated and her storming set was another festival highlight. Her five-piece band was extended to six by the inclusion of Joe Harvey Whyte on pedal steel and her performance was evidence of the enormous talent of the young Barcelona native. Both visually striking and sonically sensational, Serrat and her band were a note perfect and well-oiled machine. The influences of her Loose Records label mate and co-producer Israel Nash are evident, as is the certitude that as she approaches her artistic peak, the sky is the limit for this gifted young artist.
Nashville resident Don Gallardo occupies a musical landscape that crosses Americana, Folk and classic singer songwriter, giving him the tools to perform every bit as impressively as a solo artist or with a band. He’s been drawing stellar reviews from the music press and indeed his peers, for both his recorded output and his live performances. His show at Static Roots was no exception, slick and easy on the ear music, performed by a mini supergroup of players which included Trevor Stock on bass, Steve Brookes on drums, Jim Maving on guitar and Joe Harvey White on pedal steel.
Hailing from London, The Hanging Stars offer a masterly cocktail of jangle, twang and much more. Their set oozed class, combining all the ingredients of classic cosmic country and their own unique homegrown power pop vibe. Frontman Richard Olson has the shapes and moves on stage to groove like Noel Gallagher while sounding like Gram Parsons. A polished outfit including – yes once again – Joe Harvey Whyte on pedal steel, went down the proverbial storm.
The perfect soulful finale to the festival came compliments of Dawn Brothers. The four-piece band continue to establish themselves as one of the ‘go to’ Dutch acts to get people moving and shaking at festivals. Saturday night’s performance was no exception and particularly noticeable was the positive reaction from the large German contingent, who were hanging on to every note and word.
As the lights went down in the hall and the shutters in the bars dropped, an impromptu sing song, including artists and punters, raged on in the beer garden until the wee wee hours. Another successful Static Roots, which has by now established itself as a feature in the Roots and Americana punters annual diary. Every angle is covered at this festival. From the professional M.C. delivery by Jeff Robson, to the spacious stage, impressive lighting system, stage management, pin drop sound quality and refreshments on offer. No stone is left unturned. Spread the word, but not too widely, we don’t want it to get too big!
Review by Declan Culliton