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Review: FSA Country Music Fest 2019

Stage Photo credit - Simon James

Artist photos credited to - Ian Morrall

Well what can I say about FSA Country Music Fest.... Wow comes to mind. What a fabulous weekend. What a stunning line-up.

We arrived at Newark showground and proceeded to put up our tent. Its all nice and convenient at FSA because you can park right next door to your tent and it is a less than 100 yards to the 24 hour hot showers. I personally prefer to have mine very early morning when half of the campers are still asleep and the other half have only just gone to bed lol.

A few changes have happened at this festival this year, starting with the name change. It will always just be FSA to me and the regular attendees but I do feel that by adding the Country Music part of the name will help to promote the festival to a wider audience.

Apart from Friday night there were 2 Festival stages this year. I personally think this worked really well. It kept the music constant as the stages were alternating so you still didn't have to choose between which artist you wanted to see as you could watch them all and you still had a chance to get yourself something to drink. Little tip for next year.....Wayne's bar at the acoustic stage is cheaper sssshhhh, I never said that. Having 2 stages also gave us a good, convenient venue for our acoustic sessions this year. Thank you Gareth and Wayne for accommodating us so well.

So what can I tell you about the acoustic stage performers. Some were new to me and some are now well established within the country community. We had solo artists and we had duo's. There were all styles of country being played so there was something to suit everyone. The stage itself was set into a recess so it fitted in perfectly. We tested how the background looked by filming a gorgeous acoustic session with Cinder Hill. They were the first artists we heard at FSA Country Music Fest this year.

The after show parties were amazing this year. They were creative and imaginative and so much fun. Friday night saw the bandeoke. A supergroup was created from the brilliant and very talented British country artists that we have in the scene right now. They included the evenings host, guitarist and singer songwriter Alan Finlan, One of the most talented guitarists I have ever seen, Tom Wright, another awesome guitar player and all round Mr nice guy Acoustic Journeys' Ben Gurney, with Jordon from Alan's band on bass and Ollie Hopkins from Band Darcy on drums. These guys had no rehearsal. They just came out and played and blew us all away. That is the calibre of talent we have within our scene. We may not be the biggest scene in the country but we are definitely the awesomest (is there such a word)? There is now lol. We had some fabulous singers that stepped up to the mic too and then there was me lol.

Ok so let's go back to friday night's main stage line-up. The festival opened with Cinder Hill. Identical twins from Cheshire. We have become good friends with these ladies. Their harmonies are sublime. We thoroughly enjoyed their set. In case you didn't know Hayley and Katie host Rangos Country Club every month in Winsford Cheshire.

Sam Coe and 2 of her occasional Long Shadows were next. A lovely set with Sam's instantly recognisable vocal. No other female artist on the country scene has a voice even similar to hers. It was quite funny though when she stopped mid song to exclaim 'there is a dog in a wagon over there' haha. All I can say is her band mates, even though occasional, must know here extremely well as they all stopped playing instantly and then just picked up where they left off.

Our very good friend Simon James then took to the stage. He hasn't long released a fabulous new album called 'Happy Ever After' which I think is a must have album. It was lovely to hear a good cross section of those songs played live. They sounded quite full on stage even though Simon who plays guitar only had one extra guitar player and his keyboard player with him. A stunning, very enjoyable set.

The next artist was Callaghan. She is British but has been living in America for the last couple of years. She has a beautiful voice. She is over here on a bit of a tour. I personally don't know any of her songs but she seemed to go down well with the audience.

Remember Monday. What can I say about these girls but wow. Charlotte, Holly-Anne and Lauren have been singing together for a long time and you can tell that they know each other inside and out. What comes across when I watch them perform is how much they enjoy singing together. Their harmonies are to die for. You might remember seeing them on The Voice a couple of months ago and I am so glad they are part of our British country community.

Accompanying themselves with guitar, tambourine and shaker with a new cajon player their backing music is uncomplicated so it highlights their harmonies perfectly.

Headlining Friday night was the band closest to my heart, Darcy. And wow, what an awesome job they did. Playing a selection of original Darcy songs interspersed with some original SaltbushSix songs as Darcy also fronts that band in Australia, plus a couple of awesome covers, their set was stunning. Having a son in this band I feel I have been on their journey with them. The band are Darcy Crawford lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Luke Thomas and Sam Taylor on alternate lead guitars, Charlie Kay on bass, Joe Starr on keys and Ollie Hopkins on drums.

So now onto day 2. Saturday.

It started out with a lovely all you can eat buffet breakfast with my husband and son Ollie. We popped over to the beefeater restaurant a couple of miles away. This actually was the first thing we had eaten since leaving home the previous day. We just hadn't given food a thought.

It was back to the acoustic stage room for our first acoustic session to be filmed of the day. This turned out not to be an acoustic session at all with Band Darcy setting up their equipment in front of the stage. I can't wait to see how it turns out. They sounded great. Luckily it only took them a few minutes to take all their equipment away because taking to the stage was the first artist of the day.

Hannah Paris played a lovely set with her father Rick on Cajon and mouth organ. We have seen Hannah perform several times this year and it's always a pleasure. I would say she was pop country in style. If you didn't already know she hosts a monthly country evening called 'Nashville Calling' in Epping. It's definitely worth a visit.

After Hannah's set, in the main hangar there was a line dancing lesson with Debs. I am really sorry we missed it Deb but we did manage to film 2 acoustic sessions with Sandy McLelland and Tommy Taylor in this time. We look forward to sharing these with you all.

We then made our way back to the acoustic stage to witness a stunning performance by Meg McPartlin. She has an incredible voice. Not that I am at all jealous. She has also just released an EP called Confidence which has amazing songs on and was produced by guitarist Tom Wright. Check it out on all digital platforms.

We then made our way back over to the main stage to see Kira Mac, with her band. Amazing performance. We love Kira solo. She has a stunning voice but put a band behind her and she is on fire. The band was also very new to her. They got together for one rehearsal on Thursday night and performed on Saturday. I have to say they rocked. There is new music coming out from Kira soon. I will keep you posted.

It was back across the road to see Sandy McLelland. Sandy has worked with some top artists over the years and is now writing and singing songs in a genre that he loves. Singing with his lovely partner Denise Jay, it was a real pleasure to watch these guys perform. There is an ep on its way from Sandy. I will keep you informed of the release date.

Back on the main stage was a man who 2 years ago headlined the main stage with a band that you will remember called Dexeter. It was a very emotional set as it was the last time Dexeter ever played together. I am thrilled to say that Gareth will now be performing again. Solo for now but watch this space. For the first time I can really appreciate how fabulous Gareth's voice is. He always sang backing vocals to Deeanne and I am very glad he has now decided to pursue a career on his own.

Amie Knight was the next acoustic stage artist. We met her last year when she did an acoustic session with us and also saw her perform at the BCMA showcase in November. Another top notch artist with a bright future. We thoroughly enjoyed her set.

After making his debut solo performance at FSA last year and his debut performance with his band to a packed out paddock stage at Buckle and Boots, Alan Finlan has made quite a name for himself in a very short amount of time. He is popular with everyone and a damn good musician to boot, with an amazing voice. I am lucky enough to call him my best buddy and am very glad to be privvy to hearing his music before anyone else. I tell you he is not to be missed if he is on the bill anywhere, with or without his band. I also love him because he asked Ollie to play drums for him. They didn't even get to rehearse beforehand living at opposite ends of the country. He has an EP in the pipeline. I will keep you posted because you will definitely want to own this one.

By this time of the day we had got hungry so went to get something to eat. Ian had a burger but I am not especially fond of burgers so I opted for a lemon and sugar pancake. I wouldn't want to eat 6, said no-one ever. Honestly I would highly recommend them. By the time we had eaten I had unfortunately missed American artist Kinsey Rose completely. She was the last artist of the day to be on the acoustic stage.

We went back across to the main hangar to watch a fabulous performance from Emma Jade Garbutt. We have seen Emma's confidence grow over the last 18 months or so. I love seeing her perform with the band. Incredible. She has a voice made to sing a country song and is a damn good songwriter.

I have long been waiting to see a whole set from Kezia Gill. She clashed with a band I really wanted to see at Buckle and Boots which I was totally gutted about, so I had to split my time between the two. All I can say is Oh Wow. This girl has IT in every way shape and form. Her songwriting ability cannot be faulted, her voice (I wish was mine) is to die for, her stage presence is in the OMG category and she is the most lovely person to go with all of that. She also made me cry with her lyrics. Just perfection. Future headliner I think.

I have been waiting to see Robert Vincent perform since I came across a video on YouTube of him on The Old Grey Whistle Test. I totally fell in love with his song 'Demons'. I play it all the time. You have all heard me say I love a song that builds. Well this song takes that to another level. I was therefore ecstatic to learn he was on the FSA line-up. A few weeks before the festival he agreed to film an acoustic session with us. I messaged him a few times over saturday to make final arrangements and I discovered what a thoroughly nice guy he is, and he was so willing to help us out, so while you were all watching Sarah Darling perform, we had him to ourselves, by the acoustic stage performing a brand new song and the lovely 'Demons' I cannot wait for you all to see it. He has a wonderful voice with a wonderful range.

We didn't go to the after party disco that night. Having had no sleep the previous night I thought we would have an early night and catch up on my sleep. How wrong could I have been. I lay in my tent awake until the music and merriment finally subsided at about 4:30am. Now I could grab a few hours sleep.

Sunday and day 3 of the festival started with coffee and a porridge pot by our tent. I still had my pyjama top on and my hair was a mess and the lovely Gareth Nugent and the whole band came to say good morning to us. Nothing like people you admire so much seeing you at your absolute worst. At least next time I see them we won't be at a festival so I can glam up a bit and look presentable.

Our first job of the day was to film an acoustic session with Russell Vincent who we had been recommended to by Ian Hall of MHMG. Thanks for that Ian. He is new to the UK country scene so it will be nice to help get his name out there as we showcase all artists from the new to the well established.

We then filmed a lovely session with Gareth Thomas who's band Dexeter used to be regarded as one of the best on the UK country scene. A brand new song and my favourite Dexeter song ever. This time it was emotional for me. It was lovely to hear 'Slow It Down' again.

The first artist to perform on the acoustic stage was Russell Vincent. He is a newcomer to the UK country scene and is a little rockabilly in style. I thoroughly enjoyed his set. One of his songs is all about following your dreams and he is doing just that. I have his EP to review over the next couple of weeks so look out for that.

We headed back to the main Hangar to watch a band who for me have IT. Gareth Nugents set was incredible. His band is so talented. Gareth Nugent himself is a west end star taking over the lead in the Elvis musical from PJ Proby. You can see this confidence and stage presence when he performs. What other artist would sit by the drums to sing a cover of Miranda Lamberts 'The House That Built Me'. What a performance. It gave me goosebumps. The Eagles 'Life in the Fast Lane' is the best I have seen it other than when the Eagles perform it themselves and Gareths own original songs are just so........perfect. These guys are the ones to watch. I promise you. They have an album coming out in September.

We were on a bit of a high after that performance from Gareth and my friend wanted her photo taken with him so we missed the beginning of Joe Kev Keeley's set I am afraid. He is a new name to me but he did perform a really nice set on the acoustic stage and was well received by the audience.

Our friend Emily Faye was our next performer. She brought a new guitarist with her for this festival as well as firm favourite George Price (our Anthony mentored him at chorley fm when they co-presented the sports show together) who bought his bello. That is a bass guitar that you play with a bow. It is great to get a different sound. Emily is gorgeous and her pop country songs are really good. She is another artist who has fairly quickly made quite a name for herself.

Catherine McKenna was next on the acoustic stage. She did a lovely set of country covers that the audience really enjoyed. She went down very well.

Back over at the main stage was Tom Wright and his band. Talk about blow me away. This guy is a phenomenal performer. He tours the country in various musical stage shows. A great guitarist (every guitarist on the UK country scene will tell you he is the best we have) and a great singer songwriter. Tom released a single called Mr. Telecaster on Friday and it is fab and to actually be able to see and hear him play it live was amazing. He has new music in the pipeline. Keep your eyes open for it cos you wouldn't want to miss it.

Danny McMahon was our next artist on the acoustic stage. Such an entertaining performer. Whether he is solo or with the band you will never be disappointed. He inadvertently made me cry. He Sang his single 'When I See You' and dedicated it to all those who had lost someone close to them. I glanced over to see Rachel with her arms round Mary who was crying throughout. Seeing her, made the tears roll down my face too.

While Kinsey Rose was playing the main stage we filmed 2 sessions by the acoustic stage. Stuart Landon from Angels with Dirty Faces came to see us and he brought his guitar especially. He is always so supportive of us. On this occasion though there was another artist in the room. We seized the opportunity to get Stuart to sing a duet. I am going to keep this mystery person under wraps for now but will just tell you it was a beautiful moment and the edited video will be shared soon. Stuart then went on to sing another couple of songs for his own session. He has one of the best voices on the UK Country scene.

We decided after Stuarts session that we better grab something to eat. I had my first and only hog roast sandwich. It was then time to go and find a seat for Sundays headliner.

Peter Donegan and the band were another band that were totally fantastic. The range on Peters voice is phenomenal. You may remember seeing him on The Voice a couple of months ago when he sang 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again' which was a song written by his father, Lonnie Donegan for Tom Jones. The whole bands talent is unmistakable too. Peter's Live album is due out on 19th July so you won't have to wait too long.

We have seen Jade Helliwell perform her brand of country pop quite a lot recently and I always associate her with lots of Tassles but she didn't have any on sunday night. She did a great set with her guitarist Luke Thomas and if you remember the showcase they did in Tamworth Australia in January, she bought a little of that to the stage at FSA when she got Kezia Gill up on stage to sing Diane with her. It was one of those hold your breath moments. Incredible how the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and the emotion you feel nearly makes you break down because it is such a wonderful moment.

Between the end of Jade's set and the beginning of Stevie's we managed to film our last session by the acoustic stage. Peter Donegan played and sang 2 songs for us. They sounded great. I look forward to sharing the edited session with you all.

Stevie O'Connor was the right choice to end the festival with. He was sensational. I loved it when he got Kezia Gill and Emma Jade up to sing with him too. His set was extended and the audience stayed to the bitter end. It was about 8:15 when his set ended. This still gave people plenty of time to get home and sorted for work on the monday morning.

Those of us staying the extra night joined the Whiskey Circle that was held at the acoustic stage. Hosted by Alan Finlan there were some guest singers too. Tommy Taylor, Catherine McKenna, Stevie O'Connor Emma Jade, Jade Helliwell and Jeanne Jordan all took a turn. They sang then did shots. It was another really good night, so we continued it back at the tents until 3 O'Clock in the morning. I am already looking forward to more of these types of after parties next year.

Supplying the music in between artists sets throughout this fantastic weekend, this year as in previous years, was the lovely Alex Evans (DJ Trukka) Alex also, alongside Wayne supplied the disco music for Saturday nights after show party.

This years highlights of the festival for me mmmmm.......

Gary Snowballs home made banana bread with coffee and walnut buttercream.

Baby Poppy's gorgeous ice-cream face.

Watching Gareth Thomas dancing around with baby Poppy in his arms when he thought no one was watching.

Jeanne Jordan singing Whitney Houston's 'I will always love you'.

Being proposed to by the gorgeous Al Hardman.

Donna Morton approaching me to ask if she could join our FBC Team.

Recruiting Ed Whylock to our team as a photographer.

Seeing Ollie being asked to perform with other artists. I am so proud of him.

Seeing Mercedes and Stuart Mostyn recreating the lift from Dirty Dancing.

Being able to spend some quality time with my husband Ian and my country family.

I can't believe we have been part of this UK country scene since 2013. Where did that 6 years go.

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