Country Music People March 2019 - Page 23

C ston took Dolly Whitney Hou Always Love ill Parton’s I W les of the UK sing You to the top while 92 19 in ks ee w chart for ten ys took Willie the Pet Shop Bo On My Mind to s ay w Al Nelson’s . weeks in 1987 4 r the top spot fo ountry music is hot right now. It must be because we are frequently reminded of it being the case every time a new British artist releases a record or plays on the smallest stage at midday in one of the increasing number of country music festivals up and down the land. It is frequently reported that, “country music is finally breaking through to mainstream UK culture”. Industry publication Music Week reported in 2016 that “47% of 18-24 year olds identified as country listeners” in a CMA survey. Overall, 39% of respondents declared themselves “country listeners.” “What’s more,” they said, “the report found that 25% of millennials are more likely to listen to country music on a daily basis.” Of course, the CMA are just doing their job, although it could be argued that they consistently go against their original aim of stemming the “rising rock tide” these days. The BBC appear to acquiesce to the CMA at every opportunity and the annual C2C festival is exalted in adoring tones every year. The mainstream press go all ‘yee haw’ in their reporting of it, but really, is it better for country fans now? In this post-Garth stadiumised world, is country music more accepted now? Are country fans better catered for now? And most importantly, is country bigger now that it has ever been in the UK? Listen to the CMA and you’d think we were going through a golden age of country music where the stars are bigger than ever before, and more importantly, you needn’t be ashamed to admit to liking it. British country has finally come of age with The Shires and Catherine McGrath desperately seeking mainstream acceptance and those who don’t seem to know any better claiming absolutely everything with an acoustic guitar on it as ‘country’ whether it is or isn’t. But this isn’t about the age old ‘what is country?’ debate, this is about whether it’s really actually bigger now. E very March the C2C Festival at London’s O2 (and venues in Scotland and Ireland) grabs the headlines and a fair bit of BBC coverage. This alone is proof for many as to the popularity of country music but how does it compare to the long-running Wembley Festivals of the 1970s and ’80s? With this year’s C2C just around the corner and not yet sold out, some VIP packages getting on for a grand per ticket and the cheapest three day ticket running at nearly £140, the public are expected to have very deep pockets. They used to fill Wembley Arena annually “...you’d think we were going through a golden age of country music where the stars are bigger than ever before...” and the festival was filmed by the BBC and later shown in twelve or so weekly half- hour “Sing Country” compilations (and the odd one hour special) every Thursday on BBC2 attracting an average of 4 million viewers. The C2C and the CMA, and more importantly the major labels who exclusively supply the artists for C2C, would bite your arm off for some of that action. Artists that have become firm favourites with UK audiences in the last few years are often not the biggest names in the US, despite having a major label deal. Rather, they tend to be the ones who nearly made it to the Premiership but missed out on promotion this year, while the serious crowd-pulling artists effectively lose money the moment they leave the US which makes a small UK date or three somewhat less attractive. There are exceptions, such as Luke Combs and Brothers Osborne, but generally it’s only when the London office of their label can convince them of the growing worldwide market and the promotional value of a visit that we can tear them away. In recent years the influence of the TV series Nashville has been huge. Like a travelogue for Music City, it has helped MARCH 2019 - cmp 23