Concrete Prairie Grace the Calne Music & Arts Festival Finale

So, it was a most memorable evening in Calne last night, and that’s everyone from Devizes leaving the site with insular mumblings of ‘ah, you dunt wanna go down thar, probably get licked in a drive-by shooting!’ Now, I’m not one to get fanatical, but if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, I’ll risk it for the biscuit that is the finale of Calne Music & Arts Festival, because my new favourite thing, Concrete Prairie rang out the rafters with their exemplary blend of Americana.

Witnessing nothing of the preconceptions of smalltown rivalry, Marden House is an architecturally idyllic hall of gardened central location, with grand acoustics to boot. Beneath a plethora of submitted paintings which make up the gallery viewable throughout the fortnight of this long-founded festival, including one particularly striking image from our good friend Clifton Powell, Concrete Prairie played through their exquisite debut album, gave us a taste of what’s to come, and sprinkled it with a few apt covers. In such, they confirmed, short of me pressing my ugly mug on their limo windscreen as they leave a stadium, screeching “I love you, Concrete Prairie,” I’ve, in a relatively short time period, become somewhat obsessive about the wonderful local five-piece; and Americana of this country-inspired landscape isn’t usually my preferred cuppa!

Not wanting to scare them too much, I don’t do fanboy stalker, not with my eclectic tenet of promoting the entire local live music scene and the overabundance of talent here. Like my kids, I never announce my favoured drowning in car scenario preferences, but Concrete Prairie, I’d absolutely jump back in. And it was a more complete concert, rather than the half-hour gig at the sardine tin Beehive during the Swindon Shuffle. Though I mutually agreed with frontman Joe Faulkner, that was a blinding gig, bursting with atmosphere, you wouldn’t want to display your prize paintings on the walls there for the duration! Despite this more concert-based event may’ve been principled and lesser-so unruly, they met with an encore and rousing applause.

It also gave the chance for the band to really push the album tracks, express their thoughts behind the songs and give a more comprehensive show. None of this prior to student friend of Joe’s, M Butterfly, a Brighton-based soloist as support, providing some lush acoustic self-penned songs.

Kicking off with an instrumental guitar and fiddle combo, the drums rolled in for the opening track of their album, Pick up Pieces, after which Joe ate humble pie for the usage of the word “shit,” and livened the mood with the upbeat People Forget, which they did, or least forgave. If the audience were informed the opening song was about fatherhood, the second was more coming of age. Then two covers excellently unfolded, Loudon Wainwright’s Swimming Song, and The Waterboys’ finest hour, Fisherman’s Blues.

The mental health wellbeing themed Bury My Blues followed, and Hard Times took us nicely to an interval. What I didn’t catch at the Beehive was the diversity of Concrete Prairie, all members save drummer Tom Hartley and violinist Georgia Browne, swapping roles and instruments, all taking vocals, particularly the edgier Cash style of Adam Greeves, and accompanying, yet ever as tight and accomplished as they dared. Chatting to them later it was revealed to be too cramped conditions to do such at the Beehive. Here we could really get a better taste of the band, and they exploited this to the full, showing true professionalism in their stage presence and banter.

So, Wine on my Mind bought us back to the stage, with a new song Bound for Heaven, of equal and interesting composition, a solid taster for the sequel album. Joe then revealed a narrative of equality behind I Wish you Well, explaining the Annabel character mentioned was a personification of respect for anyone “different” from them. I mention this to detail the depth of concept in the band’s riddled writing, perhaps part of a job description for country artists, but they do this with the strength of the classics. Talking of which, a pleasing cover of Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman followed; sweet as.

Apologies for losing track at this conjunction, the spellbinding nature took hold, as they drove out their passionate fables with the attention to detail of Springsteen, or mentors, Guthrie and Segar. Often morbid subjects which other bands would refuse to attempt, yes, it can be dark at times. The album’s penultimate Winter Town being a prime example, yet carried off with such sublime precision, it awe-inspiring, Adam taking lead on this one beautifully.

The finale was, what I consider their magnum-opus, at least to-date, The Devil Dealt the Deck, and it came with a lighter explanation then I’d have imagined, but still, it stands as a testament to blanket Concrete Prairie’s range, it’s morose, yet builds in layers to danceable proportions of folk. Though of the ending, an encore was unanimous, and surprisingly, they arrived back on stage for a quick version of the Coral’s uplifting Pass it on, led by birthday boy bassist, Dan Burrows.

I was thrilled to catch this band in Calne, of whom Americana UK awarded a ten-out-of-ten album review, because all praise is thoroughly deserved, and their link to the wonderful Calne Music & Arts Festival was revealed by resident violinist, Georgia Browne, stating her mum was a chief organiser, and she appeared here since she was eight.  The ethos remains for the festival, earlier events promote school choirs and young talent. This was also a marvellous accolade and association, resulting in something of a homely atmosphere, where respect was given. Outside, my opening line in meeting the other band members, aside Joe who I already met, was we really need to get you in Devizes, and they leaked a secret they’re booked somewhere in town very soon. The Southgate I havered a guess, and I believe, without quizzing Deborah, tis true. When they do, wow, I thoroughly recommend you attend and show them what we’re made of!


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