I thought maybe it was a sign of old age. A few years ago I looked back on my C2C memories and realised that – more than arena light spectacles, guitar changes and sparkly outfits – my favourite musical moments had been while seated in the Indigo forum listening to stories and stripped-backed songs.
Ageing aside, I am in love with a genre where the song is the star. And, if you’re reading this, you probably are too.
Yes, I know several people who’d faint if they met Kip Moore, and I have occasionally been lost in the glint of Josh Turner’s teeth; but charm and tassels will only get you so far in country music. You’d better be able to write a song that cuts through to the heart of the human condition, or – if not writing your own – you better pick the ones which do. Even if your song is ‘just’ about a truck.
This is why the C2C Songwriters Series on the Thursday evening before Europe’s biggest country music fest kicks off, is my must go show of the year. It’s mix of singer-songwriters and songwriter-songwriters (who still sing better than many chart-topping singers), taking it in turns to sing a selection of their dearest songs and regale us with the stories behind them.
Previously the lineups (of about five artists at each) have included billboard chart acts like Luke Combs, Jimmie Allen and Cam. This year, Jaren Johnston of southern rock band The Cadillac Three may be the most recognisable face but don’t worry, if you don’t know the names of the songwriters who’ll flank him, you’ll know their work. I’m imagining Liz Rose keeps all her Song of the Year awards on a shelf in the loo; she’s written or co-written epic hits like Carrie’s Underwood’s Cry Pretty, many of the songs which made you a fan of Taylor Swift back in the day, and (along with Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey, who’ll also be there in London in March) Little Big Town’s Girl Crush.
There is always something profound about hearing a familiar song with a different slant, how the person who wrote it first imagined it. And there is always something funny about hearing the earlier lyrics that never made the cut. Over the years of CMA Songwriter’s events we’ve learned that;
Brits and American’s really don’t speak the same language… ‘Take a dip’ means use some chewing tabbaco – a phrase we discovered when Luke Combs checked whether it was OK to do that on stage.
Not all is as it seems with songs. Lee Brice’s beautiful song Boy was written by Nicolle Galyon for her baby, which gives a wry spin the line ‘you’re gonna be so stubborn, you get that from your mother’. Meanwhile male writer Brett James penned the line “I am Rosemary’s granddaughter…”
Little Big Town and their Pontoon writer Natalie Hemby, did indeed know the double-entendre meaning of motor-boating.
A lot of country songs start out cruder than radio will allow. The afore mentioned Pontoon and Maren Morris’s Rich both initially had more adult lyrics.
Some of the wort moments in your life inspire the best country songs; Kip Moore’s Guitar Man inspiring ex-girlfriend was cooooold.
Overnight successes have usually been grafting in Nashville for ten years (with a stint of homelessness) before making it. s
Cam can siiiiiiiiiiiiiing.
So if you want to be in the room to hear the banter and behind the scenes stories first-hand, tickets are on sale now for the 2020 C2C Songwriters evening (and will no doubt sell-out, so don’t dither).
See you there. I’ll be the one in Block A laughing (and crying) the loudest.
[Cover / top photo from C2C Presents CMA Songwriters Series, March 2019]