Attending a gig where you hadn’t heard of the headliner and bought tickets on the strength of the support act alone is an unusual experience.. On that basis I was somewhat surprised when arriving in Kings Cross to find the queue spiralling down the road outside of Scala, an art deco converted cinema and former adult movie-house. Given that Striking Matches are recently off the back of their own headline tour you may be forgiven for expecting to see the usual London country crowd in attendance, this did not seem to be the case, although I did spot Ben Earle wandering through the room. After negotiating with some rather officious bag checkers, understandable in the current circumstances, it was a disappointment not to be able to sneak in a packet of Percy Pigs. This despite the fact that they were intended for the band, as Sarah is a self-confessed addict of this peculiarly English delicacy!
For anybody yet to experience a Striking Matches live show you are missing out on some virtuoso guitar work. Made famous by their song-writing for the hit TV Series Nashville (9 featured songs and counting), they first came to my attention at the C2C Songwriters series at the Indigo2 some 4 years ago. From there onwards the chemistry between Justin and Sarah and the undoubted love shown by the UK audiences has made them regular visitors to our shores. With a new EP to promote and only a 30 minute support set, song choice was always going to be a difficult business. It was great to hear "Medicine", a song I first heard during their earlier tour, which is sure to be a live favourite, with audience participation actively encouraged. This was followed by "Shameless", the title track to the new EP, which gives Sarah ample opportunity to demonstrate her slide guitar skills. A Striking Matches show would be incomplete without the song that got them noticed in the first place, "When The Right One Comes Along" is quite simply a beautiful love song, and Sarah’s emotional delivery exceeds even the ‘Nashville cast’ version. A cover of "Crossroads" amply allows them to rock out on guitar, iniitally giving Justin the lead vocals with Sarah taking on vocal duties later in the song. All too soon their final track was upon us. A great build-up of guitars leads neatly into "Make a Liar Out of Me". Playing to an audience who for some parts were seemingly unaware of Striking Matches prior to tonight, they certainly left with new fans. With the promise of a new album on the way, they certainly left the crowd wanting more!
Johnnyswim will be a new name to many UK country fans, hailing from Los Angeles the husband and wife team at the heart of the band met in and record their music out of Nashville, but there is a decidedly West Coast laid back feel to their music. Kicking off with "Hummingbird" from their latest release it was clear the crowd were very clued up on the music. "Villains" followed which interestingly contains a vocal reference to Striking Matches! The band had the audience in the palm of their hand with some nice anecdotes of watching ‘soccer’ in an Irish bar in Nashville and singing drinking songs. We were then led in a toast of friendship before they equipped themselves with beers and launched into another fan favourite "Drunks". We were then regaled of the story behind the beautiful lullaby and title track to the album "On Georgica Pond", where they even asked for the stage lights to be dimmed to allow them to play in the shadows. With a range of albums to pick from we also had tracks from earlier releases "Diamonds" and "Heart Beats". Considering they’ve played London more times this year (twice) than they have their home town of LA clearly they also enjoy the UK audiences. Johnnyswim are about to head out on the road in the States with Striking Matches on support duty once more and on the strength of this outing I expect them to be back here soon too.