On reaching the Paddock Stage – the first thing to adjust to was that it had rotated by 90 degrees form previous years – the second was an unusual sight in Manchester – blazing sunshine. It therefore offered a bit of respite from the burning rays, as the opening event of Buckle & Boots 2023 was a Songwriters Round – one of many littered across the weekend. Although Buckle & Boots can be very much Manchester orientated this Songwriters Round was to showcase Birmingham via their most well known Americana performers Gasoline & Matches. Although not as well advertised as it could've been,a sizable crowd were in place for festival's true opening event.
Gasoline & Matches who would later close out the Paddock Stage, do for Birmingham via "Nashville Sounds In The Round, what Two Ways Home do for London with their monthly "Round Up" and so this episode brought together a number of their friends who had played previously to a wider audience.
As hosts it was their honour to open things up for 2023, which they did in style with "Lifeline" with twin acoustic guitars - it came with a chanting end that you can imagine being echoed back to them once it released in a recorded format. Next up was Namywa with "Acid Glow" which would see G&Ms Stephen Marks providing guitar and percussion from knocking his guitar. Namywa emphasised things with expressive hand actions - her voice full of passion, really shone on the chorus where she was able to elongate the title of the song over many syllables but without feeling the need to drift into X Factor territory - it was an impressive introduction.
Round 1 would continue with New Zealander Kylie Price, who introduced her opening song "Wired" as having been written by a younger Psycho Kylie. it opened to an almost dreamy guitar style with lines like "Starting fights over nothing". It would gradually build in volume as it developed with Kylie pleading "I'm not lost, I'm not lost from you". It certainly sent us back to her "Bones" EP on returning from B&B. Closing out Round 1 was James Berryman - with "Every Corner" - he combined a slow guitar style with a voice that would rise to being occasionally higher pitched than you might expect. It was a heartfelt song of loving every inch of someone - it all made for a great introductory round.
Round 2 would open with G&M and "Patient Wolves" dedicated to the many canine friends who were on site and probably joining in a little too much in this opening round. It opened to definite country vibes, understandably as it was was written with Johnny Cash in mind. Although a duet, Stephen's vocal seemed more prominent. The last verse was delivered with G&M looking directly at each other, which was a glimpse of the sort of showmanship we would be seeing later during their closing set.
Namywa's next song "All Cried Out" ( not the Alison Moyet song ) was a slower bluesier affair than her opener with a subtle breathy vocal style. Increasing in volume as she approached the chorus for the second time - this tale of the different versions of yourself that you may project out to different people was totally absorbing. Kylie's second contribution "It's So Easy" after an almost folky guitar start suddenly sped up with a much faster guitar style - with the warning
"It's so easy to find a devil
When you go searching for a saint"
James Berryman would address the subject of getting older on the second round's closing tune "Too Old To Feel This Young". It would see Stephen get the crowd clapping and James would take a gamble and go for the first piece of audience participation. The song came with a good time feel, and involving the audience proved to be a great success, it also saw Kylie and Namywa joining in from the stage.
One song that G&M occasionally wheel out is "The Artist" - it is their very first co write. For reasons unknown they've never released it, yet with its fast fire lyrics delivered in a sort of Passenger style spoken manner by Sally Rea it seems classic G&M material.
It also has a seemingly cast iron chorus so make of that what you will!!!
One of the songs we flagged Namywa might sing was "Sold" which had a real intensity to it as she asked "Have You Ever Been Sold?"
Kylie Price's third effort "Next Of Kin" was about the rite of passage that you go through when you change your next of kin for the first time.
James Berryman would once again close the round - this time with another new song "Memories Like Cotton" - which came with a precisely picked guitar opening and a chorus that saw a dramatic rise in volume to join the by now expressive chords being struck.
The final round would see Gasoline & Matches play the song that launched T Shirts hats and a poster - "Tequila's A Healer" - it is a moving tune with heartfelt lyrics, that opens with Sally Rea on lead vocals. Stephen provided a perfect in keeping guitar solo. Ending on a beautiful "You haunt me in my dreams -and that's how I know" This was a definite early weekend highlight. Namywa ended on a song "Older Now" written for a Disney character, originally on piano. It was therefore suitably uplifting - with a message "You Can Be Who You Want To Be" and saw Namywa really go for it. The final contribution from Kylie Price was written aged 19, when she was judgmental and thought she had things figured out. The song in essence calls herself out - it was Kylie's most overtly Country'ish song with some great guitar work. This early afternoon build up of Birmingham closed out with one final song from James Berryman - who would be joined by Stephen on guitar for "Accidentally In Vogue". It was something of comment on the ever revolving world of fashion - The chorus saw James have a full volume blow out "A rocker who's gone rogue" - it even found time to squeeze in a touch of Wheatus's "Teenage Dirtbag".
So it was "Bravo" to Birmingham - and Buckle & Boots 2023 was now officially open.