U.S. country star Patty Griffin gets Londoners stomping

Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:42am EST
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By Paul Ingrassia

LONDON (Reuters) - American Patty Griffin brought her resonant, mournful, soulful voice to London on Sunday, singing "Meet me on the banks of the Ohio" just a stone's throw from the Thames in a sign of country music's growing footprint in Britain.

The scene, seemingly an incongruous one for an American country music star, was the Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre, not far from Buckingham Palace.

But the standing ovation at the end of Griffin's concert, not to mention the foot-stomping and hand-slapping throughout, testified to her tremendous talent as both singer and song-writer, and to something broader: the surprising popularity of American country music in the United Kingdom.

The genre has had a dedicated following in the British Isles for years but it seems to be growing, especially over the last decade. The evidence is anecdotal but ubiquitous.

This coming weekend London will host the annual British Country Music Awards, first held in 2006. The next year brought the inaugural Towerfest Country Music Festival, now an annual three-day event in north England. Other annual British country fests include the Rock Ridge Roundup, Country to Country and YeeHawUK.

The plethora of British enthusiast publications and websites includes Maverick, the nation's self-described "Leading Independent Country Music Magazine". It carries articles on American and British performers as well as British concerts and events.

Homegrown bands include Texarkana, which hails, despite its name, from northwest England, not from the town that straddles the Texas-Arkansas state line. A band called Arizona Flame comes from northeast England, far removed in every respect (especially weather) from the American Southwest.

As an American recently transplanted to London, all this left me gob-smacked, as the locals say. Key country-music totems - cowboys, Bible-belt preachers and pickup trucks - are hard to come by in Britain. The nation's roads are largely bereft of the iconic Ford F-150 King Ranch pickup, whose seats have more leather than most cows.   Continued...