In our latest series covering the people behind the music we talk to Steve Freeman, Chair of the Americana Music Association UK. Their recent AmericanaFest UK took over Hackney for two days with a conference, awards show, and festival of the best Americana music. Enough from us, let's let Stevie tell you all about the AMA-UK.
Hey Stevie, can you introduce yourself to us, and tell us a bit about your background?
My name is Stevie Freeman and I run the only specialist Americana record shop in the UK, which I founded with my musician husband Jamie in 2010. We also promote gigs and run a small record label.
For people who donít know, what is the Americana Music Association UK, and what is its role?
The AMA-UK was founded in 2012 By Bob Butler and Bob Paterson. It is a professional trade association representing and advocating for the voice of American roots music in the UK. Our membership comprises musicians, both from the UK and overseas, plus professionals from all sectors of the music industry, such as agents, promoters, venues, festivals, labels, distributors, retailers, management, touring, journalists, broadcasters and publicists.
The associationís aims are; to gain greater recognition of Americana music in the UK, build recognition of the genre category at retail, create a vibrant network of like-minded businesses to promote Americana music in the UK and foster links to similar networks internationally (not least the Americana Music Association in the US, nurture and support UK artists in the Americana field, and support international Americana artists touring the UK
And whatís your role at the AMA-UK?
I am the Chair of the board. There are 5 on the executive board and we have another 4 board members and 4 associate board members. One of the first things I took on was to try and create an official Americana chart and after a few years of talks and planning we launched this with the Official Charts Company last year - the charts has been a wonderful development for recognition of the genre in the UK. My general role is to co-ordinate and oversee all the events throughout the year and our two day annual AmericanaFestUK which we have just had. I also seek out and manage other member opportunities and ways to help our members develop their careers in music, be it as an artist or a label or other areas that need recognition within the genre. Iím always looking for opportunities to develop Americana Music in the UK
How did you get involved with the AMA in the first place?
One of the founders Bob Butler had worked with me on several gigs and he asked me if I would join the board in its founding year. They were looking to have a board with people from different areas in the music business and my experience in the retail sector was an important part of it - I took over the role of Chair the following year in 2013.
Whatís the link between the UK and US versions of the AMA?
We have a wonderful bond with the AMA, we are like their baby sister and they nurture us. We are very lucky to have their support and blessing - with over 18 years experience we have a lot to learn from them. But they also recognise the importance of what we are doing here - a lot of Americana artists from the USA can find success here before cracking the States. We created the official Americana chart which made Billboard look up and create their specialist chart for the genre - there is a lot of mutual respect. And there is an ever growing number of us going over there in September for our annual Americana pilgrimage to Nashville - and vice versa now here in February for our event
How important a step was it for Americana to be recognised with its own official chart in the UK?
It was a pivotal moment really! Itís something that can be referred to by the artists, by DJs and journalists. It also means we can recognise those artists who are selling well, we can measure the success of the genre in the market place. Like last month when Billboard could announce that Americana records were outselling Country - that was a huge thing to be able to show. It also meant we could award the likes of First Aid Kit last year and Van Morrison this year during our awards ceremony for having the best selling record.
The UK Americana Awards; how did they come about?
They have had awards in Nashville for the past 14 years and it was something that was on the agenda from the start of AMAUK. However it takes a lot of organisation and fund raising to make it happen. We had two conferences and showcase events without awards initially - we then took a year out to plan the big launch of our event in London which is now called AmericanaFestUK
And how happy are you with how the first two years have gone?
Well Iím thrilled actually. The first year we had a one day conference, 10 showcase bands, a workshop and the awards show produced by our long standing board member Trudie Myerscough-Harris. We invited a lot of people last year because we had to prove what we were about, we had to show everyone what talent there was and what a community we had. It paid off because this year we extended the conference by another day and it sold out, we doubled the number of showcase artists and sold out the awards show! I donít think it would be a long stretch to say we are now on the map!
Sturgill Simpson wrote a lovely message after winning "International Artist of the Year" this year. How important is it to have recognition from American artists as well as our own?
Itís very important. We said from the start we wanted to acknowledge international artists alongside those from the UK - these musicians mean a lot to the Americana music scene in the UK and they influence our artists as well. Our aim now is to convince AMA in Nashville to have an international award too! Watch this space.
Thank you very much to everyone whose support made this happen!ó Sturgill Simpson (@SturgillSimpson) February 2, 2017
I truly wanted to be there but my new baby needed me at home.
C ya soon!! https://t.co/P4fAb4deqX
Then thereís festival which was in Hackney. Thatís a great little setting with some top notch acts, how did that come about?
The festival element has 20 bands playing over three venues. This is essentially a showcase event for artists to play in front of industry delegates from the conference - we have a lot of promoters and festival bookers here for that. But itís also open to the public to buy a wristband at a great price, as a way to open the doors to discover new music. We had bands from all over the UK, USA and Canada. Hackney was perfect for this - the venues were so cool and the place has such a great vibe.
It must be incredibly hard work, but how satisfying is it when you see acts like Angaleena Presley playing?
Itís a lot of work and sometimes we all wonder what on earth weíre doing but then during the event itself it all makes total sense! The community that we have created is really special and the atmosphere over the whole event was just wonderful. When quality artists like Angaleena Presley want to be involved itís like the icing on the cake, especially as my husband plays guitar in her UK band so itís personally rewarding too.
Is it important that the festival and awards are over the space of two days to showcase the music in this country?
Yes and this will grow for sure. We are already considering adding another evening event for 2018. In the USA it has been four days for years, then they added a day at the end, now they have a kick-off party on the Tuesday as well... it will be a full week there soon Iím sure.
What are your ambitions for the AMA-UK?
This year we have stages at five festivals, and these are open for our members to apply to play, so they get opportunities to play in front of bigger audiences than they might if trying to get booked without our backing. We want this to grow, to be involved with bigger, more mainstream festivals as well as the specialist ones. We want to grow our membership and possibly start a supporters membership for all the incredible music fans who support live music and indie labels. They are the backbone for this industry - in roots music especially.
What acts are you really excited about in the UK at the moment?
Keep an eye on our award winners Lewis & Leigh and Yola Carter. All our nominees for this year are worth watching - William the Conqueror have an album out in the spring on Loose records and our triple winner from 2016 Danny and The Champions of the World also have a new one out this year.
Assuming you still get to Nashville, have you got any names we should look out for coming out of the US this year?
Well the obvious excitement is around the new Jason Isbell record and Alison Krauss. But I have also had a sneak preview of the new Angaleena Presley record and Iím very excited for it. Sam Outlaw has a new record soon and will be touring UK. I think people should look out for Clubhouse records artists coming over to tour in the spring and summer - Erin Rae and Cale Tyson. Carter Sampson and Wild Ponies both played AmericanaFestUK last week and will be back to tour this year - be sure to catch those gigs.
If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
Oh just one!! I have a record shop - I canít only have one, surely? Iím hooked on the Courtney Marie Andrews record but can I please have also have Mary Chapin Carpenter and Robert Vincent?
Whatís the question we should have asked you today but havenít?
Vinyl, CD, streaming or download? VINYL :-)
Thanks so much for your time Stevie, and best of luck with 2017 at the AMA-UK.
You can find out more about the AMA-UK on its website, or follow socially on Facebook and Twitter.
If you want to support the AMA-UK you can join on their website.