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Maverick 48

‘Maverick’ and my Radio 2 programmes plough similar paths.  We like mostly the same artists and form part of a loose network of broadcasters, writers, promoters and venues across the UK that supports musicians who operate mainly under the radar of the mainstream.

I am very fortunate to spend much of my life working with my favourite artists and to be able to play their music on the radio.  My modus operandi has been the same throughout, from my first broadcasts on Radio 1 in 1970, through ‘Whistle Test’ to what I’m doing now. 

It’s a simple format.  I build the programmes in my music room, pick a few favourite tracks from my collection, mix them with things I’m just discovering, take them into the studio and give out as much on-air information as I can.  I then take the whole lot back home and begin the process again for the following week.

In some respects, my programmes operate in something of a vacuum.  I don’t read the trades much and generally don’t get plugged.  Consequently, I’m somewhat sheltered from whatever hype is going on.  I generally pick up a vibe about an album from ‘Maverick’, through a few trusted observers, or by word of mouth…talking with musicians and gig-goers about people they like, maybe getting a call from Bob Paterson about a new artist he’s found, sometimes discovering a name on Karen Miller’s internet playlist, or reading the postings on my website notice board (www.bobharris.org).  It seems to me that we’re all on the same side.   

Life as a touring musician can be tough.  Building up from scratch takes a huge amount of dedication and hard work.  Touring on a shoe-string, or at a loss, is extremely demanding.  Necessities are stamina and a few CD sales from the merchandising table at the back of the venue.  Most of the artists we like the most are ambivalent to the idea of fame and fortune.  Their main ambition is to do what they love to do…get the most from the incredible life-adventures that travelling and playing music brings into their lives and to make a living while they’re doing it.  It’s one of the reasons we like them so much.  But whatever the size of the venue, you can always tell when somebody really means it…from Bruce Springsteen to Alana Levandoski.

My wife Trudie and I were at the Radio 2 concert Bruce played with the Seeger Sessions Band.  Sixteen people joined him and his wife Patti Scialfa onstage, with a mix of instrumentation that brought together the sounds of Folk, Country and New Orleans Jazz…accordion, trombone, trumpet, honky-tonk piano, fiddle, peddle-steel and acoustic guitars and a gospel choir, creating a feel-good mix of roots influences in a seventy minute set of real American music.  In the intimate setting of St Luke’s LSO in Old Street in London (a beautifully renovated and modernised old church) it seemed far removed from the stadium rock shows and the E. Street Band…and not to the taste of all of Bruce’s fans.  I got a flurry of ‘Judas’ e-mails following the broadcast of the concert in May.  (Someone even likened it to what they called the ‘betrayal’ of Bob Dylan going electric).  But to my mind ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’ isn’t so far away from the idea of ‘Born In The USA’.  Bruce’s music has always been about being an American and here he’s dipped into the heritage.  I think he’s carved himself a new niche...right at the heart of true Americana.  It’s also good to see the work of Pete Seeger being highlighted in this way.  He was a crucial bridge between old style Folk music and the Dylan generation.

I got introduced to Alana Levandoski in Toronto by Larry Le Blanc, Canadian bureau chief for ‘Billboard’ magazine.  Larry has been soaked in the music industry for more than forty years and is one of the great commentators of our day.  He feels that Alana is among the most sincere and gifted talents he’s ever heard and I, too, find her music touchingly beautiful.  Her album is called ‘Unsettled Down’ and, like most of the things I enjoy the most, she didn’t throw huge production costs at it.  The music sits across the line between Folk and Country and she is clearly very appealing, as postings on my web site message board confirm.  Robert Mills said ‘wonderful stage presence and beautiful songs’ while ‘Bobble318’ wrote ‘Gotta agree with Robert about Alana Levandoski.  Great show’. 

Alana is part of an emerging generation of new artists who are reflecting the range of influences that make Canadian music so exciting, from the brilliant free-form collective Broken Social Scene, to the authentic Country twang of Corb Lund.  Among my current favourites are the Wailin’ Jennys album ‘Firecracker’, and a self-titled CD by Toronto based band The Novaks.  And to demonstrate the continuing depth of Canadian music, elder-statesman Neil Young has returned to the electric guitar and the territory of ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Ragged Glory’ with the rush-release of the angry ‘Living With War’. 

More of Bob's articles from Maverick

http://www.maverick-country.com/

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