The CMA have me at ‘Hello’ when it comes to Songwriters rounds because I love them. Even more so when it’s held in my fast-becoming favourite venue – the stylish and atmospheric converted church that is St Luke’s and the Winged Ox in Glasgow’s East End (near the world famous Barras).The bill had two immediate standouts when the gig was announced – Ashley Campbell, daughter of the late great Glen, and Chris DeStefano – the pen behind hits for Carrie, Miranda, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean. That said, it was the two new additions to the roster – Kassi Ashton and Tenille Townes – who for me, stole the show and that both surprised and delighted me. More on that later.
So after a nice healthy salad – no seriously – and a pint of Clonmel’s finest we took our seats in the auditorium. St Luke’s has a lovely balcony from which you can watch too but on this occasion I wanted to be closer to the artists and action. It’s always great to see so many ‘weel kent’ faces at Glasgow gigs and the Scottish Country Mafia were well represented upstairs and downstairs. Knowing fellow fans brings a certain family feel to proceedings and long may that continue.
On to business. Great to see that the CMA doesn’t bow to any gender balance rules, with three talented woman on stage with Chris – a total reversal of the 3 blokes and a little Angeleena from last year’s event. I love female country singers and want to hear more of them. The acoustic nature of these events is well served in this venue. Great sound production and lighting gave an eerie feel at times but the most respectful crowd in weeks duly took their vow of silence to hear these visitors to our shores bare their souls. Each artist played a song then it was the next artists turn. 5 rounds totalling 20 songs so a very full 2 hours of music and chat.
Kassi Ashton, looking much like Jennifer Anniston to this Friends fans eyes – was first up. From a small town called California, Missouri, Kassi was all but unknown to me bar her single ‘Taxidermy‘ which I’d heard on Spotify. Unknown no more. Her banter was top drawer and engaged the Glasgow crowd immediately. So she won’t be trying haggis again any time soon – we’ll forgive her. She told us of her rebellious youth and a 25 y.o. boyfriend when she was just a 17 y.o. wild child. The Dad in me squirmed in my seat. Her songs when they came round were raw and provoking. Her ‘take no prisoner’s attitude’ was engaging and evident. I particularly liked ‘Lie to Me‘ and ‘The Straw‘, Backed by Mr James the guitarist, she showed a real maturity in her writing and singing. Kassi rhymes with sassy!! Her invitation to cuddle any audience member with the surname McGill, a name in her family, was met with dubious cries of kinship. Definitely one to watch.
Tenille Townes is a 23 y.o pocket rocket from Alberta, Canada. Her first time in Scotland she seemed genuinely delighted to be with us – as they all did to be fair. Stepping off the high stool with her guitar she fired into ‘Where You Are‘ and then next round almost had the whole place blubbing with her emotive ‘Jersey on the Wall‘ about a deceased High School kid. The power of songwriting right there. Totally believed it. Totally loved it. Tennille’s voice commanded the room and it was noticeable to watch Ashley, Chris and Kassi react like the rest of us to the power from this gem. Her final song ‘When I Meet My Maker‘ was spellbinding, maybe more so because of the ecclesiastical surroundings. Definitely looking forward to more from Tenille.
Ashley, Ashley, Ashley. We love her. Partly because she’s Glen’s daughter and Princesses of Kings are to be revered. But increasingly she’s making her own name as an astute artist with her own story to tell. Thank God (appropriately) for her inherent desire to perform which took her away from the LA acting scene and on the road with Glen during his final years. Personally I was more familiar with her set having watched her twice at The Long Road Festival only weeks ago. Others will have seen her at the Millport Country Music Festival that same weekend. Kicking off with ‘Better Boyfriend‘ and then next go rounds with ‘Wish I Wanted To‘ and ‘Nothing Day‘ her songs told us a little of her relationship struggles. When I saw her pick up her banjo I knew what was coming next. Her rendition of her dad’s classic ‘Gentle on my Mind‘ had St Luke’s transfixed – many no doubt, as I was, fondly reminiscing about her late great country legend of a father whose Scottish name she bears with distinction. To finish us off – emotionally at least – Ashley played ‘Remembering‘, a tear jerker of a song about Glen’s battle with Alzheimer’s and her loss of the man she knew and who used to know her. I love this song. It evokes my own Dad. I applaud her fortitude in being able to sing that every night. Amazing.
Finally and by all means least – and I don’t think he would mind me saying that given his stage buddies for the night – songwriting powerhouse Chris DeStefano. Instantly likeable in the way all country folks are, or should be, he reminded us he’s just a songwriter and then on his turns performs 4 smash hits he penned for others at least as well, if not better, than you’ve heard them before. Hitting us first with the Carrie hit, ‘The Champion‘, Chris followed up with Morgan Evans #1 song ‘Kiss Somebody‘, Dan & Shay’s anthemic ‘From the Ground Up‘ (a personal fav) and his own single ‘Wide Open‘ (available on Spotify). Chris finished with Carrie’s megahit ‘Something In The Water‘. Simply outstanding.
And if that all wasn’t enough for the audience – and it so was – there was also a wee cameo appearance from 3/4 of The Wandering Hearts who sang their song “Never Expected This“. Totally held their own in exalted Nashville company.
The evening finished with a free Meet & Greet with the four stars. They couldn’t have been nicer and more friendly. Selfies taken. Autographs obtained. SCM badges supplied.
Truly a great night. Truly One Big Country Family.