‘I like barroom songs and songs about f***ing up and creating chaos – I’ve done my share of that’

Nick Gamer

Suburban Cowboy, the debut solo album by Oregon singer-songwriter Nick Gamer, was one of my favourite albums of last year.

It was written during the Covid lockdown of 2020 and the peak of the West Coast’s wildfire season.

Reviewing it for Americana UK last summer, I said: ‘Set in a world of midnight truck stops and neon signs, Suburban Cowboy raises a glass to classic Americana and country, but every so often, Gamer slips in a shot of something extra that gives it a dark edge and keeps it fresh, like on Cenote Saloon, which is spacey, cinematic and psychedelic, with wonderful Lynchian twangy guitar, or the short, vaguely jazzy instrumental, Sidereal.’

‘Suburban Cowboy was one of my favourite albums of last year. It was written during the Covid lockdown of 2020 and the peak of the West Coast’s wildfire season’

I singled out some of the highlights, saying: ‘The ghost of Gram Parsons hangs over the barstool prayer, Midnight Angel, as well as the pedal steel and fiddle-laced trad country of Ballad of the Suburban Cowboy’, described Riverbed as a ‘raw and dark rocker, with thundering, doomy bass’ and said the widescreen Sedona, which is about driving all night through the Arizona desert, had shades of Springsteen and Jason Isbell.

I likened the stripped-down and intimate Any Neon Sign, which starts with the noise of a train, to early Ryan Adams, and said the mid-paced country rocker, Tennessee, had a similar feel, with Gamer, former guitarist for Japanese Breakfast and frontman of Le Rev, singing: ‘We drank our way from Memphis down to New Orleans – got kicked out of every honky tonk in-between.”

On Ballad of the Suburban Cowboy, he sings: “You can find me at a tavern, chasin’ bourbon with beer/ In some strip mall sprawl at the edge of the western frontier…”

But I tracked him down to his home in Eugene, and, in an exclusive chat – only his second interview ever – he told me about writing and recording his debut album, moving on from his chaotic twenties, getting away from where he grew up, the moody sound of Pacific North West country music and the crumbling American dream. 


The album was written in 2020, during the Covid lockdown and the wildfire season. How was that?

Nick Gamer: There were six months of being locked down and then the wildfires came – it was sepia sky and a neon sun. It was bizarro – it felt like you were on Mars. The fires came up to just outside of Eugene. It was crazy – an apocalyptic feeling.

I was cooped up. I’ve been playing music in bands for 20 years and my friend was like, ‘Hey – you’ve never put out your own album’… so I took him up on that. I booked a date, with my friend Bryan [Wollen – producer], who’s up in Portland, and it forced me to write some songs.

So, all the songs on the record were new and written for it?

NG: They’re all new songs – I had all of them except for Sedona, Riverbed and Fever Valley Pitch

Those songs stand out because they’re the heavier, poppier or rockier tracks…

NG: Yeah – I thought that the record didn’t have singles. If I had a record label, they would probably have said I needed some three-minute, up-tempo songs, so I kind of had a writing project. The recording was delayed because of Covid – it happened in intervals, so it took a lot longer than we wanted, but those songs came later.

What was the studio like?

NG: Bryan calls his studio Cat/Man-Do – it’s an old office on the edge of Portland. There used to be this old town called Vanport, where all the black Americans lived, working on the docks. It got flooded – all the houses are up on stilts.

Bryan has this bizarre, abandoned office space which he turned into a studio house. It has a big basement and it’s right by the train tracks – you can hear a train on the record. He just stuck a microphone out of the window to get that.

You’ve got some guests on the record, including Bryan on guitar, drums and bass, Rick Pedrosa playing pedal steel, Lauren Hay on vocals, Jimmy “Jazz” Prescott on electric and upright bass, James West on drums and Garrett Brown on bass. Did you all meet up in the studio as a band to make the record?

NG: No. My buddy James, who is kind of like a hip-jop/jazz drummer, pulled in his buddy, Jimmy Prescott – he plays bass in G.Love & Special Sauce. I sent them the tracks. No rehearsal – we just went in the studio and went through all the songs in one day. We got a lot of them – they added a whole other flavour to the songs. The other songs Bryan and I single-tracked – he played drums and I tracked the rhythm guitar. There were a couple of different methods going on.

‘I’d been playing in indie bands, like Japanese Breakfast, but my last band, Le Rev, had a moody, cinematic sound – I love soundtracks’

The record has classic country influences, like Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Emmylou Harris, but it’s also dark, edgy, cinematic, psychedelic and even slightly jazzy – it sometimes does things you’re not expecting it to. What did you want it to sound like?

NG: I’d been playing in indie bands, like Japanese Breakfast, but my last band, Le Rev, had a moody, cinematic sound – I love soundtracks. Growing up, I liked Eternal Sunshine… the John Brion stuff, so it was a combination of that and getting back to songwriting. I’d always wanted to write a more country album, so it just kind of came out like that – it’s me trying to write country.

Are you a big Gram Parsons fan?

NG: I didn’t get into country music until I was of drinking age – Bryan got me into it and and we had a country covers band that we played in bars with. It was like Sweetheart of the Rodeo – that album was the bridge. I think it was for a lot of people – then Gram Parsons. I got heavily into him and that led into everything else, like George Jones and all the rest of  ’em.

The album often has a barroom feel. On Pale Horse, you’re “roaming the streets, after the bars close, with no place to go…”

NG: A lot of the songs I like just happen to be barroom songs and songs about fucking up and creating chaos. I’ve done my share of that. The songs all come from an honest place.

‘A lot of the record is looking back on my chaotic twenties – that was wild and I’m moving forward from there’

I turned 30, then Covid happened and the next thing you know I’m in my mid-thirties… What the hell happened? A lot of the record is looking back on my chaotic twenties – that was wild and I’m moving forward from there.

Did you grow up in Eugene?

NG: I was born in Long Beach, California – we moved to Portland pretty soon after that. I grew up in Portland then we moved to Eugene when I was in grade school. As soon as I turned 18, I went back to Portland and pretty much played in bands for ten years.

I like to think of the sound of the record as Pacific North West country – it’s so moody out here and a lot of the bands that come from here have that darker edge.

Your song Sedona is about driving through the desert at night  it reminds me of Springsteen and Jason Isbell. It has a widescreen rock sound… 

NG: I was going for that purposefully. I wanted to write something that was simple and relatable – I don’t often try to write something that’s a little bit more poppy.

It’s a song about being stuck in the same place and trying to get away. I still live in the place I grew up, pretty much. It’s about picking a random spot on the map and just getting out – I feel the need to do that probably once a week.

That’s one of the themes of the album escaping from a small town…

NG: Yeah. It’s part of the concept it’s a bastardisation of Urban Cowboy. Thirty five to 40 years after Urban Cowboy, instead of all these oil workers dressing up as cowboys, there are people who work in minimum wage jobs in restaurants and are getting into country music, but they can’t afford to put a downpayment on a house in their own town because everything’s so expensive, with inflation and all that shit. It’s the crumbling American dream.

Any plans for a follow-up record? 

NG: I have another record that I’ve started recording in the same spot – Bryan’s studio.It’s going to be single-tracked – eight songs. It’s called Oregoner – it’s all Oregon-themed. It’s Americana / country stuff and it’s a compatible album with Suburban Cowboy.

When I wrote Suburban Cowboy, I didn’t have any parameters in mind – I just wrote. This has a little bit more structure and I’ve been sitting on the songs a lot longer.

Will Oregoner come out this year?

NG: Absolutely. I’m hoping to record a couple of albums and put at least one out. 

‘I have another record that I’ve started recording. It’s called Oregoner – it’s all Oregon-themed’

Are you a prolific songwriter?

NG: I try to write every day. It’s so easy to put an album out now, but you want people to get as much out of them as they can. I like to do a couple of tours, send an album out and see what happens, but you don’t want to do that too much, because if you get too caught up in it, you stop writing music. 

Suburban Cowboy by Nick Gamer is out now (Professional Guest Records).

Sice to see you…

This year is going to be a busy one for Simon ‘Sice’ Rowbottom, frontman/guitarist with ’90s indie-pop experimentalists, The Boo Radleys, who were signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records, split in 1999, but reformed in 2021, albeit without chief songwriter, Martin Carr.

Following last year’s comeback album, Keep On With Falling, which Sice recorded with fellow band members, Tim Brown (bass) and Rob Cieka (drums), the Boos are back with a follow up, Eight – out in June – and in the summer will be touring the UK playing their 1993 masterpiece, Giant Steps, which turns 30 this year and is being reissued in the autumn.

Sice and Say It With Garage Flowers founder/editor, Sean Hannam – thanks to the Mad Squirrel in Amersham for the picture.

But, before all that, Sice, who is a chartered psychologist, is performing a series of solo shows in March under the banner An Appointment With Dr Sice, in which he’ll play songs from all eight of the Boos’ albums, plus his two records as Eggman and Paperlung, talk about his life and career and share some of his thoughts on psychology.

The solo tour is partly to promote a new book he has been involved with, Touring and Mental Health: The Music Industry Manual, which is published next month by Omnibus Press.

Written by health and performance professionals, the comprehensive manual will help musicians and those working in live music to identify and cope with the various physical and psychological difficulties that can occur during, or as a result of, touring.

Designed to be picked up, put down, read at length and passed around the tour bus, the book covers topics including mental health, peak performance and performance anxiety, addiction, group dynamics, relationship problems, dealing with the media, physical health, diversity and inclusion, crisis management and post-tour recovery.

To find out more about his hectic 2023, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Sice in an exclusive interview, which we did in a pub in the Buckinghamshire town of Amersham, near to where he lives and where Say It With Garage Flowers is based.

“I’m just about keeping on top of it and I enjoy it all,” he tells us. “It’s what keeps me motivated – I like the variety and the diversity.”


How has the solo tour and the mental health book come about?

Sice: I’m involved with the Music Industry Therapist Collective – (MITC) we’re all therapists who’ve worked in the music industry in some capacity or other. It was started by Tamsin Embleton – she got in touch with me a couple of years ago. The big thing that she’s been building up to is the Touring and Mental Health Music Industry Manual, which is a really important book – it’s massively comprehensive. I’ve been interviewed for it.

As I’ve got older, one of the things I’ve really enjoyed on stage is talking to the audience – I never used to do it back in the ‘90s. Suddenly there’s a lot I want to say. I was also kind of inspired a bit by [former Lush member] Miki Berenyi’s book [Fingers Crossed], which is absolutely brilliant. She’s a very good writer. I wanted to do something along the same lines but I didn’t want to go down the memoir route.

You’ve written a book already, Thimblerigger, which was a novel…

Sice: Yeah – it was fiction.

But it does have elements of psychology in it…

Sice: Absolutely.

So, you’ve never fancied writing an autobiography?

Sice: No. It’s crossed my mind, but that’s what An Appointment With Dr Sice is really – in a lot of respects, it’s autobiographical.

When the new Boos album comes out, it will be the tenth album I’ve made, including my solo stuff – Eggman and Paperlung. I want to do a song from every album chronologically – we’re talking 35 years.

Have you always been interested in psychology?

Sice: Yeah – it was always an area of fascination. I had a place at the University of Liverpool to study psychology back in 1990, just before The Boos started, but we got a Wedding Present support for six weeks, so I dropped out and got on with the music. It’s turned out alright and as my kids got older, in about 2007, I really didn’t know what to do with myself. Then, because I was feeling a bit lost, I went to therapy for the first time.

When the Boos made it big and got a Top 10 pop hit with Wake Up Boo! in 1995, you were 25. Was it hard for you to deal with the fame?

Sice: Oh God, yeah. I hated fame.

But, in the early days, didn’t you and Martin dream of being pop stars?

Sice: We did – we wanted it but when we got it, we didn’t enjoy it. It’s like when you see a photo shoot – you think it looks great and that the photographer just walks past you and takes a snap, but then you realise you’re spending two and a half hours in a freezing cold warehouse in the East End of London. It isn’t that much fun and I just realised that there was stuff I’d rather be doing with my time. It was great to do it the first time, but I didn’t want to continue doing it.

‘I hated fame. We wanted it but when we got it, we didn’t enjoy it’

Do you think a book like the Touring and Mental Health Music Industry Manual would’ve been useful for you back in the day? I guess the Boos couldn’t take a therapist on the road, as Creation’s budget didn’t stretch to that…

Sice: [Laughs]. It didn’t. Now, it’s OK for young people in the music industry to talk about mental health – that’s why it’s brilliant that the MITC has been set up. That’s what we deal with – people who come into the music industry and recognise that it’s difficult.

And now we have social media, which puts even more pressure on people…

Sice: There are lots of reasons. Everybody on Twitter can be aiming at you and saying stuff – it’s very difficult, but, that said, it’s also easier in a way, because it’s easier to communicate, with mobile phones. When we went away on tour, we were quite isolated.

When we were touring America, it was a fucking nightmare to phone home and it was really expensive, and when we were in Europe, it was the era of phone cards – you had to find somewhere that sold them.

Did you enjoy touring?

Sice: When I read Miki’s book, she said one thing that I’ve been saying for years – ‘I wish I had a door in my front room that allowed me to step onto the stage, play the gig and come back’. That’s exactly it. Being on stage is everything it’s about and I love the creativity bits – the recording and the singing. I love being on stage – everything else I can take it or leave it. Well, leave it, really.

Touring can be gruelling…

Sice: The gruelling nature of it is difficult. Part of the problem is that you start off with good intentions, like reading books, then something happens and you end up blankly staring out of the window for three or four hours. It just becomes unnatural. One of the things that I’m always interested in in psychology is what’s natural to us as humans – us as homo sapiens, who are 250,000 years old. The way that we live our lives now – musicians especially – is so unnatural to us. All we’re made for is three or four hours of hunter-gathering and the rest of the time sitting round the campfire.

So, what can we expect from An Appointment With Dr Sice? A few stories, some songs…

Sice: Yeah – basically that, but I’m also going to thread  some psychology through it. It’s a tale of where I came from, what I went through with the Boos – a few anecdotes – and then segueing into psychology. I guess it’s about what I consider to be important in psychology. The show will be about two hours – with an interval. It’s essentially a kind of theatre show – it builds and there’s a kind of narrative.

There are lots of threads – Catholicism, family and psychology. How our contextual influences and our experiences influence what we do. And there’s some stuff about male mental health. People say ‘men should talk more’ but men don’t know how. We don’t know what to say, we need to be given permission and we need to be taught about how to talk about emotions or name them. Nobody teaches us it – it’s believed to be inherent, but it isn’t. That’s what I’m doing – but it’s hopefully going to be fun too.

And there are some pop tunes, too… Will you be playing Wake Up Boo!?

Sice: Do you know what? I haven’t decided yet. I’ve got to do one off the Wake Up! album.

You don’t like that record, do you?

Sice: It’s not that I dislike it, but it’s the one I wouldn’t choose to listen to. We set out to write a 12-song pop album, but I don’t think it does that. There are two or three tracks that maybe do…but for it to work, it needed to be a 12-song pop album. It’s okay in its own right, but the second side is really quite melancholy and odd. It never really fitted together in the way in which Giant Steps, C’mon Kids and Kingsize did.

Let’s talk about the new Boos album, Eight. When we last spoke, in November 2021, ahead of the release of the last record, Keep On With Falling, which was released in March last year, you said you were more excited about the follow up, which was already written, and that you were already halfway through writing the album after that.

So, Eight’s coming out in June – you’ve already released the first single, Seeker, and the next song from it is called The Unconscious

Sice: The Unconscious is a story about my psychoanalysis – it details that. I did full-on psychoanalysis for two years when I was in training. It was interesting, but not a great experience. It was very messy. It’s not the sort of counselling where you’re sitting and chatting – it’s almost like you’re talking into the ether and someone’s whispering in your ear. You’re on the couch and they’re sat behind you – you’re trying to iron out what comes up from the unconscious to be spoken about and they interpret it. It was a bit weird and cult-like – it brings up lots of fears and early childhood stuff that’s slightly out of memory. I would be driving home from it sometimes and I’d burst into tears but have no idea why. It’s powerful, but it’s hard work.

That’s heavy, but you got a song out of it…

Sice: Every cloud…

Seeker is a brassy pop song and it’s about love – finding someone who can be with you and support you…

Sice: Totally.

‘I did full-on psychoanalysis for two years. It was very messy – a bit weird and cult-like’

Last year’s comeback single, A Full Syringe and Memories of You, was about euthanasia, so this one’s much lighter…

Sice: [Laughs] It’s bright and breezy. Lyrically, it’s Tim’s.

So, you’ve both written songs for this album?

Sice: It’s pretty much 50:50, but there are 13 songs on it, so there’s one extra of mine. Lyrically, Tim’s songs are about relationships whereas I tend to write about the self – the individual.

The Boo Radleys in 2023 – Left to right: Tim Brown, Simon ‘Sice’ Rowbottom and Rob Cieka.

Does Rob write?

Sice: We’re trying to encourage him to – he does pitch in with ideas. He has written a set of lyrics and I’ve written something to go along with them, so that will probably appear. We’ve decided we’re going to shove out everything we’ve got and for the next album start again by being in the same room – we’ve never ever done that.

So, what does Eight sound like? The album before was pretty pop, so is the new one more left-field?

Sice: I think it is. There’s a lot more electronica on there and we’ve embraced the trumpet again a lot more. But we are still quite poppy. I was thinking about this – what’s the difference with the writing and with Martin not being here? I think it’s clean versus dirty – me and Tim prefer clean. We’ve always liked a bit of cleanliness about stuff, whereas Martin was always about the dirtiness and the griminess.

‘There’s a lot more electronica on the new album and we’ve embraced the trumpet again’

This year, Giant Steps, turns 30. How do you feel about that?

Sice: It seems bizarre – I can remember that with Martin we did a mini-website for the 10-year anniversary and that didn’t seem like long ago…

So, Giant Steps is being reissued later this year?

Sice: Yeah there’s a vinyl reissue.

What are your memories of making the album? The band self-produced it at Protocol Studios in Holloway Road, London, and it was a conscious decision to move away from the shoegaze sound of your earlier records, wasn’t it?

Sice: Yeah – totally. My memories of making it are really good. It was an enjoyable process. It’s really strange – looking back, we didn’t really realise how precarious our position with Creation was. We assumed everything was going to be okay – we were always fairly optimistic, so we didn’t know that the pressure was on for us to have a successful record.

‘When we were recording Giant Steps, we could do what we wanted – we had a sense of freedom and the choice of not having a producer was because it allowed us to do bonkers things’

The strange thing with Creation was we thought that we were joining the label of The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine – completely underground bands – and then it shifted. I think Ride probably started it, when they started to get Top 10 singles – that was the expectation for every other band on the label.

When we were recording Giant Steps, we could do what we wanted – we had a sense of freedom and the choice of not having a producer was because it allowed us to do bonkers things.

Alan McGee wasn’t a big fan of Giant Steps, was he? 

Sice: McGee didn’t understand us  – he never got us as a band. I think we were too complex for him. He disappeared not long after Wake Up! came out  – he was shocked by the success of Giant Steps

So, this summer you’re doing some 30th anniversary live shows for the reissue of Giant Steps. Will you be playing the whole record?

Sice: Yeah – we’re going to do it all but there will be certain songs that we’ll put together in a bit of a medley. We’re going to be doing two sets – one will be a ‘greatest hits’ – so there’s a lot of work… 

Are you looking forward to it?

Sice: It’s going to be brilliant. There are people who discovered it after we split up, so they get the opportunity to see us do it live. I’m really looking forward to it.

‘McGee didn’t understand us  – he never got us. I think we were too complex for him. He was shocked by the success of Giant Steps’

Giant Steps is a classic ’90s album, isn’t it?

Sice: It stands the test of time. There’s a huge sense of originality about it. It’s all the influences that we had from an early age – The Byrds, jazz, The Beatles, The Beach Boys… Before that, we were influenced by what was around then – My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Spacemen 3, all those bands. With Giant Steps, it was, ‘Do you know what? We love all these ’60s bands and other stuff…’

Do you think it’s your masterpiece?

Sice: I prefer C’mon Kids – I think it’s that cleanliness and that it’s sticking up for the underdog. I think C’mon Kids is just as good an album – songs like Four Saints are very good and really intelligent…

Was C’mon Kids a deliberate reaction against the album before, which was Wake Up!?

Sice: It was seen as that but it’s so weird that anyone would think we would do that. It was a reaction only in the sense that we don’t what to do the same thing again.

And you never did. Kingsize is a very different album to C’mon Kids. I think Kingsize is an underrated album.

Sice: It is. I’ve always said Kingsize was Tim’s record. He was the only one with any enthusiasm at that point, which was a shame. Looking back, what we should’ve done is what bands do now – take a break.

What’s your favourite song on Giant Steps?

Sice: That’s a good question. I really like Best Lose The Fear and The White Noise Revisited and Lazarus is special – it always will be.

So, 2023 is going to a busy year for you – there’s the solo tour, the Boos, the day job and MITC…

Sice: I’m madly busy. I’ve got my finger in four pies. I’m just about keeping on top of it and I enjoy it all. It’s what keeps me motivated – I like the variety and the diversity.

Final question. On I’ve Lost The Reason, from Giant Steps, you sing: ‘I’m only 23my hair is thin, my size is large, what have I done to me?’  How will you feel singing that as a 53-year-old man?

Sice: I don’t know… It’s really weird because that’s the one song that I didn’t want to do, ‘cos I know it’s a very personal song to Martin. It was always weird singing that song but we’ll do it out of completeness. For a lot of people, that’s one of their favourites.


Tour dates for An Appointment With Doctor Sice:

Eight, the new album by The Boo Radleys, will be released on June 9 (Boostr)

You can preorder it here.

A remastered Giant Steps will be released on September 1 – vinyl, CD and digital.

The first Giant Steps Tour 2023 dates are as follows:

  • Tue June 13 – Reading, South Street Arts Centre
  • Wed June 14 – London, The Garage
  • Thu June 15 – Tunbridge Wells, The Forum
  • Fri June 16 – Birkenhead, Future Yard
  • Thu June 22 – Dublin, The Grand Social
  • Fri  June 23 – Belfast, The Limelight
  • Sun June 25 – Glasgow, Hug and Pint

Other dates

  • Sat October 28 – Manchester, Bread Shed w/Cud
  • Sun October 29 – Liverpool, O2 Academy 2 w/Cud
  • Mon October 30 – Sheffield, O2 Academy 2 w/Cud
  • Tue October 31 – Birmingham, O2 Institute 2 w/Cud
  • Thu  November 2 – Bristol, The Fleece w/Cud
  • Fri November 3 – Oxford, O2 Academy 2 w/Cud
  • Sat  November 4 – London, O2 Academy Islington w/Cud


Touring and Mental Health: The Music Industry Manual, is published on March 24 by Omnibus Press.

2022: The year of the Hollow Heart

Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2022 and takes a closer look at the stories and influences behind some of the best Americana records released this year.

2022 was better for me personally than 2021, when I experienced some tough times following the death of my dad, but, on the socio-political side of things, it’s been a difficult 12 months, with chaos in government, a cost of living crisis and general uncertainty casting a long, dark shadow across the country.

Music is always there to get you through the bad times, as well as the good, and the album I kept coming back to in 2022 was Hollow Heart – the fourth offering by London’s cosmic country kings, The Hanging Stars, so I’ve chosen it as my favourite record of the year.

The Hanging Stars

It was uplifting musically, but lyrically it was often tinged with sadness, and it wasn’t afraid to comment on the state of the country – the ‘60s-garage-rock-meets-The-Byrds song, I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore, was written about being completely helpless at the hands of the Tory government, while the West Coast psych-pop of You’re So Free concerned itself with anti-vaxxers and how Brexit and Trump’s presidency created social divide.

Speaking in February 2022, when he gave me the first interview about Hollow Heart, ahead of its release, the band’s frontman, Richard Olson, said: “There was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written.”

I think the new record is their best to date. It’s even better than its predecessor, 2020’s A New Kind of Sky, which was a mix of cinematic sounds, psych, jangle-pop, folk and country-rock. Released in the wake of Brexit, thematically that album dealt with the idea of escaping and getting away to a better place.

‘There was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written’

To make the follow-up, the band and producer/musician, Sean Read (Soulsavers, Dexys Midnight Runners) decamped to Edwyn Collins’ Clashnarrow Studios in Helmsdale, in The Highlands of Scotland, which overlooks the North Sea.

Edwyn offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed – and Sean is one of the two engineers who he lets work there – the stars aligned,” said Olson.

“That happened during the pandemic, so we had to find a window when we were allowed to do it. It was quite a project, transporting six people to Helmsdale, with a bunch of instruments.”

He added: “We drove in two cars and we set to work – we grafted and we were so focused. It was magical from start to finish. When you’re standing in the studio, and the sun’s setting over the bay, and you’re singing Weep & Whisper, that shit makes you think that you’ve made it! We got given this chance and we had to deliver the goods.”

And deliver the goods they did. Opener, the slow-building love song, Ava, is stunning – it creeps in with some gorgeous, haunting pedal steel and twangy guitar, then blossoms into magnificent, blissed-out and anthemic country rock.

Second single, Black Light Night, is irresistible – pairing a seriously dark and foreboding lyric with music that evokes vintage R.E.M – guitars are set to jangle and the harmonies wing their way down from (near wild) heaven.

The dreamy Weep & Whisper – “There’s a girl I used to know. She wore her hair long in an endless satin bow” – is much more subdued – a folky shuffle that Olson describes as a love song to youth. It sounds like it’s been hanging out at Scarborough Fair with Simon & Garfunkel.

The majestic and shimmering Ballad Of Whatever May Be could be The Stone Roses doing country rock, and first single, Radio On, melds the best of Big Star with The Velvet Underground.

Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart – one of the album’s heavier and darkest moments – is brooding psych-folk in the vein of Fairport Convention.

You’re So Free has Ethiopian jazz piano and echoes of ‘60s West Coast pop group The Turtles, while Edwyn Collins guests on the moving and filmic, Rainbows In Windows, providing spoken vocals inspired by The Velvet Underground’s The Gift.

Opening with a great, jangly guitar riff that Roger McGuinn would’ve killed for back in the day, the sprightly I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore nods to The See See – the band The Hanging Stars came from – but throws in a unexpected, baroque-space rock mid-section.

“This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done – in the sense that we had some songs, we went to the studio to finish them off and we had x amount of time to make the album,” said Olson.

“It was good for us and it was a joy to see everybody flourish in the studio in their own way. It brought out what we’re good at. We also wanted to think about the sonics – Sean came into his own and we had so much fun doing it. We threw the rulebook out of the window – we had to.”

And did Olson think it’s their best album? “Of course it is. You wouldn’t be making records otherwise,” he told me.  “With this album, we had to be The Hanging Stars and I think we did a pretty damned good job of it.”

It’s hard to argue with him.

One of my other favourite UK Americana albums of the year was Leo, the third solo record by former Case Hardin frontman, Pete Gow.

The trademark orchestral sound he debuted on 2019’s Here There’s No Sirens and its follow-up, The Fragile Line – from 2020 – was bolstered by some impressive, rich and soulful horn arrangements courtesy of his producer, multi-instrumentalist, Joe Bennett (The Dreaming Spires, Bennett Wilson Poole, Co-Pilgrim, Saint Etienne).

Leo felt like the natural successor to Gow’s previous two solo records, which were also created with Bennett (bass, piano, organ, vocals, strings, horns) and drummer, Fin Kenny, who, like Gow, are both workhorses of the UK Americana scene.

Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

Reviewing the album for Americana UK earlier this year – I gave it 9/10 – I said: ‘Leo is Gow’s most accomplished and ambitious album yet, with Bennett taking his collaborator’s wry story songs about barrooms, booze, rock ‘n’roll and record collections and turning them into widescreen epics, the orchestral and brass arrangements perfectly complement these lyrically deft tales and the lives of the characters that inhabit them.’

Leonard’s Bar, which is the centrepiece of the album and where the record takes its title from, reminds me of one of those Springsteen story songs, written about people and their small town lives, but with a hint of Nick Cave about it, too.

It’s about a former criminal who’s fallen on hard times and finds himself caught up in a difficult situation – one last job – thanks to his brother-in-law, Leo.

Telling me about the track, Gow said: “That song was written about my first trip to the States with my partner and my first trip back to her hometown, which is Baltimore, or thereabouts. I had a notebook with me the whole time and I was jotting stuff down. At the time, her brother was going through a divorce and living at his mum’s – that’s where I met him.”

He added: “The barman in the song with ‘This’ and ‘That’ tattooed on his knuckles was just a guy that served me, my partner and her cousin drinks one afternoon in a Baltimore bar. I saw it and wrote it down.”

Another UK Americana artist with a knack of writing great story songs is Michael Weston King – the record he released this year, The Struggle, was his first solo album in 10 years.

A stunning collection of moving, well-crafted and wonderfully arranged songs, recorded in rural Wales, with producer, engineer and musician, Clovis Phillips, the record saw Weston King stepping away from his day job, as one half of husband-and-wife country / Americana duo, My Darling Clementine (with Lou Dalgleish), and, instead, mining a rich seam of late ’60s/ early ’70s singer-songwriters, like Mickey Newbury, Dan Penn, Jesse Winchester, John Prine, Bobby Charles and early Van Morrison.

Michael Weston King

Mixed at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield with Weston King’s long-time collaborator/producer, Colin Elliot (Richard Hawley / Jarvis Cocker), musically, it explores country-soul, Celtic folk and jazz, and lyrically it tackles subjects including the Trump presidency, mental health issues, loneliness, death and the tales of a wayfaring singer-songwriter.

Two of the songs were co-writes. Sugar was penned with US singer-songwriter, Peter Case, while Theory of Truthmakers sees Weston King putting music to unused lyrics by his friend, Scottish songwriter and musician, Jackie Leven, who died in 2011.

Telling me about the idea behind the album, Weston King said: “If I’d had the budget, I wanted it to sound like Mickey Newbury in 1970, but that would’ve meant an orchestra on every track.

‘I certainly wasn’t trying to make an Americana or country record, but country-soul was always at the heart of it’

“One of the songs, Another Dying Day, was the starting point – it was the most Newburyesque song. We put strings on it and approached it in the same way that he’d recorded a lot of his stuff, with a lot of nylon-strung guitar. Some of the other songs happened organically and went off in other directions.”

He added: “I certainly wasn’t trying to make an Americana or country record, but country-soul was always at the heart of it –  a bit of a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham vibe. We have some Wurlitzer on there.”

There were also some Americana moments on Breaking The Fall, the first solo album by singer-songwriter, Matt James, who was formerly the drummer with ’90s Britrockers Gene.

Although it’s a debut record, it sounds like a best of collection – 10 memorable, varied and, at times, very personal and emotional, songs that embrace folk, country, soul, indie-rock, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and ’60s pop.

Occasionally it recalls Gene –  the country-soul of A Simple Message and the anthemic ballad Different World – but most of the time, it’s the sound of someone experimenting with different styles and enjoying being in the studio again after a long time away. James left the music industry for several years.

Speaking to me about the record in August 2022, he said: “I’m sort of trying everything out – I have thrown it all in there. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction.”

Stepping out from behind the drum kit to put himself in the spotlight for the first time, he relied on some old friends to help him out.

Former Gene band mates Steve Mason (guitar) and Kevin Miles (bass) were along for the ride, as was keyboard player, Mick Talbot, (The Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played live with Gene and on radio sessions.

I’m sort of trying everything out – I have thrown it all in there. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction’

Production duties were taken care of by former Gene associate, Stephen Street, (The Smiths / Morrissey, Blur, The Cranberries) – sonically, the album is rich, colourful and diverse – and there was some guitar work by James’s friend, Peredur ap Gwynedd (Perry for short), from electronic rockers Pendulum.

Photo of Matt James by Embracing Unique: Laura Holme.


Low-key first song, From Now On, is a gorgeous, acoustic folk-country campfire ballad, with an accordion keyboard sound, but it’s followed by the powerful, extremely personal and upbeat Champione – a moody indie-rocker written about James’s father, who was blighted by mental health and addiction issues. Once again, there’s a slight country influence, thanks to the atmospheric slide guitar.

The emotional title track, which is another ballad and sounds quite like one of the more reflective moments by his old band, sees James contemplating his time away from music and creativity: “Don’t leave me in the dark – just take me straight back to the dancing.”

And, on that note, Sad is a big, infectious Northern Soul-style floor-filler, like late Jam or The Style Council, and, appropriately enough, it features Mick Talbot on organ.

The mighty Born To Rule has triumphant Spaghetti Western / mariachi horns on it, the twinkling Snowy Peaks is a festive-themed love song that scales dramatic heights – the choral middle eight sounds like The Beach Boys in church – and the dark, yet ultimately optimistic, High Time, recalls life-changing events, including a near-fatal car crash and a chance encounter that led to the formation of Gene.

From Americana to Canadiana… singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger, describes his latest album, Nothing Pressing, as his ‘deepest artistic statement yet’.

It’s also one of his strongest and darkest records. Largely written and recorded in the wake of a close friend’s death and with the shadow of Covid hanging over it, Leger said it’s an album about survival – mental, physical and artistic.

Some of the songs, like the stark, stripped-down and folky Underground Blues and Sinking In, were recorded in his Toronto apartment, using two SM58 microphones fed into his vintage 1981 Tascam four-track tape recorder.

“I spent a lot of the lockdown writing and demoing using the four-track,” he told me. “I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude.”

He added: “It was spring of last year that I unexpectedly lost one of my best friends. I think it’s unavoidable that things like that seep in. It’s a surreal feeling losing someone close. I wasn’t consciously writing with him in mind, but I can now hear traces of me dealing with it in a few of the songs.”

The raw and punchy Kill It With Kindness,  upbeat rocker Have You Ever Been Happy?, the Neil Young-like Recluse Revisions, the classic country-sounding A Page You’ve Turned, and the Beatlesy love song With Only You were laid down in the studio with his long-time producer, Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), and Leger’s band, The Situation (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion). There are guest contributions on the album from Tim Bovaconti (pedal steel) and Angie Hilts (vocals).

‘I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude’

The song, Nothing Pressing, which opens the record, and the tracks Protector and Still Patience are solo acoustic, recorded live in the studio with few embellishments, save for Mock’s overdubbed harmony vocals and, on the title track, Timmins’s ukulele.

The follow-up to his 2019 studio album, Time Out For Tomorrow, Nothing Pressing is a great collection of songs – and often painfully honest. On Still Patience, over a sparse backing of guitar and Wurlitzer, Leger sings: “I go drinking by myself, when I got nobody else, for misery is company.”

At times sad and reflective, it’s an album that doesn’t shy away from tackling personal issues, such as mental health, depression and seeking solace in alcohol, but it’s also a record that believes a problem shared is a problem halved.

“I really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting,” he said,

“It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.”

It was certainly an album that helped me get through 2022 and, on that note, here’s the full list of records I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months, with an accompanying Spotify playlist. I hope you can find room in your heart for some of these songs – hollow or otherwise…

Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2022

  1. The Hanging Stars – Hollow Heart
  2. Arctic Monkeys – The Car
  3. Matt James – Breaking The Fall
  4. Pete Gow – Leo
  5. Michael Weston King – The Struggle
  6. Jerry Leger – Nothing Pressing
  7. Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Dear Scott
  8. Nev Cotttee – Madrid
  9. Johnny Marr – Fever Dreams, Pts 1-4.
  10. Beth Orton – Weather Alive
  11. PM Warson – Dig Deep Repeat
  12. Daisy Glaze – Daisy Glaze
  13. The Magic City TrioThe Magic City Trio
  14. The Delines – The Sea Drift
  15. Nick Gamer – Suburban Cowboy
  16. Duke Garwood – Rogues Gospel
  17. M. Lockwood Porter – Sisyphus Happy
  18. Thomas Dollbaum – Wellswood
  19. Vinny Peculiar Artists Only
  20. GA-20 – Crackdown
  21. Wilco – Cruel Country
  22. Andrew Weiss and Friends – Sunglass & Ash
  23. Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler – For All Our Days That Tear The Heart
  24. Morton Valence Morton Valence
  25. M Ross Perkins – E Pluribus M Ross
  26. The Lightning Seeds – See You In The Stars
  27. Monophonics – Sage Motel
  28. Andy Bell – Flicker
  29. Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
  30. Leah Weller – Freedom
  31. Pixy Jones – Bits N Bobs
  32. The Boo Radleys – Keep On With Falling
  33. Gabriel’s DawnGabriel’s Dawn
  34. Alex Lipinski – Everything Under The Sun
  35. The Gabbard Brothers – The Gabbard Brothers
  36. Triptides – So Many Days
  37. Ian M BaileyYou Paint The Pictures
  38. Gold Star – Headlights USA
  39. The Chesterfields – New Modern Homes
  40. Kevin Robertson – Teaspoon of Time
  41. The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness – The Third Wave Of…
  42. Elvis Costello and The Imposters – The Boy Named If
  43. Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men – Heart Inside Your Head
  44. The Senior Service – A Little More Time With
  45. Bangs & Talbot – Back To Business
  46. Monks Road SocialRise Up Singing!
  47. Electribe 101 – Electribal Soul
  48. Ricky Ross – Short Stories Vol.2
  49. The Low Drift – The Low Drift
  50. The House of Love – A State of Grace
  51. Foxton and Hastings – The Butterfly Effect
  52. Graham Day – The Master of None
  53. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Cold As Weiss
  54. Mark E Nevin – While The Kingdom Crumbles
  55. Paul Draper – Cult Leader Tactics
  56. Liam Gallagher – C’mon You Know
  57. Teddy and the Rough Riders – Teddy and the Rough Riders
  58. Brim – California Gold
  59. The Haven Green – To Whom It May Concern
  60. Steve Cradock – Soundtrack For An Imaginary Film