‘I had a few lost years – a lot of my career is trying to make up for that. That’s why I keep on hunting’

Richard Olson


For his debut solo album, Richard Olson & The Familiars, the frontman of London’s cosmic country kings, The Hanging Stars, and former member of The See See and The Eighteenth Day of May, has let his freak flag fly, with stunning results.

It’s a wonderfully eclectic and inventive record, opening with the spacey, Primal Scream-style psychedelic dub of I Can’t Help Myself, before movin’ on up to the irresistible and breezy, orch-pop of Fall Into My Hands, taking a detour into the English countryside for the gorgeous ‘60s and ‘70s pastoral folk of Down Looking Up, heading to a Swedish forest for the Lee Hazlewood twilight croon of A Thousand Violins and then moving into krautrock territory for the hypnotic Little Heart.

Elsewhere there’s a Spacemen 3-inspired cover version of Air by Brit-folk-psych outfit The Incredible String Band, a homage to the garage-rock of early Brian Jonestown Massacre records (I’m A Butterfly), a Velvet Underground-esque spoken word piece (Rain) and the haunting, psychedelic folk lullaby Inside Sunshine.

“I had a bunch of songs and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them, so I was like it, ‘Fuck it – I’m just going to make a record!’ the Swedish-born singer-songwriter tells Say It With Garage Flowers. “The rules were completely thrown out of the window that was fun.”


How did the idea for the solo album come about?

Richard Olson: Firstly, I had a bunch of songs that didn’t fit with any of the projects I was doing and, secondly, it was very much a product of the pandemic.

For me personally, it was a huge step to test my confidence because I’ve always been surrounded by incredible musicians: Pat Ralla, Pete Greenwood, Paulie Cobra, Sam Ferman, Joe Harvey-Whyte… I was like, ‘fucking hell – can I do it?’

I’m a drummer – that’s my first instrument. When I was about eight, I asked my mum, ‘Can I please learn to play the drums?’ I pissed myself in the first lesson because I was so scared and I couldn’t ask the drum teacher where the toilet was. You’re welcome to write that.

One of the really key things about playing these songs that I didn’t feel fitted in anywhere was that I kind of got to know the bass guitar a little bit and realised that it is the king of all instruments.

Is that why you open the record with I Can’t Help Myself, which has a killer dub bassline on it?

RO: I came up with that bassline and I was like ‘fucking hell!’ Everything sits so well around it.

Are most of the songs on the album new?

RO: Most of them. It all started with A Thousand Violins

Which you wrote in a forest in Sweden…

RO: Yeah – I was on a little hill, overlooking a lake, and I had two chords that I was very pleased with. I had this idea that if I was ever going to do something on my own, I wanted to do some of it in a crooner vibe. I’m not getting any younger and I can get away with crooning – we all hope for Las Vegas eventually, right?

Were you channelling Lee Hazlewood and Richard Hawley?

RO: Yeah – and Serge Gainsbourg. I really wanted to sing A Thousand Violins in Swedish.

‘I got to know the bass guitar a little bit and realised that it is the king of all instruments’

You were born in Sweden, weren’t you?

RO: Yeah – I came here [the UK] when I was 21/22. I’m from the very south of Sweden – it’s a plain, which is very near Denmark. The forest line hasn’t quite started yet – it’s four hours away, and Stockholm is eight.

Malmö is Sweden’s third largest cityit has a little sister city, which is very full of itself, called Lund, which is where I grew up. It’s famous for its university and its 1000-year-old cathedral. It was a great place to grow up.

My mum was a single mum – she was a nurse. I grew up in a big, grey tower block with a lovely park. It was her just her and I – I got to know my father a little bit later in life. He was in a band with Björn from ABBA in the ‘60s – they were very famous in Sweden. I haven’t got a bad word to say about him – he was a great guy to drink a gin and tonic with.

My mum died when I was 19/20 – that was quite central to a lot of my career. It shook my whole world and I had a lot of ‘pillows’ that eased my pain – there were some good people around me. I had a few lost years and, speaking to you now, I feel that a lot of my career is trying to make up for that. That’s why I keep on hunting.

‘I wanted to do some of the album in a crooner vibe – we all hope for Las Vegas eventually, right?’

On A Thousand Violins you sing about losing your way. Is that a reference to that time in your life?

RO: So much of it is – you never get over a thing like that, but you learn to live with it. At the same time, you don’t want the pain to go away…

I can remember asking my mother on her deathbed: ‘What am I going to do?’ She said: ‘There will be a scar but you’ll learn to live with it and you’ll never want to get rid of it.’

My mother’s death taught me so much – once I got out the other side. That’s why I’m so driven and on it.

Have you been wanting to make a solo record for a long time?

RO: No. I had a bunch of songs and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with them – it wasn’t how I wanted The Hanging Stars or The See See to be. I was like it, ‘Fuck it – I’m just going to make a record.’

‘I’m trying to make a £2,000 record sound like a £200,000 one’

So, you went into the studio with Sean Read, who produced the last Hanging Stars album…

RO: We go way back – he’s such a brilliant guy and he’s become better and better at what he does. He was the perfect guy to speak to when I was challenging my confidence and myself.

I like his brass and piano on the record, and there are some great string arrangements by Herman Ringer of the Buenos Aires Symphony Orchestra too…

RO: Herman got in touch with The Hanging Stars and said ‘If you ever need anything…’ He was mind-blowing – he did three-part string arrangements at home that sound absolutely massive.

It’s incredible and it added to the wildness of the whole idea – I’m trying to make a £2,000 record sound like a £200,000 one. That’s a good quote!

Fall Into My Hands has some great strings on it and is a breezy pop song…

RO: Yeah – exactly. It was one of those songs that wrote itself – as a lot of people tend to say.

You pulled in a few friends to help you make the album, like Pat Ralla, Paulie Cobra and Joe Harvey-Whyte from The Hanging Stars, Jack Sharp (Large Plants), Dan Davies (Wolf People), Jem Doulton (Thurston Moore), Cecilia Fage (Cobalt Chapel)…

RO: And Duncan Menzies, who is an incredible fiddle player, and Ben Phillipson, from The Eighteenth Day of May – he’s a key person in my musical development.

I know you’re really into ‘60s and ‘70s British folk music. Down Looking Up, which is a lovely song, has that feel…

RO: Thank you – I did a demo of that for the third Hanging Stars album but it never quite sat the way I wanted it to. We reworked it with Sean on piano.

It reminds me of Nick Drake’s Bryter Later

RO: Yeah, yeah. It’s got that vibe. It’s a funny song as well. I think I wrote the lyrics when I was touring and playing with Joel Gion’s band – the old Brian Jonestown guard. There were quite a lot of late nights and long drives. It’s a tale of drunkenness and cruelty.

Little Heart is the lead track on the EP that’s coming out ahead of the album. Why did you choose that song?

RO: Fall Into My Hands  was the obvious pop choice – during recording it was known as ‘the Lenny Kravitz song’ – but I wanted to make it clear that this is a different record. It’s a more challenging album than that song.

Little Heart was inspired by something your son said, wasn’t it?

RO: Yeah – kids say some really magical shit. He kept saying ‘Little heart’ and I thought it was a such a beautiful thing.

It’s a one-chord song, isn’t it?

RO: Pretty much.

And it sounds a bit krautrock…

RO: I asked Jem, the drummer, to keep the Klaus Dinger [Neu!] beat down and built on top of that. That’s what’s so fun – there are a thousand pop songs in a chord.

Has your son heard the song?

RO: Yeah – he got bored pretty quickly.

You’ve covered Air by The Incredible String Band on the album and on the EP. The version on the album is quite Spacemen 3-like, but the one on the EP is a country take on it…

RO: I didn’t know how to get the song across – I got absolutely obsessed with their version of it. I’m a huge Incredible String Band fan – I know they can seem a bit twee, but once you scratch the surface there’s some incredible songwriting.

That song is so evocative and the essence of how good they are. I’m not sure I did it any justice but I did send it to Mike Heron [from The Incredible String Band]. After a couple of months, someone got in touch and said he absolutely loved it. That was really nice.

‘I’m a huge Incredible String Band fan – I know they can seem a bit twee, but once you scratch the surface there’s some incredible songwriting’

The album track I’m A Butterfly sounds to me like it could’ve been a Hanging Stars song. It’s a bit country-garage rock…

RO: It’s more garage rock and maybe it could’ve been on one of the last See See records. That was the one that I was most worried about fitting in if I’m honest, but then we put a weird recorder on it that goes all the way through it. It’s a bit of a homage to the Brian Jonestown Massacre – they have that weird recorder vibe on a few of their early records.

Christof Certik [from the Brian Jonestown Massacre] actually does a spoken word part on it…

RO: That was really funny – I kept on saying to him: ‘Can you send me a voice message of you saying ‘I’ve seen the light in all its might and it is something to behold?’ He kept saying, ‘I don’t know how to say it’, so I said to him, ‘OK – you’re an 18-year-old surfer and your mum has just told you off for not doing the dishes,’ or ‘You’re a Hollywood cowboy…’ In the end, I said, ‘You’re a wannabe beatnik in 1959, but you’ve got it a bit wrong’. That was the one we ended up with.

Is that song autobiographical? In the lyric you sing about going to school, bumming around and getting a job…

RO: Without sounding too pretentious or dramatic, it’s about being who we all are – us and the people who go to our shows. We’re butterflies – we’re colourful, we look silly but, ultimately, we look beautiful. That’s what I think – that’s why those people are my people. But people don’t always see it that way. It’s slightly putting the boot in at all the people who tell you’re a prick and that you should grow up. Hence, ‘I’ve seen the light in all its might and it is something to behold.’

Your wife, Lucy Evans, does the spoken word part on Rain, which you recorded at home during the lockdown summer of 2020…

RO: The rain is real – it might’ve been when Walthamstow got flooded. The beat is off an iPhone app with all these classic drum machines on it – most of the vocals and the guitars were done at home, but then Sean mixed it. In some ways I wish I’d done it all at Sean’s to make it more ‘hi-fi’, but, you know, it’s all part of the journey.

‘With this record the rules were completely thrown out of the window – that was fun’

Paulie Cobra sings the harmonies on it…

RO: He did an incredible job – when he sent it back to me, I was like, ‘What the fuck?’

He sounds like Dennis Wilson…

RO: I know – that’s exactly what it is. He completely created it.

Was the song inspired by Spiritualized?

RO: You’re the second person to say that. I was trying to go for more of a Velvet Underground thing.

Ben Phillipson from The Eighteenth Day of May plays guitar on the last song, Inside Sunshine

RO: Yeah – he does. That song is very dear to my heart because I feel like it is a bit Eighteenth Day of May – it’s very much what him and I conjure up with that band. I’m so pleased with that song – it’s got all the elements.

The Hanging Stars

Do you think this record will surprise people?

RO: To be honest, The Hanging Stars is my main thing, but it’s not the ‘60s, ‘70s’, ‘80s or ‘90s anymore, and you can’t just say, ‘We’ve really got into Kraftwerk and we’re going to make a Kraftwerk-country record…’

We have to play within our field, but with this record the rules were completely thrown out of the window, which was quite freeing – that was fun. I would’ve spent a lot more time and money on it if I had it, but it came together the way it did because there was no money and there was no time.

I also have to celebrate the community – it’s so easy to slag London and scenes off, but we’re all very lucky. I’m surrounded by some brilliant musicians – London is full of them – and, in our little corner, it means something to us.

I wish I could’ve celebrated it more and got a lot of my friends from America on it, but it was just after the pandemic and people weren’t travelling.

Are you pleased with the album?

RO: I am, but I won’t know how I feel until I get the vinyl in my hand. I’m still learning how to walk and I feel rather self-conscious promoting my own name, as much as I am. At the same time, it’s just a work of art – something that I’ve conjured up. I’m trying to project an emotion and a dream onto you. When I get over myself, that’s all it is, and I feel like I’ve done quite a decent job.

This record came to me a lot more naturally than I expected it to. I’m not trying to be anything – well, I’m trying to be funny from time to time with some of the lyrics – but it’s quite an unassuming record and I’m kind of happy with that. And do you know what? They’ll probably be another one.

What would you say to people who aren’t, er, familiar with your or your music?

RO: I would say there’s a little something for everyone. There’s Air for the ‘Heads, and you’ve got Fall Into My Hands if you like Lenny Kravitz.

Richard Olson & The Familiars, the debut solo album by Richard Olson, is released on vinyl on April 7. It’s available to preorder here (Cardinal Fuzz).

The digital version will be out on March 31, preceded by the Little Heart EP on March 24.

Richard Olson & The Familiars are playing a one-off show at The Waiting Room, London on April 27. Tickets are available here.

‘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).

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