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Bluegrass, The Beverly Hillbillies and Ghost Town Showdown

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The Clampetts: Jed, Granny, Elly May and Jethro

Some of my favourite programmes as a child were based on very similar premises; an oddball family or main character, whose crazy, unpredictable antics provided the laughs but whose heart was always in the right place; characters such as Lucy Ricardo in I Love Lucy, Samantha Stephens in Bewitched and Elly May in The Beverly Hillbillies. How I longed to be a Clampett and ride around on their truck with Granny beside me, hollering at passers-by and complaining to Jed that she needs more ammo in her shotgun! 

It was the very same dearly beloved American sitcom that sprung to mind when I first heard Bluegrass music recently. Whilst reviewing the Cambridge Folk Festival this year, I came across a British Bluegrass outfit named Ghost Town Showdown, who were not only champion geezers but highly accomplished and highly exciting musicians. 

Admittedly, I didn’t have a vast knowledge of Bluegrass music before this point; being more familiar with Irish traditional/roots music and other more, shall we say, commercial genres; so, being the good student that I am, I decided to do a bit of research when I got home and was most surprised at my findings. Bluegrass actually has roots in English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh traditional music and was inspired by, amongst others, the music of immigrants from the UK and Ireland; I had always assumed that bluegrass hailed from the desert plains of mid-West America. 

I’ve always been impressed by vocal harmonies and I love the sound of acoustic stringed instruments such as the mandolin, double bass and fiddle; so not surprisingly I found myself foot-tapping away to Ghost Town Showdown’s tracks including,  ‘Ball and Chain’, ‘Rabbit’s Foot’ and ‘Pretty Girl Blues.’  I spoke to brothers Colin (double bass/vocals) and Phil Attrill (vocals/guitar/harmonica) after the Festival about their influences, where they see themselves in a couple of years time and why gig-goers should catch one of their shows: 


Why Bluegrass? 

Colin: A few years ago we saw Chatham County Line play Polar Central in Brighton. Phil and I used to be in indie band The Know and we found it tough to get gigs as there was so much competition. But we love harmonies and our voices and songwriting seemed to suit the bluegrass style far more. 

Phil: Bluegrass is a type of music that you can’t help but enjoy playing. The film ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ brought bluegrass music into the mainstream, and attracted a new audience of people who didn’t know they liked that sort of music.

Why should a gig-goer catch a Ghost Town Showdown show? 

Colin: We are all about the live performance. Bluegrass music loses something when it gets put onto a CD. Its charm and appeal lies in the energy and exuberance of a band playing live. That’s particularly the case with GTS, as we love doing the three-part harmonies and a bit of banter with the audience! 

Phil: We give it our all at every live performance so you definitely get your money’s worth at a GTS show. We’re not ‘strictly bluegrass’ either so you can see a range of influences in our songs, from folk to rock to country to pop. 

Where do you see the band in a couple of years time? 

Colin: The Club Tent or Stage 2 Tent at the Cambridge Folk Festival! 

Phil: Playing a slot on ‘Later With Jools Holland’, between Kings of Leon and Dizzee Rascal.

Finally, what did you particularly enjoy about the Cambridge Folk Festival? 

Colin: Simon (Roberts; mandolin/vocals) particularly enjoyed Carolina Chocolate Drops (although Phil and I missed them as we wanted to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who were performing at the same time). I enjoyed Jackie Oates’ first set at Stage 2 and Cocos Lovers outside the MOJO tent. I thought that the best song of the weekend was Natalie Merchant‘s ‘Isabel’. 

Phil: Colin mentioned the music that we enjoyed, but I also really enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere of the whole festival and the fact that people would just strike up conversations when you’d least expect it.

I would definitely agree with Colin with regards to the band’s skills with three-part harmonies and also with Phil in that their music does touch upon contrasting, yet complimentary influences. In short, I think that there is a little something for everyone with this band, even if you’ve never heard nor thought that you’d like to hear bluegrass music.  

If you’d like to hear more from the guys and I would highly recommend that you do, their debut EP is available to purchase via their official website, and their MySpace, The band also has a few shows coming up, mainly concentrated in the South East of the country, but who knows, they might just wind up around your area sometime soon. Here’s hoping y’all!

"Y'all come back now, ya hear?"


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