Festival Review

UK Americana Week 2023 Showcase Festival

On 24th and 25th January 2023, the UK Americana Week Showcase festival took place in London’s Hackney. The Showcase festival – in its tenth year in 2023 – takes place along side the annual AMA-UK Conference and with around 75 emerging bands and artists performing original Americana music at multiple venues across Hackney.

With bands performing at six different venues, throughout the two nights, there are of course clashes, so you have to choose sensibly and factor in the walk between. Of course, it being London, you also have to factor in the rain. At least it wasn’t snow this year. 

The venues used for the 2023 showcase festival were: Moth Club, Night Tales, OSLO, Hackney Church Brew Co., Paper Dress Vintage and Hackney Social. Moth Club hosted Canada House with a selection of Canadian artists, with Paper Dress Vintage hosting Loose Music on the Monday and Ja Records on the Tuesday.

On the Monday – day one – Our Atlantic Roots, Maz O’Connor, Digging Roots, Desiree Dawson, Dylan Menzie and Forty Elephant Gang were the acts chosen. 

Our Atlantic Roots at Hackney Church Brew Co.. A husband and wife from North Carolina and Yorkshire respectively, Mac and Laura Johnson mix country and folk music, adding harmonies and Mac’s guitar playing to create their own blend.

Maz O’Connor at Hackney Social. A Cumbrian with Irish roots, the now-London-based Maz mixes haunting, emotive vocals and poetic lyricism with short stories – sometimes based on her own experiences – to create music which draws you in and leaves you wanting more.

Digging Roots at Night Tales. The six-piece from Toronto, Canada – headed by husband and wife Raven Kanatakta and ShoShona Kish – mix a joyful message of resistance, celebrating Anishinaabe and Onkwehón:we traditions of round dance consecutiveness with blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll – all of which have earned them two JUNO awards.

Desiree Dawson at Hackney Social. Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Desiree mixes a beautiful voice and ukulele with positive energy to produce music that crosses genres.

Dylan Menzie at the MOTH Club. Hailing from Belle River, PEI, Canada, Dylan manages to cover solo what most would require a band for – with his compelling, sprawling vocal range, a striking mix of familiar yet sophisticated musical lines, and adept guitar skills.

Forty Elephant Gang at OSLO. A rousing, engaging, and intensely innovative three-piece from East London, they combine folk, americana and American blues with truly classic songwriting.

On Tuesday – day two – the first four acts at Oslo were chosen, those were Misty River, Kirsten Adamson, Ferris & Sylvester and Gareth Dunlop. These were followed by William Prince at the MOTH Club and The Blue Highways at Night Tales.

Misty River at OSLO. Misty River’s harmonious blend of americana and traditional roots music combines soulful melodies and heartfelt lyrics with honey-sweet vocals.

Kirsten Adamson at OSLO. An award-winning singer/songwriter – and daughter of rock legend Stu Adamson (Big Country, Skids) – Kirsten summons the same heart-stopping purity as Sandy Denny, by way of Emmylou Harris and Kate Bush.

Ferris & Sylvester at OSLO.  Ferris & Sylvester are husband and wife Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester from England. They mix British folk and blues to create music that sits somewhere between Jack White and First Aid Kit.

Gareth Dunlop at OSLO. From Belfast and inspired by icons such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Tom Waits, Gareth mixes folk and soul music with a poetic vulnerability and a distinctive voice.

William Prince at the MOTH Club. From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Prince approaches the big questions with humility and curiosity, and his songwriting is a masterclass in skilful simplicity. Since his JUNO award win in 2017, Prince’s momentum has continued to build, with each new album adding depth and dimension to an exceptional body of work that has received international acclaim.

The Blue Highways at Night Tales. A British rock band based in London. Formed in 2018 by brothers Jack, Callum and Theo, the band is known for its modern indie/americana roots-inspired rock sound, coupled with Callum’s narrative storytelling.


Hackney Church Brew Co.. The Bohemia Place bar is an interesting choice for live music – stage setup next to door, front of bar are full height windows and full of high bar tables – but the sound was good. Being the end of January, you had to accept you needed to keep your coat on – it’s hard to keep the doors closed when you want people to be coming in and out to check out the showcasing artists.

Hackney Social. Another of the Bohemia Place venues – a community space for art, music, food and culture. The minimal seating and stage at the back meant it was warmer than some. The sound was good, the stage created a nice atmosphere whilst not losing the intimacy you get from a place of its size. Most importantly, the toilets weren’t bad, though definitely not the best out there – none can beat Under The Bridge – but there are many venues with much worse.

Night Tales. The last of the Bohemia Place venues. Due to being in the arches under the London Overground line going east from Hackney Central, and the design of the space, this is by far the coldest of the venues used for showcases. But as long as you’re willing to wrap up, it really isn’t an issue. The sound it good and the set-up is well designed so there’s a wide view of the stage. The main downside is the toilets – Night Tales is also a nightclub, and the toilets are as you would expect for such a venue. If you have a choice, avoid them.

Paper Dress Vintage. This rather unique venue can be found on Mare Street, between Bohemia Place and the Oslo. As the name suggest, Paper Dress Vintage is a vintage clothing shop during the day, at night the downstairs has seating and a bar, and upstairs is the performance area complete with stage. A nice venue, but one that gets quite humid – many a steamed-up lens has been experienced – and with only a single entrance for the audience to the upstairs, when an act is popular it can be very hard to get in and out. If you want to see a popular act, get there early. There are toilets, and they aren’t bad – but given the option, I would use Oslo’s.

OSLO. On Amhurst Road , this is the largest of the venues used. A performance space complete with stage upstairs, and a trendy bar downstairs. The upstairs has a slightly strange layout, with the doors to the toilets (and back staircase) next to the stage. This aside, it has good sound, the space for the audience is ample, and there are more – and better – toilets than any of the other venues.

MOTH Club. The last of the venues for the 2023 showcases is the MOTH Club on Valette Street. MOTH stands for Memorable Order of Tin Hats, and the club is primarily an ex-servicemen’s members’ club. It’s been hosting gigs etc for about 10 years, but hasn’t lost the ‘70s stylings in the main gig room. One wall is lined with large booths, the stage decorated in gold, the room with the military paraphernalia you would expect, and a large disco ball hangs over the stage. A nice place to see bands. Again, thankfully, the sound it good and the setup allows for enjoyable experience.

If you would like to go to the 2024 event you can get details and tickets from https://theamauk.org.

All photos taken by Claire Stones.

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