We chat to this year's nominees for the Best Country / Folk Act award.
The UMAs will return once again in 2018 to celebrate the UK’s most innovative and unique new and independent artists, only this time in a brand new form, yet to be unveiled.
Nominees are selected by the UK’s leading figures in the music industry including influencers, promoters, booking agencies and festival partners.
For 2018, Ticketmaster have partnered with the UMAs and have been named honorary sponsor of the Country and Folk category which sees the brightest new lights in a hugely growing genre being nominated.
Adam Beattie, Danni Nicholls, Ferris & Sylvester, Laura Oakes and Katy Hurt are leading the charge for up-and-coming artists to show the UK that folk and country doesn’t always have to be cowboy hats and twangy accents. Their music is based on the age-old fascination of storytelling and their live shows are a showcase of all the inspiring tales they have to tell.
We spoke to all five nominees about their roots, inspirations and what the UMAs mean to them.
Who or what inspired you to get into music?
Adam Beattie: Traditional Scottish fiddle playing was gently forced upon me from an early age by my very patient and attentive mother. And my father had a healthy record collection of jazz, blues and rock and roll. It took me a while to figure out how to marry the two worlds.
Danni Nicholls: When I was 8 I went to Florida with my family and saw a jazz trio playing on a street corner. I was mesmerised and my soul was freaking out. I pestered my parents for a saxophone for a full year before they relented. I then inherited an electric guitar and fell in love with writing and creating my own music aged about 16.
Ferris & Sylvester: We were both heavily influenced by our parents’ record collections growing up; we were raised on a diet of folk, blues, country and soul through artists like Jimi, Johnny, Joni, Simon & Garfunkel. Both our dads play guitar and naturally we were intrigued from quite a young age. It’s weird, we only met each other 2 years back, yet we’ve both had a very similar relationship with music in our childhoods. Even now, it’s listening to all kinds of great artists and genres that inspire us most.
Laura Oakes: I’d grown up in a family where everybody sang so my earliest inspiration came from just wanting to join in and be a part of the singing tradition in my family. However, I discovered country music via The Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride when I was about 14 and was instantly in love with that music. I inspired from that moment to sing country music and have been that way ever since.
Katy Hurt: I was inspired to get into music at a very early age by Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves records. My parents used to play them for me as a baby to help me fall asleep and I think along the way I just completely fell in love with the stories they told and how pure their voices were and it made me want to create something that made people feel the way that their music made me feel.
If you weren’t performing what else do you think you’d be doing?
Adam Beattie: I’ve never thought about it. But my other dream was to be an inventor. Creativity but using mathematics and engineering principles. Trying to save the work through technologies.
Danni Nicholls: That’s not something I’m able to fully fathom. Some sort of work with animals probably.
Ferris & Sylvester: We’ve always joked that in a different dimension, Archie would be a fisherman and Issy would be a primary school teacher and we would live tucked away in a tiny village by the coast. But we’ve both got such a passionate relationship with music, both together and separately… there’s no other life we’d rather be living.
Laura Oakes: Well, the earliest career I can remember dreaming of as a child wasn’t anything to do with music at all – I wanted to be an Archeologist. I was obsessed with history at school and quite fancied myself as a bit of a female Indiana Jones type, so maybe I’d be out digging up a 600 year old abbey in a field right now had the music thing not taken off.
Katy Hurt: I struggled in school trying to figure out what I wanted to do afterwards because I was a huge fan of both science and classics, and both of those led to careers which interested me. So I think if I wasn’t performing I would either be doing forensics and criminal profiling or working in a museum like The Smithsonian or the British Museum and studying Ancient Greek literature.
How would you describe your live shows?
Adam Beattie: Introspective. Refections on some of the most challenging issues in our everyday lives. Family, love, ambition… If I get someone crying, I generally feel like I’ve done my job right.
Danni Nicholls: Honest. Entertaining. Emotional.
Ferris & Sylvester: Playing live is the best bit for us. There’s nothing like playing to a crowd that you connect with who can really appreciate your songs. We love engaging with an audience and having a laugh with them. We always enjoy playing a range of styles in the same set, so our live shows certainly move through different shades and emotions. Because of this, our live set is never the same. We put everything into each performance.
Laura Oakes: Big, heavy country pop grooves with lots of energy for people to bop along too with the occasionally sing a long. They’re lots of fun. For me personally, I smile my way through my live sets from start to finish and I like to think that’s what audiences get from my show too. I love to chat to audiences during my shows and share some quieter, more intimate acoustic moments too because I really want an audience to know me and I want to know them during my time on stage. My main goal going out on to stage is how well can I connect with all of these potential new mates in the audience.
Katy Hurt: Electric, emotional and bigger that the stage it’s on.
If you could collaborate with anyone on one track – who would it be and why?
Adam Beattie: Bill Frisell, the guitarist, because he’s probably the musician I’ve spent the most hours listening to. He’s so sensitive to atmosphere, I’d love to hear him interpret some of the themes in my songs.
Danni Nicholls: Alive – Brandi Carlile because she’s my shero and her songs and voice melt me. Not alive – Elvis because… ELVIS!
Ferris & Sylvester: So so many. But if we had to choose right now, it would be Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. We’ve just been listening to their latest album Tearing at The Seams and they really know how to bring country, folk and soul music to life. Amazing instrumentation. Oh, and Jack White. Of course.
Laura Oakes: Bonnie Raitt. She is my most favourite voice in the entire world and it would be a dream to see what that would sound like. I love her style and further to that – I love that she is one of those few artists who spans so many genres. She can’t really be labelled as any one thing which allows her to sound so unique.
Katy Hurt: John Mayer – because there is something magical about the way he plays guitar, it’s like it’s a part of him and he is revealing something about himself in the way he plays and I think that’s beautiful. He’s also not afraid to bend genres and explore different things, so to be able to collaborate with someone like him I think would be really interesting musically.
What do you love about the UK’s country and folk scene?
Adam Beattie: Well I’m more in the folk scene and I’m not sure if I love it, as I generally try to distance myself from the genres that I play in, in order to try to not sound so derivative.
Danni Nicholls: I personally know many of the folks in the scene and it’s full of just great, honest, hardworking, creative people. There’s such a supportive community vibe.
Ferris & Sylvester: The best thing about country and folk music in the UK is that there is always a vibrant live scene with dedicated audiences, no matter the size. There is such a range of talent from old school 1960s folk songwriting to broader styles influenced by modern music. It’s forever changing and growing, yet still has its roots. It’s very exciting to be a part of it.
Laura Oakes: The dedication of the UK country and folk fans. They are the most amazingly dedicated music fans. They support all of the artists in our community and are so excited to keep the genre growing in popularity. I feel very lucky to be in a style of music with such a supportive and dedicated audience behind it. And also to be in a genre were there is a real sense of community – everybody collaborates and knows each other. I have some of the most brilliant friends through being a country artist. I consider myself very lucky for that. They fans certainly know how to party and have a good time too.
Katy Hurt: The UK’s country and folk scenes are both still quite small and still growing and yet they are making a huge impact on the general UK music scene. It’s been really exciting to see how powerful good music can be and that regardless of what’s in the way or whether it’s the most popular form of music, people will listen. Furthermore, because the scene is still relatively small it means that we can all support each other and help build one another up and I don’t feel the need to be competitive.
Why are the UMAs so important from discovering new talent and what does it mean to be nominated this year?
Adam Beattie: Well all awards organisations in creative industries are really important. Being a musician it sometimes feels like there is no field to be part of. No qualifications to gain and nothing to put on a C.V. to show your experience. Awards are a very effective way of acknowledging hard work, which musicians really need.
Danni Nicholls: I’m so thrilled to be nominated, means a lot! I’ve been working away slowly and steadily for a long time, trying to stay true and honest to my music and do the best I can because it’s what nurtures my soul but when that’s recognised, it just feels good. And things like this really do just help with keeping on. Which is what I and many of my fellow artists are just trying to do. It’s tough out there not only to just keep going but to break on through a bit – there are so many wonderful, talented people out there so things like the UMAs shining a spotlight on them is essential. So thanks!
Ferris & Sylvester: The UMAs really champion new and exciting unsigned talent which we think is so important at a time where being signed is certainly not a necessity in becoming successful. Because of social media and streaming platforms, artists have so much more flexibility and control over their music and to have an organisation that recognises fresh talent is brilliant. We recorded our last EP Made In Streatham in our kitchen and have been truly amazed with its reaction. We are very honoured to be nominated for best country/folk act and so thankful to the UMA panel for supporting our music.
Laura Oakes: As an unsigned artist I am so grateful for the UMAs. Platforms such as this one are so important for unsigned artists to be heard and championed. The reason it means so much to me to be nominated is because of the calibre and talent of the other nominated artists. I’m nominated alongside acts I really admire and respect – not just in my category, but right across the nominations, so to have my name thrown into such an amazing mix of talent is the biggest reward of this nomination for me.
Katy Hurt: Being an upcoming artist, especially in a field like country music in the UK is really hard, and there are so many obstacles that young musicians have to face. Having something like the UMA’s promoting and highlighting what new talent is out there is so important in helping to build and shape the future music scenes. I hadn’t heard of some of the artists nominated for the other awards until after they were announced and I’m so grateful that I’ve now been able to listen to their music. To be nominated this year and to have the opportunity to share my music with more people is such an honour and I’m so proud that I’ve been chosen as a representative of the UK country and folk scene.