The country music star chats Promise of the Real, A Star is Born, touring with Neil Young, and much more.
Broadcaster Bob Harris OBE has held a life-long fascination in country and Americana music. Regularly championing the genre on his BBC Radio 2 show, ‘Whispering Bob’ – as he’s affectionally known – has become an authority on the genre, and a guiding light for UK fans during a time when that type of music was far from the spotlight.
It’s now fair to say country music is no longer a niche genre in the UK. Hitting the mainstream in a big way, it’s not just US artists making it big on home turf. The UK boasts a wealth of homegrown talent, not least country-pop crossovers Ward Thomas and The Shires. This surge in popularity has only served to increase Bob Harris’ passion for the genre, and for supporting emerging talent.
Bob and his son launched the Under The Apple Tree sessions to nurture new music, inviting the best up-and-coming musicians down to their Oxfordshire studio to record live performances, then broadcast to the wider world on YouTube. The ever-popular sessions have gone on to be viewed over two million times.
Bringing the life the next logical step for Under The Apple Tree, the sessions are now set to move into the live sphere. The Under The Apple Tree tour kicks off later this month, with UK folk trio Wildwood Kin headlining on all dates. Each night will also feature a local support act handpicked by Bob.
We spoke to the legendary broadcaster, who details why he’s looking forward to taking Under The Apple Tree on tour and what fans can expect from the shows.
How are you feeling about bringing the Under The Apple Tree sessions live on tour for the first time?
It’s amazing, it really is. It’s amazing how it’s grown. I’m talking to you now from our studio in Oxfordshire, which sits underneath an apple tree in the garden. My son Miles records the sessions from here, which we post on our YouTube channel. We’ve taken the sessions to various stages over the years and I think it’s the perfect vehicle to take out on the road. It’s been really exciting to see it grow this way.
Wildwood Kin are headlining the tour and they’re a band you have supported greatly – what it is that you like about them?
In specific, their harmonies. Their music is very dynamic, it’s very rooted in the west country and it has that folk atmosphere to it but they overlay so much on top of that. The percussion they use and the instrumental combination of sounds they make works really well. I think they’re very individual and we just absolutely love them.
You’re also going to have a local band opening the tour every night. How important is it to you to nurture and promote new talent?
That’s really why we set up Under The Apple Tree in the first place, to capture sessions with emerging grassroots artists. Sometimes touring artists will pop in while they’re passing through, but by and large it’s a way that we can help get grassroots artist’s music out to a bigger audience. That’s our motivation for doing it.
What is it that piques your interest when you’re looking for new bands to feature?
It’s very subjective. It’s just whether I like it or not, it’s really is as simple as that. It doesn’t matter what genre it is or what part of the world it comes from. If I like a piece of music then I get inspired to play them on the radio or bring them in for a session. It’s a decision based on whether I like their music or not.
You’ve been championing country and Americana music for a long time, have you noticed a shift in the UK’s attitude towards it in recent years?
Completely. Country is one of the fastest growing genres in Britain and in the world. It’s huge in America obviously, but during the last five or six years we’ve developed our own generation of amazing and successful country artists. The Shires, Ward Thomas, The Wandering Hearts… these are all bands that we’ve supported and they’ve performed sessions for us before their first records were released. Obviously having done the country show on Radio 2 for the last 20 years, it’s a genre that I’m very happy to see grow in popularity in Britain. It’s a fantastic feeling to see this music grow in the way it has.
For people who proclaim not to like country music, what’s an album you’d recommend to change their minds?
Pretty much anything by Kacey Musgroves. Her new album Golden Hour just won four GRAMMY Awards. She’s great, I’ve been playing her music on Radio 2 for a while now. Either her debut album Same Trailer Different Park or Golden Hour. No matter what kind of music you think you like, anybody listening to those records would think they’re amazing.
Have you got a favourite Apple Tree Session?
It’s normally the one that you’ve most recently recorded. It’s like saying what’s your favourite record in your collection, it’s normally the one that’s just been posted through your letterbox.
What do you hope people take away from these gigs?
We’re really just hoping people enjoy seeing some great music and that it gives the artists a great boost. All the local artists who are appearing on the tour, that’s our way of reaching out to the grassroots and saying, we’re here for you and we support you. It’s our way of opening opportunities for some of these acts and giving them the chance to play on a bigger stage.
Here are the dates, including the local support act on each show:
25 April 2019 – O2 Academy2, Oxford w/ Loud Mountains
26 April 2019 – Arts Club, Liverpool w/ Eleanor Nelly
27 April 2019 – O2 Institute2, Birmingham w/ Demi Marriner
29 April 2019 – The Fleece, Bristol w/ Foreign Affairs
30 April 2019 – O2 Academy Islington, London w/ Worry Dolls & The Blue Highways
2 May 2019 – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow w/ Roseanna Reid
3 May 2019 – O2 Academy2, Newcastle w/Callum Pitt
4 May 2019 – The Bodega Social, Nottingham w/ Keto
6 May 2019 – Academy 3, Manchester w/ Robbie Cavanagh
7 May 2019 – The Waterfront, Norwich w/ Morganway
Tickets for the Under The Apple Tree Sessions tour are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.