The evolution of Glasgow Americana

Rachel Sermanni and Rose Cousins stand on stage playing guitar and singing

Underneath the starry ceiling of St Andrew’s in the Square, a huge range people have gathered to listen to Rachel Sermanni and Rose Cousins, accompanied by five-person harmonies and hauntingly beautiful instruments.

You’ll have noticed yourself last night, you could have heard a pin drop. So that’s what we do to thrive and base ourselves round, it’s a listening audience first and foremost.- Kevin Morris, founder of Glasgow Americana

Sermanni and Cousins are the opening night act for the Glasgow Americana festival, and it’s incredible how responsive the crowd is to their music. The next day, we had the opportunity to speak to Kevin Morris, founder and director of the festival, and we wanted to know: was that a fairly typical show for Glasgow Americana?

“It’s pretty wide ranging,” says Morris. “In the case of last night’s, for example, I don’t think we’ll have another show like that, purely because of the venue and the size of stage. [St Andrews in the Square] is a naturally beautifully sounding venue, especially for people like Rachel Sermanni and Rose Cousins who sing the way they do.”

Throughout the festival, the programming tends to be quite unique and diverse, with acts including Rod Picott, The Orphan Brigade and Sam Outlaw. So how does Morris and the team choose which acts to include?

“There’s a question! It’s basically down to my taste, to be honest. Everything I put on, I’ve got to like it. I also deal with a lot of regular agents, so I get to know who’s potentially touring, and if we can manage to get them here around the time of Glasgow Americana.”

Those tastes come from the influence of friends, namely Francis Macdonald of Teenage Fanclub, whose love of the genre extended to setting up a country record label.

“As a result of that, I got into a lot of alt country type music, and that’s where my love of Gram Parsons started. My company’s called the Fallen Angels Club, which is a tribute to him.

From Gram Parsons, I looked at people he’d covered, like Lefty Frizzell and George Jones, so changing to more straight-laced country.”

Despite obstacles like rival Americana festivals and venue challenges over the years, Glasgow Americana has stood the test of time, celebrating its thirteenth birthday this year. Morris explains that this is why the diversity of the programming is so important.

“That’s what’s great to see - when you put on somebody like Rachel Sermanni, and we’ve got Mark McGowan playing, that’s a much younger audience (than our core audience), and if Glasgow Americana’s going to manage to do 25 years, we need to work at that type of audience, get them coming back. If you just take that show last night, as an example of the age range, there was young girls about 14 or so, and I saw a man almost 80. It was great.”

It’s true that the festival, and the genre in general, attracts an eclectic mix of people. The one unifying factor tends to be the passion for music, and for truly listening to and connecting with live performance.

“One of the most important things to me is that people go and they listen to music. I know that sounds a daft thing to say, but at many gigs, people are there to be seen, half the time they’ve got their back to the band. You’ll have noticed yourself last night, you could have heard a pin drop. So that’s what we do to thrive and base ourselves round, it’s a listening audience first and foremost.”

The growth of social media over the time of the festival has meant an evolution in the way these audiences are connected with, and in turn connect with the festival and events.

“We’ve had Facebook since the very early years, but I think if you go back to the very first festival, I don’t think we would have been plugging on social media, Twitter or Instagram. We’re now very heavily on social media to spread the word.

Somebody saying something nice about one of your gigs, that is publicity you can’t buy.”

Indeed, the approach to promotion isn’t the only thing that’s evolving. Morris’ ambitions for the festival mean that he’s looking to expand into other areas.

“I like the size we’ve got just now. You don’t know what’s going to change in 12- or 13-years’ time, but this year for the first time we’re trying a song writing workshop. That’s an angle we’d like to develop - make it more than just a festival. You see how Celtic Connections developed with not just concerts, but workshops, kids’ concerts, school concerts. We’d like to make it different and hold some kind of conference within it in the years to come.”

With such ambitions for the future, it’s clear that Morris sees a long life for Glasgow Americana.

Glasgow Americana runs every October. This year’s festival takes place from 3 – 6 October in venues around Glasgow. Find out more about the festival:

(Image: Rachel Sermanni and Rose Cousins performing at Glasgow Americana festival. Photography: Michael Ozmond)

This article was published on 04 Oct 2019