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Willie Watson at Hare & Hounds, Birmingham

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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Old Crow Medicine Show founder goes solo
Traditional American folk music comes to Kings Heath in Birmingham, courtesy of former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson.

The 35-year-old from Watkins Glen, New York, plays the Hare & Hounds on August 4 as part of a UK and Ireland tour to promote his debut solo album, Folk Singer Vol. 1.

Willie Watson, Hare & Hounds Kings Heath Birmingham
Traditional: Willie Watson (pic: monkey bird)

The record features ten songs from the American folk songbook ranging from standards like Midnight Special, Mexican Cowboy and Richard 'Rabbit' Brown's James Alley Blues to the more obscure, such as Memphis Slim's Mother Earth, Gus Cannon and the Jug Stompers' Bring it With You When You Come, Land Norris' Kitty Puss and St Louis bluesman Charley Jordan's Keep It Clean.

According to the singer, making the album "happened naturally… I started remembering all these old tunes, which led me to dig through my 78s for more. When we got in the studio, I just played everything a couple times.''

Willie Watson, Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath Birmingham
Venue: Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath

After 13 years with Old Crow Medicine Show Willie decided to go solo. Initially he performed original music but realised that both he and his audience enjoyed the traditional material more.

"Part of me always toyed with this idea of going it alone," he explains. "I had to relearn some things, how to fill out all that space.

"Once I was on my own, I wasn't sure what my next move was – if I was going to have another band, or try to write a bunch of songs. At first, I did start writing songs but I don't think I was satisfied with what I was writing.''

" I was starting to do some solo shows and I had a few songs I'd written, and I would do a mix of those with old traditional songs at those early shows. I was a lot happier doing those old folk songs and I think the crowd was a lot happier, too. I thought those were great songs that people should be hearing and that I wanted to be singing.''

willie watson, Hare & Hounds Kings Heath Birmingham
Solo: Willie Watson (pic: monkey bird)

Willie grew up listening to his father's record collection, including Bob Dylan and Neil Young, before stumbling on a Leadbelly album at the age of 12.

"As soon as I heard that record I was hooked," he says.

He was also influenced by the old-time musicians that played around his home county, including banjo player Richie Stearns whose group The Horse Flies mixed old-time fiddle music with eighties pop. Donna The Buffalo, an electrified old-time group, was another introduction to the genre.

''I was about 13 and I would see this stuff and thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen,'' he says. ''It was dance music and it really moved me in a big way.''

His vocals recall the quaver of Roy Orbison who Willie first heard when he returned to the charts as one of the Traveling Wilburys.

Pundits have compared Willie to music giants like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger but he says: "I try to take songs I can relate to and that I can sing with urgency, that I can feel. I'm just happy if people dig it."

Willie Watson 2015 tour:

July 28: Oslo, London;
July 29: Greystones, Sheffield;
July 30: Bodega, Nottingham;
August 1 & 2: Southern Fried Festival, Perth;
August 3: Ruby Lounge, Manchester;
August 4: Hare & Hounds, Birmingham;
August 5: The Tunnels, Bristol;
August 7: Queens Parade Methodist Church, Bangor;
August 8: Leap Castle, Roscrea;
August 9: Coughlans Live, Cork.

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Why? Traditional Americn folk music in a Birmingham pub
When: August 4, 2015
Phone: 0121 444 2081
Where: Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham
Cost: £13 plus fees
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