“Stupid, stupid good!” – CMA Songwriters Series 2014, London

Preceding the main spectacle during Country to Country (C2C) weekend was a lovely little gem of a concert. Hosted by songwriter Bob DiPiero, the 10th anniversary of the CMA Songwriters Series was brought to the Indigo2 stage for the 3rd year in a row. With acoustic guitars as the only accompaniment, the concert gave fans of the participating acts a chance to experience chart-topping hits performed raw and hear the stories that inspired them, as if one were taken back to the Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. Sitting alongside DiPiero were Brett James, Martina McBride, and the up-and-coming vocal duo Striking Matches who struck a lot more than just a few simple chords.

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The Striking Matches. Own photograph.

With six songs already on the ABC show Nashville, they gave an electrifying performance of epic guitar solos, all-star vocals, and catchy lyrics, astonishing the audience with a pulsating “Trouble Is As Trouble Does.” I think they gained a lot of new fans that evening, including myself. As a male and female duo, it isn’t surprising that they wrote “When the Right One Comes Along”, so much that Brett James couldn’t resist asking whether they were a real-life couple. Most of us probably wondered the same thing.

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Brett James. Own photograph.

Speaking of Brett James, the Missouri-born singer-songwriter delivered a heart-breaking rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know It All” and we all sang along to “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, both written by James himself. His vocals are simply outstanding but his songwriting is even better, with seven of his songs going on to become Number One hits.

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Martina McBride. Own photograph.

Martina McBride needs little introduction. In the country music industry she has a reputation as one of the most important female vocalists of all time, the so-called “Celine Dion of Country Music.” Mother to three daughters – Delaney, Emma and Ava – McBride caught the attention of the crowd with her characteristic ballads – notably “Blessed” – and concluded with a powerfully-charged “Independence Day”. “Teenage Daughters” arose from the complications of raising teenagers – “We just wrote a song about you,” said Martina upon Delaney’s entrance into the studio shortly after the song’s creation – and the laid back “Always Be This Way” came with some really good Mexican food at the time of writing.

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Bob DiPiero. Own photograph.

Back to the host himself, Bob DiPiero gave Tim McGraw fans a beautiful “Southern Voice”, with “Blue Clear Sky” following from a lovely long story about Forrest Gump and whether the song should be renamed “Clear Blue Sky”, suggested by others including the song’s singer George Strait. DiPiero has a history of Number One and Top 20 hits, including the 2003 Brooks & Dunn hit “You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl”, and his skill in songwriting really showed in his performances of songs with deeply spoken lyrics.

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The Striking Matches face Brett’s awkward series of “couple” questions. Own photograph.

The evening was a beautiful opportunity to dive into the heart of country music, away from the theatrics and into the stories that this genre is so well known for. For the Striking Matches, being part of a line-up consisting of Academy Award and CMA Award winners was a dream. To be recognised for their talent by the likes of McBride, Brett and DiPiero was a huge motivational boost, shooting them into the charts in a new generation of country music. As for fans such as us, this was as close to these country stars as we ever hoped for. It was as if we were all just friends, sitting in someone’s house, playing music and telling stories, as if we had a Bluebird Café right in the heart of London. A truly spectacular and intimate experience, or as Brett James commented, “stupid, stupid good.”

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I finally met my idol Martina McBride and she signed my ticket! Own photographs.

The CMA Songwriters Series was at the Indigo2, London on 14th March 2014, www.cmaworld.com.

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