20th May 2018
Thomas Tripp pub, Christchurch, Dorset
On a lovely sunny afternoon, I took a trip across the New Forest to Christchurch for what looked like a
very impressive afternoon of UK Country music. I was slightly concerned as I had no idea where I was
going & I was on my own with no-one to assist with the navigation. In the end, I got there absolutely fine
– no problem. However, it took me almost as long to find somewhere to park as it did to drive there!
The pub was running a Food & Ale festival over the weekend & live music was part of it. On the bill, this
afternoon was Darren Hodson (from The Southern Companion), Laura Oakes, Ags Connolly, Demi
Mariner and Robbie Cavanagh. Lisa Wright was originally on the bill as well, but as it was a Sunday she
had issues with public transport and had to pull out at the last minute. Very disappointed as I love Lisa
and was really looking forward to seeing her!
The afternoon started with Darren explaining the format which was to be in the style of a Nashville
Songwriters round. Starting with Darren, Laura & Ags, they were each going to take it in turns talking a
little bit about their music and singing songs. Then after a short break, Demi & Robbie were going to do
Darren started with a new song, Can I Get a Witness from The Southern Companion’s eagerly awaited
third album. Laura followed with Glitter, saying it was lovely to be in … (a quick check with Darren)
Dorset!! Much laughter followed this, and she said it was better to check first – rather than name-check
the wrong place – which she has done before! Ags also said it was his first time in Dorset other than
visiting Bournemouth a couple of times for stag do’s, but that’s a completely different story! His first song
was Good Memory for Pain.
For the next round, Darren said playing live was one of the best feelings in the world, however, it also has
a huge downside. Travelling, being away from home and sometimes sharing rooms with people that are
also on the bill but who you do not know, can be quite difficult. The biggest downside, however, is being
away from your family. You’re living the dream while missing home and his song Already Gone, again
from the new album, was written about this.
Laura continued with this type of theme when she sang Nashville Stole Your Girl. She said she first
went to Nashville when she was 17 and she completely fell in love with the place. From thereon in,
being a singer-songwriter was all she wanted to do, and she said that it’s not just a job, it’s ‘everything’,
and family has to accept that.
Ags told a story about playing in Crawley a couple of weeks previously, an event that I was also at. He
said that a chap came up to him after the event and said, “you were amazing, and your band was
great!” Ags was very confused as he had played solo on the acoustic stage. After a little bit of thought
, he realised that the chap thought he was Darren and The Southern Companion. Ags did say that they
both had beards, they were both wearing glasses and both were wearing baseball caps, however there
is definitely a height difference!! He went on to say that he had only met Darren in January this year and
they met in Devon when they were playing a festival and they were sharing a room. I presume this was
MidWinterFest, in Torquay, as this is the only festival in Devon that I know of in January and they were
both on the bill. Darren chipped in with “that is what I was talking about” & laughed! He sang Outta My
Mind, which is on his first album.
Darren said he is often asked what Americana is, and he explained that in his mind it’s music that is
based on roots and tells a story. In his next song Few Too Many Hours, he noted that it sounds as if it’s
a love song, but actually it is a borderline alcoholic song.
Laura commented that she couldn’t quite believe she was sat in the middle of all this brilliance! She
commented that she wanted to sing a brand-new song that she had only written on Wednesday – it’s
about tough times and little victories and it’s called I Need a Win. She was slightly nervous about singing
a song that she had only written a couple of days ago, but it sounded great.
For his next song, Ags chose one from his second album. He said it was his usual style of positive lyrics
and life-affirming theme, but it quickly became apparent he was being sarcastic! During I Hope You Are
Unhappy, Darren began to sing along just quietly to himself at first, but then he came in on the
microphone and was even harmonising with Ags. It’s things like this which make me love songwriter
rounds the most. I love to see the artists join in with each other, either singing or playing the guitar, or in
the case of Jenn Bostic – playing the keyboard!! Ags thanked Darren for joining in to which Darren
replied, “Sorry mate, couldn’t help myself I love that song!”
Darren said for his next song he was fed up of writing miserable songs and so he wrote this song
pretending to be someone else. Billy’s Brother is again from the new album and it’s actually a very sad
Laura commented that that was a beautiful song and she said she was now not sure what she was going
to follow that up with. This again is something that can often happen in songwriter rounds, the artist has
a song in mind that they are going to sing next, but then it can seem inappropriate or not quite right after
the song that is played before. She sang Better in Blue Jeans saying no matter where you get to, you
are still the same person inside.
Ags noted that although he had been to Nashville, he actually preferred Austin and visited there on a
fairly regular basis. He said that he had met a country singer in Austin, it didn’t work out, but he did get a
song out of it – Lonely Nights in Austin. Before he sang it he confirmed with Darren that this was his
penultimate song as he wanted to make sure that he got all his megahits in!
Before singing his last song Darren promoted their CDs, reminding the audience that all of the song
writers on the stage this afternoon had CDs for sale with them. It always makes me chuckle when
Darren promotes CDs as one of the first times I saw Southern Companion he didn’t actually have any
with him at all. I told him off saying he should never perform without having any on him, even if he just
sold one it was one more than he would have sold with them at home! His last song was Songbird, a
beautiful song about his daughter Georgia when she started school. Darren was freaked out by the fact
that his daughter was going to school, but his wife Sally and Georgia were both ready.
Laura thanked us all for coming along and she joked, “Dorset now I know where you are, I will return!”
She sang a song which she said is not to be confused with the Status Quo song of the same title,
Whatever You Want. She started to play her guitar, but then said in a sing-song voice that she was in
the wrong key and to change it quickly before anybody noticed! Towards the end of this song Darren
actually joined in with his guitar and started harmonising. At the end, he apologised saying that he gets
Ags finished with Slow Burner saying that this was a great pub, a really good ale festival and he really
enjoyed the afternoon. He also said to Darren that he had played this song before so please join in,
which Darren quite happily did so.
I will say at this point as I already mentioned, it was a beautiful sunny day and as a result, there were a
lot of people in the beer garden, but not many actually in the pub listening to the music. However, with
the reception that the artists were getting and the clapping and cheering from the people actually
listening, you wouldn’t know that there weren’t that many people there. The crowd who were there for
the music were really receptive to the artists.
That was the end of the first half of the Songwriters round. It had been fun, enjoyable & very
Photo credit Sally Hodson
Unfortunately, the perils of playing in a pub hit the second round of this afternoon quite badly, there was
an awful lot of background noise from people not actually there for the music. I am sure we have all
been in the situation where you have gone to the pub with a bunch of friends for a catch up, only to find
there is a band playing. You are not there to see the band, you are there to see your friends, but this
pub was big enough that they didn’t need to stand where they were being noisy, they could have gone to
the other side of the bar or into the garden. Sorry, moan over!
Demi recommenced procedures with a gorgeous song called Mother.
Robbie said that it was a beautiful song. He also commented that it was lovely to be by the seaside and
it certainly was a beautiful day for it (Robbie lives in Manchester). He said that he had borrowed Laura’s
guitar as he had broken a string on his and the spare strings were in his car – which was parked miles
away – he obviously had the same parking issue I did! He sang Get Out Alive which is from his CD that
came out last year.
For Demi’s next song she told us that she had just finished recording a new EP, she went to 2 different
venues and recorded it live. I didn’t catch the name of the song due to background noise, but I think it’s
My Heart on The Line.
Robbie laughed and said this feels like a duel! He said in his next song he says a rude word, but Darren
had said bitch earlier & it wasn’t as bad as that! There was some banter with Darren as he had said that
he would join them but at the last minut,e he decided not to as he was suffering with a sore throat.
Robbie then sang Drove.
Whilst he was singing this song I was slightly put off as the lunch arrived for the people on the table in
front of us. Goodness me the size of the roast dinner!! I had eaten lunch before coming out and was
going home to have dinner but looking at the size of the dinner that turned up made me contemplate
Demi’s next song was What Am I Doing Here. She laughed and said I don’t mean this afternoon, it is the
song title, nothing to do with today! Robbie did a quick plug for the CDs saying the more he sold the
more CDs he could buy of Ags’s. After Demi finished this song a guy walked past and commented
saying that she had a beautiful voice. Demi replied with a thank you but looked a bit bemused by it.
Photo credit Sally Hodson
It would then appear I wasn’t the only one who was slightly side-tracked by the food as Robbie and Demi
had a very quick conversation off mike. Robbie then asked if somebody could confirm as to whether the
roast dinner was beef or lamb because he thought he had ordered beef but it looked as if the lady who
had the roast dinner was eating lamb. Darren’s wife Sally, said that she would check! At this point
Darren walked onto the stage carrying a big drum which was for the next band, but it looked quite funny!
Robbie sang Choked Up. When he finished, Demi said it feels like every time Robbie plays that song it
is more and more country. She then started to debate as to whether it was afternoon or evening and
whether evening was later in the summer and earlier in the winter. The general consensus was it’s
evening at 5 o’clock in the winter and 7 o’clock in the summer!
She sang Cold Coffee and then promoted her EP Dandelion, which the song is on.
I should mention here that most of the time Demi and Robbie were singing and playing together, they
were almost like a duo rather than two solo artists. They complimented each other really well!
Before singing Love Comes Quickly Robbie again plugged the CD’s. Demi laughed, saying that he was
plugging so much because he wanted to buy Ags’s CD’s!!
They had a quick chat between them and also a quick check with Darren to see how much time they had
left and Demi told us they were debating what to play. They sang This House which is a song they wrote
together and Robbie said it wasn’t about any house in particular.
I then moved the location to try and attempt to get away from the noise & the distraction from the crowd at the
bar, as a result, I didn’t catch the title of Demi’s next song – I think it was I Am Already. She thanked
everybody for coming out saying that it was a fabulous day. When she finished Robbie said they
should’ve ended on that one as it’s an absolute banger.
For his last song, Robbie chose Honey. When he finished he said that he wanted to ask the crowd a
question, he said that he felt that there should be a chord change towards the end and he asked if he
could try it out on us which he did. Demi was shaking her head and said she felt it should stay as it was
and the chord change wasn’t necessary. Robbie said that he thought it made it sound like a Whitney
Houston song. The general consensus though was that the chord change was not an improvement.
The gentleman who had earlier told Demi that she had a beautiful voice walked past again saying that if
he was a manager he would manage them. This caused much merriment and the response from Darren
was that most managers couldn’t manage anyway and he actually might do a better job. The crowd that
this chap was with then started asking who they actually were so Demi introduced herself and Robbie,
using their full names again.
Robbie finished with the song Ain’t Feeling Right.
There were a couple more bands playing that evening but I was unaware of that until I got there, so I had
to leave earlier. All in all, it was a very pleasant afternoon with some really good music and a lot of
banter! An absolutely wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. This sort of event often happens in
Manchester or London, rarely down on the south coast, so I was a very happy girl. In saying that, two
weeks previously I had been to the event in Crawley, organised by Richard Leader Music and 2205
Promotions, where The Southern Companion and Ags had performed, so hopefully more is coming this
way in the not too distant future. Darren & Sally both said they would like to arrange something similar
fairly soon, but they both said next time in a venue that wasn’t so noisy!
* DISCLAIMER! I didn’t catch all the titles of the songs, so some of my titles may be lyrics rather than
titles, I have tried to double check using various sources, but have drawn a blank!
Darren Hodson/ The Southern Companion – 1000 Days of Rain
Laura Oakes – Nashville Stole Your Girl
Ags Connolly – Nothin’ Unexpected
Demi Marriner – Dandelions
Robbie Cavanagh – To Leave/To Be Left
All available on iTunes, Amazon Music & Spotify.