From their east London studio, country-folk outfit The Wandering Hearts recite the Scottish dates of their upcoming tour – Stirling’s Tollbooth, The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen and Dunfermline’s PJ Molloys among them.
They do so with the same relish they discuss their US live debut in 2018 at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium, a former tabernacle nicknamed “the mother church of country music”, or performing ‘The Wonder of You’ to a spellbound audience at Elvis Presley’s former home Graceland.
Little wonder the group are keen to hit the road – The Wandering Hearts’ signature sound involves three sympathetic voices melding and harmonising.Formed in 2015, the band were quickly swept up by the burgeoning UK country scene lead by The Shires and all-female duo Ward Thomas.
Debut album Wild Silence came out three years later and its eponymous follow-up arrived just last month, delayed by the pandemic.
Turns out the group have Scottish roots through one member, the enthusiastic singer/percussionist Tara Wilcox, that gives them an insight into the Scottish love of all things country.
“I’m half-Scottish – my mum’s from Bathgate – so I’m hoping some of my family come down”, said Tara.
“Over the years, a lot of people have asked us what UK country is, but really a lot of country’s roots are in folk and especially Scottish folk music.
“I was brought up on ‘Sky Boat Song’ and ‘Vair Me O’, there was so much borrowing from that.”
Wilcox’s male bandmate, singer/guitarist AJ Dean-Revington breaks from his regular wise-cracking to add: “It’s all the immigrants from all over Europe making it such a melting pot, but that Scottish influence is so pronounced.
“I’m not surprised Scots relate to it!”
Billed as the Intimate Tour, the Hearts are joined by just one extra guitarist, so they can play to their strengths, AJ explains.
“”We’ve revisited some of the songs on our first album and rearranged them in more stripped back versions.
“We feel sometime that we’re strongest when we’re doing things a capella or accompanying ourselves.”
Their last dates, bar some “cute” bandstand performances the previous summer, were March 2020 in the US.
The threesome barely managed to make it back before travel restrictions kicked in, though the bandmembers found the experience more surreal then scary.
“People were saying ‘You’ve got to come home’, but we were having a great time,” Wilcox remembers.
“It was a shock when we came back into strict lockdown, because America was very different. Here there was no toilet roll, people were panic-buying, whereas everyone in the States were still hugging.”
These dates, then, are the first chance to properly promote their second album.
Songs range from rousing anthem ‘Build A Fire’ to delicate ballad ‘Over Your Body’, all celebrating defiance and solidarity in the face of adversity.
You could be forgiven for thinking they were written during the pandemic, though the band’s challenges predated Covid, Wilcox explains.
“We are lucky the songs have taken on all these new meanings that resonate with people, but they are really about things we needed to say to each other about learning to trust our sound and each other.”
“Was it worth being away from home, not having much money and fighting to keep doing this? There were times no one seemed to understand apart from the three of us.”
Luck has played further roles in shaping their career, singer and mandolin player Francesca ‘Chess’ Whiffin admits.
She is especially grateful for the support of country stalwart Marty Stuart – former Johnny Cash sideman and solo artist in his own right.
While supporting him in the UK, Marty invited the young group to play with him at the Ryman and another fabled country venue, the Grand Ole Opry.
Marty also gifted them ‘Dreams’, which AJ croons on this release, recorded with its writer at Johnny’s former log-cabin studio, now known as Cash Cabin.
Luck and hard work
“We’ve worked really hard, but you can work really hard and get nowhere,” Chess says. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have doors open for us just when we needed them.”
Wilcox, though, reckons they have earned these opportunities. “There’s that old adage, isn’t there? Success is when luck meets hard work. And we’ve been in rehearsal a lot!”
The Wandering Hearts play Summerhall, Edinburgh, September 6 then tour. Album Wandering Hearts is out now on Cooking Vinyl.