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The Nelson Brothers

The Nelson Brothers – Simon and Steve Nelson – play a beguiling blend of roots rock, folk and Americana. In 22 years the British duo and their band have only released two albums under their own name but to those in the know they’ve been ever-present on the scene, whether writing songs in Nashville or being the musical force in a high-profile act that’s achieving transatlantic success.

The Nelson Brothers at Stroud Americana Music Festival

The Nelson Brothers at Stroud Americana Music Festival

Now they’re on a break from their alternate careers and are back with the third album, Sacred River. A string of live dates will include an appearance at the Isle of Wight festival.

The new record is an enigmatic set of self-penned numbers that revolve, as ever, around Steve’s rich, gravelly vocals and Simon’s elegant but searing guitar. In the brothers’ music you’ll find elements of Nick Lowe and Robbie Robertson, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen

The new album takes a nod from the brothers’ double life. They (and their band) have been winning international acclaim for their liaison with Oscar-nominated actress and now Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern as Sadie and the Hotheads.

The link-up came when McGovern, an American living in London, responded to a guitar teacher’s ad – and the teacher turned out to be Steve. The pair, along with Simon, started writing songs together and became a working unit that has now released three critically acclaimed albums.

Fresh from a well-received tour of America’s East Coast and a PBS concert recording the Nelson Brothers are back on the scene while McGovern is filming the final series of the award-winning TV drama.

The Nelsons music follows a similar line to that of Sadie and the Hot Heads, roots with more than a touch of pop and country and many eclectic touches, where you’re as likely to hear a bouzouki as a bass guitar, yet where the songs are central to proceedings.

The Nelsons grew up in Stafford and, as young, enthusiastic musicians in the 70s set off to travel to India with their guitars on their backs. They got as far as Amsterdam where they were won over by the wealth of opportunities to busk in cafes. Returning to the UK they worked in the bars of the sunny South West before answering a Melody Maker ad and winning a dream job playing in the upmarket Atlantic isle of Bermuda. Long sets every day honed their playing and performing skills; like the Beatles in Hamburg, only warmer.

Their initial contract became a year and then they returned to the UK with a wealth of songs. After Simon spent a period working in Australia, they linked up in the early 90s with the Round Tower record label, which was working with intriguing country and roots artists from both sides of the Atlantic, including singer-songwriters Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch, plus fiddler Tammy Rogers.

The result, in 1993, was the album Hometown, a gentle country-rock classic, uniting Steve’s rich vocals and Simon’s sensational guitar playing. But the label folded before the brothers could build on their recording success.

But their Round Tower connection led to interest from American Robert John Jones, who’d written songs for the great Buck Owens and who recorded an album with his band, the Buckaroos, after his death. His organisation in Tucson, Arizona, was working with publishing company Windswept Pacific in Nashville and so started a period dividing their time between writing in Tucson and demoing material in Nashville studios with leading session musicians.

Even now a song, Last Truckstop Motel by Steve and RJ Jones and performed by rising bluegrass star Molly Tuttle is kicking up a storm on You Tube.

Back in Britain and well into the 21st century came the Sadie and the Hotheads persona, an edgy, enthralling mix of influences. What started as a low-key project – working up their idiosyncratic music at venues such as the Bedford pub in London’s Balham – gradually became a serious undertaking.

But Sadie time was sandwiched between gruelling production schedules for the increasingly popular Downton, giving the Nelsons the opportunity to pursue their own work.

Their second album, Places In The Heart, in 2009, combined the Nelsons’ love of a good song with a radical new sound inspired, in part, by the Hot Heads. Imaginative arrangements, touches of jazz and just about every other type of 20th-century music, created a dark, smokey soundscape – ‘Leonard Sinatra’ as RJ Jones christened it.

Elizabeth says of the Nelsons: “The music and the voice and the lyrics all work together to convey a bittersweet, sad optimism that I find so appealing… romantic without being remotely saccharine and refreshingly grown up.”

And so to Sacred River, which flows with the gentle rhythm of the early Nelson Brothers and combines it with their work of today. Some tracks were even started in the Round Tower era and have been transformed into up-to-date masterpieces.

Still at the heart of the playing are the Nelsons. Steve, as well as taking lead vocals, switches from guitar to bouzouki to banjo to ukulele.

Simon – also a leading session man who’s played in TV concerts with Mavis Staples and Paul Jones, and at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and 02 Arena with everyone from Joss Stone to Helen Shapiro to X Factor stars – sticks mostly to electric lead.

While the Nelsons are at the heart of the matter their band is a tight, exciting unit. On drums are either former Goldfrapp percussionist Rowan Oliver or current Sadie member Terl Bryant. On keyboards is Nick Lacey who, apart from Sadie, has played with stars from Lulu to Herbie Armstrong. And bassist is either Andrew Milloy, also a Sadie man, also plays in modern folk ensemble Band of Hope, or Ben Nicholls, from trendy folkies the Full English.

The Nelson Brothers are back in action with Sacred River – but with another Sadie and the Hotheads US tour set for the autumn you’ve got a narrow window of opportunity to catch them.

River Song - The River Penk, Stafford


There are many songs about rivers. This is one of ours. Our hometown river song. This Is The River.

The evening would begin in the pub. The Trumpet. At the bottom of Radford Bank, between the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the River Penk, on the A34 into Stafford, about a mile from our home. The hits of the day on the jukebox. Neil Young’s ‘Heart Of Gold’, Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’.

It was 1972. The highlight of the week, sometimes several times a week, was a night out with my mates. I lived for those nights. We would commandeer one of the dark oak tables near the juke box and get a round of drinks in. Brown and bitter was my favourite tipple, a half pint of draught bitter mixed with a bottled half pint of Ansell’s Nut Brown ale. Back then I could sink eight of those and still walk home. On warm summer nights we’d buy bottles to take out and sit down by the river.

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The Nelson Brothers in rehearsal - West London

Rehearsal – The Nelson Brothers Band


[ri-hur-suh l]


  1. a session of exercise, drill, or practice, usually private, in preparation for a public performance, etc.:
  2. the act of rehearsing.

When there is a gig coming up a bandleader chooses musicians that they think will suit the genre, the songs, the event. The line up might vary depending on all of these things. In the rehearsal the musicians practise to ensure that they are prepared for the performance.

You hope that each musician has done their homework – their own personal practise, and is familiar with the songs to be played.

In the rehearsal room the musicians come together and try the music out as an ensemble.

For me music is a team sport –the greatest joy in playing comes musicians working together towards a shared objective; listening and interacting with each other.

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Joseph Merrick aka The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man

I have always been moved by the story of Joseph Merrick (aka The Elephant Man). I was interested to hear Valerie Howkins, the 83 year-old granddaughter of Tom Norman, on BBC Radio London yesterday. Tom Norman was the showman who first ‘exhibited’ Merrick, and was portrayed badly in the film. Howkins has requested that Merrick’s remains are given the dignity of a proper, Christian burial in his hometown of Leicester. She is also unhappy with the portrayal of her grandfather in the film. She explained, ‘My grandfather was a good man, a devoted father of nine, who treated his performers with decency and compassion, but most of all as human beings.’ (Mail Online, Friday 10th June 2016.) To appear in a freak show was the only way such a person could make a living in those dark days.

The Nelson Brothers set out to write a song as a tribute to The Elephant Man. He was a bright and sensitive man who suffered from a terrible affliction. We researched his life, and visited the place opposite The London Hospital where Merrick first appeared in London. It is now The London Saree Centre on the Whitechapel Road. Continue reading →

The Nelson Brothers Band Folkfest at The Bedford, Balham

London Folkfest: The Bedford, Balham

Saturday June 4th 2016. The day of the gig, #TheLondonFolKfest2016, and first port of call is the no-frills rehearsal complex at Survival Studios in Acton. Old industrial buildings, run-down cafes and colourful Mediterranean restaurants line the dour streets, while inside, stained carpets, grimy wall to wall mirrors, battered microphones and dodgy amps all add to the ‘charm’. Indie rock thuds and screams from behind ‘soundproofed’ doors as we set up and welcome our new band members Kevan and Emma.

Today’s line-up is Simon and I on guitars and vocals, Dan Bilborough on drums, Kevan Frost on bass, Nick Lacey on keyboards and Emma John on fiddle. It’s a joy to work with such a professional, talented bunch and after a couple of run-throughs we’re done, packed up and heading off to the gig: The London Folkfest at The Bedford.

Emma John - The Nelson Brothers Band - Folkfest, The Bedford, Balham

Emma John – The Nelson Brothers Band – Folkfest, The Bedford, Balham

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Nelson Brothers Album release - 3rd June, 2016

The Nelson Brothers new album release – Sacred River

Sacred River will be released on 3rd June, 2016.
Sacred River is The Nelson Brothers 3rd studio album.

Download available from iTunes –

CD from the website –

Watch the video of The Nelson Brothers I Can Dream –

The album is produced by Steve Lowe, Matt Hay and the Nelson Brothers.

Mixed by Cameron Craig.

Look out for live gigs.

Track listing:

1         This Is the River

2         Down In Biloxi

3         Cuckoo

4         I Can Dream

5         Paris 1923

6         Riding On the Back of a Whale

7         Sacred River

8         Angelina

9         The Love You Refuse

10         Reckless Heart

11         Gone

12         Letter In Blue

The Nelson Brothers on a songwriting trip to France


I love songwriting. As Janis Ian said “One of the hardest things of all is to start. Just sitting down and getting over your own intimidations. Every professional songwriter I know is terrified every time they sit down to write. You’re always convinced that your next song is going to be your last, or that it’s going to be your worst, or that you’ll never be able to write anything as good as your hit. It’s a constant terror. I think all artists live in a constant state of terror.”

I wrote my first song when I was seventeen. It wasn’t very good. But the thrill I felt when I finished it was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I wasn’t writing for recognition, or money. I was writing for the sheer joy of creation. To start with a blank sheet of paper, and create something that didn’t exist before amazed me. It still does.

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