15 September 2008
15 September 2008
Review by Jonathan Aird
So a wet Monday evening is lit by the beacon of Pentangle, oh god, this is so exciting - the original line up of Pentangle. This is an event of earth shaking fabulousness. I'm keen. I'm very keen. Sometimes I wonder if there has ever actually been a better time for live music than right now.
Previous live reviews have attested that I'm a fan of John Renbourn. Bert Jansch is of course also a guitarist of note, but the prospect of the reincarnated Pentangle is more than a guitar fest. The original folk-jazz-blues-eastern-influenced band. If not the only well spring of psychfolk then certainly one of the most important creators of a whole new and (at the time) revolutionary take on traditional music. Pentangle rightly identified that to maintain a Living Tradition requires vibrancy to be breathed into the songs so that they don't become dusty museum pieces. By being quite radical - this was a time when being a bit jazzy and using a sitar was radical - they influenced even those who reacted against their music by becoming more traditional - even the ultra purist tendancy needed a fire put in it's belly.
The Lyceum is quite a big theatre, and from a seat in the side of the rear stalls the stage seems a long way away. The Pentangle come onto a stage decorated only with free standing Venetian blinds - these are used to reflect different coloured lights off. There is some indication that this original line up 40th anniversary tour is an important occasion - John Renbourn has had a hair cut. With hardly time to say "hi" they launch into the first of many songs off the original 5 albums that the original Pentangle appeared on, and appropriately enough the first song is "Let no man steal your thyme" - track 1 of their first album. Bert Jansch's vocal are a bit mangled on the first couple of songs - there's something wrong somewhere with the mike set-up. Jacqui McShee promises us further tales of gloom and murder, but before that they launch into their hit - Light Flight. Mirage follows on, and then Bert introduces a song from the 60's, which as he says contains maids and knights and all that, adding: "what were we thinking ?" It's Hunting Song, of course.
Jacqui leaves the stage whilst the instrumental "In time" is played, but returns for "People on the highway" and the rest of the first half. Everything so far has been well played and sung, and very slick - it's as if they'd never been away, but there's a small spark missing. Everything is there - exquisite guitar, light as a feather drum and bass weaving through the sound, and spot on vocals. I'd have to say that throughout the set it was John who was taking the honours on guitar solos, which was a bit surprising.
The first set is closed out by John getting down on a cushion ("careful John you might never get up" shouts a wag, which John ruefully concurs with) to play the sitar on "Cruel Sister" ("this one has a chorus which you'll have picked up by the end") and "House Carpenter" ("another song with a drowning" says Jacqui). No Lord Franklin (which would of course been another drowning), unfortunately, but it's great to hear these two played as recorded, and they are two of my favourite Pentangle songs. The missing spark is ignited.
Then it's the interval. The crowded bar, the bar with only 1 beer, and that's a lager. What's going on here ? Back to the seat for the second set. This consists of, not necessarily in this order, - "A maid that's deep in love", "hear my call", "Sally free and easy", "Bruton Town", "The Snows" (what a great song, that I've only hear John sing before, tonight it's Bert), "No more my Lord", "Goodbye Pork pie hat" (for which Terry Cox dons a hat - he and Danny Thompson get extended solos as well), "Jump baby jump", "A time has come", "No love is sorrow", and "Market song" (which prompts another "what were we thinking ?" from Bert). This is great music, and I'm struck at how the revolutionary has become the normal - who now would be surprised by sitar and a jazz rhythm section on a folk song ?
Of course they are called back for another song. The encore initially has me puzzled - "Cold Rain and Snow", that's not a song I associate with Pentangle - eventually memory dredges up that I have many versions by The Grateful Dead. It's a good blues/jazz version though. Someone cries out for Jack Orion (if only !) which elicits a "you must be kidding" from Bert Jansch. The closer is, perhaps predictably, "Will the circle be unbroken".
Unless there's another reunion in 10 years time I don't suppose I'll ever get to see this line-up again, although there has been some talk of an album. We'll have to wait and see.
Review by Jonathan Aird
The Rhythms of the World (ROTW) used to be a 2 day free festival run in the Hertfordshire town of Hitchin, but due to the abuse of the town's hospitality over the last few years it has now moved to an enclosed site on the edge of the town, and charges a fairly nominal Â£5 entry fee for each day. At times it appeared that on this first day that the aim was to convince the crowd that there were only two kinds of world music - gospel choirs and jazz in various forms.
A ray of sunshine was The Whybirds, billed as an Americana act they hail out of Bedfordshire and struck me as 1 part Uncle Tupelo, 1 part Lynnyrd Skynyrd and 1 part early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. This matches up quite well with their own estimation of themselves on their web site. With drums, bass and two guitars which alternate lead and rhythm duties they output high volume southern tinged rock. All band members also share the lead vocal duties, which gives them a bit of a Band feel when the drummer is singing. Many of the songs showcased driving guitar solos, and the whole was presented with dynamism, determination to impress and an assured swagger.
Most of the songs played were off their new eponymous titled debut album (which subsequent listening to reveals it to also be pretty good). I didn't get a set list but the definitely played "Girl is on Fire" and "Hauling" (which has a catchy "dum-dum-dum-pause" refrain and easily picked up chorus).
It was a shame that they'd been put on early in the proceedings as their stage hadn't yet gathered a big crowd, but they were well worth catching.
Review by Jonathan Aird
The highlight of the second day of the ROTW festival, indeed the highlight of the whole weekend was the marvellous set by Bayou Seco. Bayou Seco are Jeanie McLerie (5 string fiddles, acoutic guitar, lead vocals) and Ken Keppeler (accordions & banjo) and they play a mix of music from New Mexico and Cajun traditions plus cowboy songs and the odd Carter family standard. They've been playing together for about 30 years, and this date was part of their 16th UK summer tour.
They were a breath of fresh air, no pretence just straight ahead American roots music played with flair and a genuine enthusiasm. They opened with "Keep on the Sunnyside of life" and didn't really stop for the next half hour. Even when it became clear in the middle of a song that his banjo mike wasn't working Ken just put it down and danced a step dance with high kicks at the edge of the stage. The song "Chile Verde" (traditional tune with new words praising Mexican food) was introduced with an endorsement for the nearby Tex-Mex food stall. "Get Along Little Doggies" was a great join in the chorus round 'em and herd them out joy of a song. McLerie's strong voice was good in English, Spanish or French. There was even a little Navaho. This was music straight from the source, as they've been gathering many of their tunes for years from older players in villages around New Mexico.
The audience throughout was highly appreciative - I'm sure I hadn't heard a better audience response the whole weekend. And deservedly so, as this was a joyful, life affirming, exhilarating set. They did their set and the encore, then had to be stopped from packing up to do another encore, such was the audience appreciation. Not bad for a couple of oldies....
And offstage they were just as nice - Ken showed me his fretless travel banjo, which took him three days to make, and I have to say that a day which involves talking about banjos and trying out another fella's homemade fretless 5-string is never a day wasted.
Review by Mike Ritchie
THIS is a young guy who wears his famous name extremely well but, more importantly, he has talent to match his pedigree. A confident and fine performance showed heâ€™s very much his own man with an assured style that switched nonchalantly from bluegrass and rockabilly sway to country melodies that his old man would certainly approve. Buoyed by his fluent guitar playing, his voice has a very much natural, old-time timbre.
Earleâ€™s just-released first CD â€œThe Good Lifeâ€ is a fine selection of roots music, bluegrass, acoustic blues and doleful country. Itâ€™s mature sounding and amazingly confident for an artiste whoâ€™s only 25 years old. And the admirable thing about him is that heâ€™s not trying to emulate or ape anyone, living or dead. On stage, he rattled through song after song, some with brief explanations, others with none.
Tracks such as Hard Livinâ€™ and The Good Life are basic bluegrass numbers that had me thinking of Robbie Fulks and that was amplified on the self-explanatory, South Georgie Sugar Babe. He made the bluegrass-tinged numbers sound lucid, flowing and as effortless as running a bath. The charm of the gig was that he then switched tack for slower paced country and on Turn Out My Lights his paâ€™s intonation was evident.
It was clear, too, that Justin ainâ€™t takinâ€™ nothinâ€™ for granted â€“ after all, he did remind us that his Dad had sacked him from his band some time ago. He regularly checked that the packed room was enjoying the show - we really were and that encouraged him to play on. The show never dipped once from the highest of standards he set in song number one. Plenty of us in the audience had, obviously, heard Earle senior on many occasions but this family member made us glad we had not only satisfied our curiosity but also that we were in at what could be the start of something damn fine for Justin. Heâ€™s dragged himself back into the business after foolhardy and misspent periods and certainly the next time he hits Glasgow, heâ€™ll need a bigger venue than this.
Review by Jonathan Aird
I nearly went to see Robert Cray when he was touring to support "Strong Persuader" in the late '80's, so this is maybe an overdue catch up. My recent experience at the Buddy Guy concert (not very good stage sightlines) had left me a bit concerned as I'd booked to be in the stalls again. My hope that I'd find a better spot this time was fulfilled - it's an early show, support at 7:30 and Robert Cray on stage at 8:30 - and I guess that's caught a few people out as the crowd is pretty thin when I arrive, so I settle in near the stage.
The support - Marcus Bonafanti - has already started. He plays acoustic guitar and is a blues hollerer - think Bob Seger crossed with the loud parts of Tom Waits. His songs are populated with trains, gypsy fortune tellers and unfaithful lovers. Pretty good too, but I couldn't imagine myself listening to a CD, not sure why. During his set the crowd thickened up, but looking round it wasn't a sell-out : the top two tiers of the circle were closed, and the stalls weren't heaving. This reflects his lack of recent mainstream success and his relative youth - no doubt in 20 year time he'll be guaranteed a full sell out as an elder statesman of the blues.
Robert Cray and band (drums, electric bass, keyboards/electric organ) took the stage promptly, but had a false start - the background tape didn't get turned off. Half a minute later it was all sorted out and they tried again, launching into "I guess I showed her", one of Cray's typical "flipped blues" - the protagonist having found his woman with another man has checked into a cheap motel and consoles himself in his victory - "she can have the house, she can have the car .... I guess I showed her". At the end of the song there's a "thank-you very much" which sets the standard for stage chat for the rest of the evening.
Cray and his band didn't seem to have a set list, they stopped every now and then for an off-mike chat about what to do next - which made the show feel quite like a small club date rather than a major venue gig. It's good to hear that the high gloss finish of his '80's albums has been dropped from the live performance. Musically it's still an evolution of the electric blues for a more modern ear, but still with plenty of traditional links. As well as the "my woman done me wrong" style of blues the other common strand of Cray's blues has been songs with a social conscience - homelessness, unemployment, and more recently questioning the USA's involvement in the middle east. So the next hour and a half gave us some excellent straight ahead blues/rock, with early material such as "Phone Booth", "Right next door (because of me)" and "Smokin' gun" mixed in with newer stuff such as "Backdoor Slam" and the excellent "Twenty" (from the latest studio album of the same name). Personally I'd have preferred a little more of the recent material rather than the old hits, but I guess he feels he has an obligation to please the crowd.
Cray continually demonstrated that he is a fine guitarist with a style that is all his own. Songs are punctuated with fast little licks that he hums and mouths along to, before launching into longer solos. At one point I thought he was going to do a Buddy Guy and walk through the audience, but no, the band left the stage to allow the keyboard player to take a lively extended organ solo which received a rousing cheer.
The encore was a superb "Poor Johnny", a blues played at a funeral pace, with haunting booming drums, and finally Howling Wolf's version of "Sitting on top of the world".
Heâ€™s finishing up the UK leg of his European tour (no doubt by this time Robert Cray has already uttered the timeless: â€œwell hello Basingstoke â€“ you feeling all right?â€), but worth a look next time heâ€™s passing through.
Review by Mike Ritchie
We all knew Tom Waits was brilliant. Countless inventive, daring and dazzling CD releases confirmed that. But seeing him live is just a totally different, wondrous experience when the word â€œbrillianceâ€ fails to do him and his show justice. This performance, one of only two UK dates and his first in Scotland for over 20 years, was a fantastic experience, a masterpiece, a memorable event that enthralled the sell-out Â£95 a ticket crowd.
And the beauty of it all was that his way-out theatricality and histrionics, the job lot look of the stage backdrop, his ability to look like a tramp, a demented lamp-post holding drunk or a fairground hobo all at once did nothing, absolutely nothing to detract from his songs, coaxed and forced out into the darkness by the most distinctive voice imaginable. He must take on-stage sips of creosote spiked with rusty nails to maintain the marvellous gruffness and grittiness of those tonsils. He jerked and ducked, stamped and spun through goodness knows how many songs in a set that lasted over two glorious, emotional hours.
Highlights from the set are impossible to relay: all of it was a triumph, with a red-hot band. Way Down In The Hole was a playful delight, Make It Rain was spectacular, blues drenched and pounding with Waits showered in glitter at the end of it and â€œGet Behind The Muleâ€ was a stormer with a shivering harmonica break.
From the mind-blowing opener Lucinda to the gentle Iâ€™ll Shoot The Moon, delivered with cheeky mimes, it was a night of impossible glory. Every song was a treat to be greeted with huge roars from a crowd who had longed for such a night in the capital city. When he sat at the piano for Picture In a Frame and the heart-warming sing-along of Innocent When You Dream, there was an awestruck silence in the theatre as we were enveloped and captivated by the songs and his dirt-dragged voice. If this all sounds too good to be true, believe me, it wasâ€¦â€¦..and more.
The Daily Telegraph review of the gig concluded â€œâ€¦the greatest entertainer on Planet Earthâ€¦â€ â€“ thatâ€™s as good as any summary I can come up with.