17 November 2010
A really packed out Stables - even the overflow car park had needed an additional overflow area - for Tom Paxton’s return to the Stables - he mentioned how much he'd like The Stables when it was a Stables, but graciously added that he loves the new theatre as well. And I have to note that it's been a while since I've been able to say that I was without doubt one of the youngest present. Perhaps not surprisingly this relic (and I mean that in the nicest way) of the early 1960's Folk explosion has retained his peer group as his core audience, although from his lively stage presence you'd never guess he was 73. The evening was just Tom Paxton, trademark denim cap well in place, and a guitar, accompanied by Robin Bullock on guitars and mandolins and who also opened the show with a couple of nice acoustic guitar pieces.
Tom Paxton has an enviable 60 plus albums and over 600 songs to choose from. With this well to draw on it's not surprising that he's able to put together a near flawless set. He opened with a new song - "How Beautiful Upon The Mountain" - and teaches the chorus straight off. Then a ditty about Sarah Palin and an old song recycled to fit current affairs - now it's "I'm going to change my name to Fanny Mae", thirty years ago it was Chrysler. Always a political singer, he's also long advocated environmental issues which is represented here by "Who’s Garden Was This", about a world denuded of flora and fauna, and is a song he contributed to the first Earth Day, and "There Goes The Mountain" about strip mining for coal. There's also time for the whimsy of "The Marvellous Toy", which, we are informed, is "now available as a book and also as an iphone app”. And a stone classic - "Last Thing On My Mind", recorded by, well, everyone, but written by Tom Paxton. He also took the chance to poke fun at himself with this by playing a short parody he'd been sent about a man who meets a girl at the folk club, gets invited back to her place for the night and then "she played me every album by Tom Paxton, and you know that was the last thing on my mind".
Interspersed along the way were anecdotes about friends and family, and there was perhaps just a little too much family at once halfway through the second half - "Jennifer's Rabbit" followed by "Kate", songs inspired by his young children, then "Jennifer and Kate" inspired by his now mid-40's children. And a song for his wife. Compensations there were in plenty though - reminiscing about Greenwich Village in the '60s led to "Did you hear John Hurt", also the light hearted sing-along "Bottle of Wine" ("in France they tell me it's an ancient traditional folk song") and, closing out the encores, "Ramblin' Boy" which gets a full throated audience participation to end the evening on a high note.
This was a low impact evening - congenial, relaxed, and strangely like an old fashioned folk club where everyone gets to join in on the chorus. Paxton always had more of an ironic edge to his political songs, and his comments on the news are often throwaway one minute broadsides. He also has his more lyrical side, shown by new songs such as "Bravest of the Brave" about New York's fire-fighters. It's always good, though, to see a Greenwich Village survivor, and even better in a small venue. Unsurprisingly he's mellowed with age but with his playing (and Bullock's backup) still good and with a strong voice it was indeed a fine way to spend an evening. Tom Paxton is less the man Bob Dylan could have been if he'd never gone electric, but more a younger Pete Seeger. So, the question is who's the younger Tom Paxton?