“Who he?” A collective murmur went round as I took my position, like the new curate in the pulpit. I had accepted a mission wiser fools might have declined – hosting a folk and blues evening at the prestigious venue of the Six Bells. After all, this club has been running fortnightly since the early nineties and some of the current stalwarts feature in blogs dating back to 2012.
Since I had only recently exposed myself to the ‘rabbit in the headlights’ experience of performing at an open mic, I felt I had valid misgivings. Not only do the usual suspects carry off the proceedings with aplomb, so also do they perform with an assuredness that will take me years to achieve. However, my concerns were misplaced; I have discovered this to be a welcoming, friendly, respectful and totally non-threatening venue. I also reckon well over 6oo evenings of folk and blues have occurred at the Six Bells since its inception, and similarly that number of blogs written.
Therefore as usual, now follows an account of the evening’s events - the performers and performances plus the occasional observation and reflection thrown in - not a school report by any means, since I’ve gleaned on the whole it’s not in the blogger’s brief to offer a critique; that being said and as an aside, I do admire those artistes who claim never to read their revues - good or bad, because I suspect even the most seasoned performer still desires positive affirmation.
Well, there’s none of that here - enough to know that on a recent outing I was described as making an irritating rattle; sufficient criticism perhaps to call a halt to all but the most deluded of folk - but maybe I should just take ownership in it now being my signature sound.
Before the evening had even started, an almighty explosive pop rattled the ice in my soda and elevated Ella off the piano stool in rigid shock – Chris had inadvertently pulled an unmuted plug. An involuntary Tourette like utterance betrayed my exterior calm, undoing all my earlier Zen based preparation.
The usual to-ing and fro-ing made for a fashionably late start once again, as armed with medicinal Tunes for my rough throat, I shakily launched off with a Lead Belly number variously entitled ‘Black Girl/In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep Last Night’. This was followed by the Jackson C. Frank composition ‘Milk and Honey’, a beautifully crafted song made commercially successful by Sandy Denny’s subsequent recording.
Gratefully vacating the hot seat, I made way for Ella at the piano, who cruised through Patti Griffin’s ‘The Long Stairs’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Thunder on the Mountain’. Ella’s Boogie-woogie Dylan was something of a revelation. He’s a musician I felt I could take or leave after Blonde on Blonde, so leave him I did.
I could never leave Joni Mitchell though and her spirit was channelled through Ella and Manus on ‘He Played Real Good For Free’ - Ella on piano and Manus on custom Tele. Crosby, Stills and Nash also covered Joni’s ironic song about the disparity between a street busker’s fortune and their own obscene financial rewards. No Joni style giggles from Ella though.
On to song numbers 81 and 82 from Chris Martin, ‘Leaf ‘ and ‘Rules’ – the latter relating his sojourn in the Bow Street nick. ASBOs weren’t in vogue in those days even if Yuppies, Madonna and BMWs were. Just goes to prove all singer/songwriters are rebels at heart; and in that vein, Heather followed with the anti-war protest song ‘Travelin’ Soldier’ by the Dixie Chicks. To further stamp her credentials on stickin’ it to the man, she sang an Ed Sheeran number ‘The A Team’. Class A drugs in leafy East Sussex? No thank you ma’am – a pint of Slap-Ma-Girdle will do just nicely. Lovely guitar tone though.
Manus returned to the stage with more music from Joni Mitchell. His wooden guitar, electronically attached to a couple of shiny boxes topped with coloured lights conjured up a laid back swirly sound as he delivered ‘Come To The Sunshine’. Yes, there’s going to be plenty of that over the next few days. He followed with ‘Doors’, a self-penned number, the genesis of which followed a filmic encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow – Nice!
You tend know what’s in store when it’s the turn of Simon Watt (no s). His wry style was evident on ‘Ebola Blues’ (or ‘Quarantine Blues’ for the easily offended) – a potential ‘Springtime for Hitler’ moment. Whilst we digested this, he treated us to a simplified version (his words) of The Eagles ‘Girl From Yesterday’ off the ‘Hell Freezes Over’ album.
I’m always impressed by those who can sing from memory – Simon is one and Derry another. However, before Derry we had Roy approach the ivories to give us the original Lewis/Stock/Rose version of Blueberry Hill, a melodically different but still recognisable treatment that Fats Domino had a rock and roll hit with in 1950. More of the same please Roy, next time round.
Back to Derry, he of the exciting stage act. A couple of subtle but still discernable Townsend guitar moves accompanied his self-penned ‘Alone Again’. For his second number he had us guessing the artist/title/album/record label/era/ release date/amount of loose change…. The Killers? White Stripes? No – The Beatles! ‘Hey Bulldog’ off Yellow Submarine. Well done, Derry. You can come again.
A new face, Doug was up next. New to us but not I’m sure to performing. An accomplished player and singer, he gave us Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Kathy’s Song’ and then a Dubliners number, the title of which I didn’t catch. It could well have been ‘Maloney Wants A Drink!’ Heaven knows, I was in need of one myself by then - but the evening was still relatively young.
The ever patient Clive, our New Romantic balladeer, serenaded us with Francois Hardy’s ‘All Over The World’ followed by his ode to Ella, Don Maclean’s ‘Starry Starry Night’. Did I get that right? What was going on? Was it fifty years to the day that Van Gogh cut his ear shaving or was that the moon landing? Had Clive’s French made him come over all Marcel?
Thank you Mr Woodman, but it was time to clear the stage and make way for Keith and some gutsy low down dirty blues. Boy, even I was beginning to sweat now. His self-penned ‘Dusty’ went down a treat followed by ‘Keep on Pushing’. Bunjies Coffee House & Folk Cellar may have existed some time ago, but Keith still maintains an active fan base as witnessed by the adoring squeals of delight accompanying his performance. As a post script, imagine if you will the love child of George Melly and Sister Rosetta Tharpe….. just saying!
Chris and Heather closed the proceedings with Chris’s ode to his panda, Panyan. Heather’s spoken verse from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam lent true poignancy to the music, somewhat reminiscent to me of Mike Oldfield’s ‘On Horseback’.
So much then for four line stanzas and iambic pentameters, it was time to say goodnight and thank you to the audience members, to all the performers, to Chris as always for sound duties and to Simon for the set up, and a reminder that Chris is hosting the Singer/Songwriter night on 6th August, where apparently anything goes, original or not.
‘Sadness lasts forever’ so it does, to be sure!
Okay … come 8pm and we were still a bit thinned out along the benches with those empty cushions, laid out ready, grinning through. So we busied ourselves getting a sound-check with me and my minimal paraphernalia nonetheless beginning to wonder if perhaps I was being a bit precious with my own little tonal-centre going on; Chris worked on the monitor whilst handing the rig over to Clive for the evening and the missing links slotted into place. And it felt right as I opened with a couple of James Taylor songs to proffer some open-handed, contemporary-folk, sort of vibe before introducing Lance up to perform a couple of his own songs, laterally -- 'Space Traveler …' and 'A Very Hungry Caterpillar' setting the scene for a couple more originals from Chris. This time it was: 'Another Lonely Man' and 'Life Sentence Past' before he was joined by Heather on 'Norwegian Wood' and then moved over by 'A Million Dreams' on which Heather played guitar, in full flourish; pink-on-Pink in a picture of health whilst recuperating from a recent op – nice to see.
Another male/female duo ensued, quite different this time: Bob and Cristy-Lee with their own thing which, although difficult to define, was very interesting in that, once again, it proved to be another case of you never know quite who is going to turn up at these creatively open spaced, contemporary and often eclectic, evenings – so I'll be candid. Bob announced their first piece as 'Penultimate Song' so I don't know what it was called but whilst it was very long, it was also very, very good in its fastidious attention to detail in a gently applied kind of club soft focus. And we were silently captivated throughout. Obviously enough, 'The Second Song' followed on … some evocative imagery befitting this close humid summer's night ensued, taking us through previous eras of Havana and Guevara revolutionary chic, tempered by an underlying cold-war fire-and-ice subjective muse. Okay, I was flagging a bit by then but it left an aftertaste which carried over to the next day.
And as I write this, reflectively, their performance was still very much with me, leaving me wanting to be immersed in more of the same as if I'd just got back from Ronnie Scott's the night before [and I've been doing that, on-and-off, since I was 17 in the 60s so the more I think on it, it was somehow transcendental with the atmospherics and time-and-place parallel realities]. But, time out, I don't want to be over-analytical about it as I hope they will come back soon having whetted our collective appetite for imaginative their otherness [consensus].
Time to get Mark settled in and slope off for some much needed filter coffee. When I got back from the bar he was singing Jackson C. Frank's 'Blues Run The Game'; another atmospheric piece so I went for a splash [not a typo …] returning, refreshed and up for it: Neil Young's “The Needle And The Damage Done” – well, there you go, stimuli revisited.
And then some reassuring maturity in continuum as Clive preceded Simon in the chill-chain of frisson and eventualities; Zerox [alter-ego], in his patronizing cognitive dissonance often used to make a point of willfully confusing these two men until he finally realized that people were beginning to blank it out as just more self-aggrandizing white noise. Out-of-toner … it was unfair. However, there are the similarities of simplicity, in a good way, with these guys. Clive gave us 'Summertime Blues' and a nicely Mediitteranean uplift with 'Non Ho L'eta', so there was absolutely nothing nominally predictable about him all at all, tonight. And Simon, also on a slight detour, gave us 'Lifetime Blues in “C”' as penned, shelved and resurrected from the pen [bin] of wife Leslie, after 'Meet Me On The Corner' in which he had dialed down the charisma [simulated reverberation] happy to let the room run the game on his own bluesy English terms.
The next leg of the journey began with Jason and one of his favourite guitars [Lisa's Martin] playing 'Any Major Dude Will Tell You' from 1973s Pretzel Logic – classic early Steel Dan preceding Chris Martin's documented 'AJA' 'T' shirt chronologically [as worn by Chris last time] – It's an incredibly well structured song, beguiling in its simplicity as a harbinger of what was to come from them as a studio band; songwriting duo with a team of regular great session-players upping the musical arrangements. Joni Mitchell followed this template and I LOVE all of it!
Jason was joined by Lisa to sing Jimmy Page's 'Tangerine' and 'Georgia …' before Keith came up with Helga and her flute for their arrangement of Keith's 'Baby Steps' and another, this time more rhythmic/less rubato, original in 'I'm in Love With This [Scottish] Island', affectionately rendered as it was, it sounded great with its reggae undertones. Helga was then joined by Lisa returning with the reclaimed Martin guitar for Sandy Denny's 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes' – indeed. Very near the end, Ella arose from the wings with her acoustic guitar to give us a couple of [pre-73] Joni numbers; 'Chelsea Morning' and 'Creasy' I think it was entitled [I'm not familiar with that one so forgive me if I misheard it], it was, in any event, nice to hear these uncluttered, naturalistic era Mitchell songs from the Montreal-through-Greenwich-Village coffee bars era of the early singer/songwriter era across the pond but so nicely intoned to the swinging 60s of London – Often, I feel that I was born to misplaced geo-politically, but I got it from a distant TV and I was here in the second-person-narrative of it!
Anyway, by happenstance, Fred the poet was on hand in a very timely ultimatum – Fred recited his true story about ‘not knowing [he] could fly until he had to [fly]’, to see us out concluding with Cooper-Clarke's existential 'Suspended Sentence' – Democratically tongue-in-cheek, I think they should make Fred our new foreign ambassador to Don.
Okay; CD slotted in, windows wound down – lights! I hit the road happy in the knowledge that the chill-chain had indeed been more than adequately checked out in its linkage to that night in what turned out to be a joined up, eclectic evening for all concerned.
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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