28-11-17 – Story Songs
Picking up on a variation of a theme, I was invited to receive the baton and run with tradition in presentation; of set music genres/styles, variously and intermittently programmed throughout the years, at the club. So, having announced the [advisory] road map of proceedings I kicked off with my own road trip offering, 'Yellow-jacket' – a Stephen Fearing song followed by a New Orleans thing, 'Storyville' by Robbie Robertson, played in dropped D and open G-over-D tunings, respectively in these arrangements for solo performance.
Jane followed me in the Americana with her lap steel, slide guitar, performing 'It Stoned Me' by Van the-Irish-man Morrison and 'Bobby McGee' [trad-arr], supported by Martin on alto-saxophone. Then it was George, Mary and Jack [electric bass] performing 'Sway' and then Jack's own Latin tinged 'Thank You For Calling' before Keith Wilson came on mic continuing with the self-penned song agenda with two story-songs of his own: 'Tale Of Two Acorns' and 'Terrible Portrait'. And, as if to expand on this trend of personal creativity, Chris Martin then gifted us with a particularly poignant acoustic performance of 'My Mum Alzheimer’s And The Care Home' followed by a similarly articulated, sensitively treated, ballad to the dispossessed simply entitled 'Paul' – enough said.
Jayne picked up her guitar and gave us 'Dixie Chicks' and then a personal homage to the mega stress factors of rearing four daughters [‘especially that youngest one …’] conveyed fluently through her maternally cathartic song, 'You Worry Me'.
In a change of pace Jamie, a newcomer to the club, ably encouraged by C M, gave us 'Hallelujah' and 'Hotel California' which saw Martin sitting in again, which in turn moved me to join in on a bit of slide [albeit non-transcribed] guitar, to add a bit of air to the mix; and as Simon subsequently assured us in his respiratorial resonances – 'tunes help you breathe more easily' … indeed they literally-in-context continued to do just that with his tuneful renditions of Kate Wolfe's "One More Song" and with the cut-time [alla breve] emotional intelligence of 'Help'. Clive followed this, coming in at ninth with a well-received performance of set pieces; a couple of songs often associated with the singing of John Nicholls, 'Over The Lancashire Hills' and 'Red And Gold' – the later having been originally composed by the singer/songwriter Ralph McTell.
And then, to extend an hitherto Aeolian metaphor of breathy tunes [sans guitars at last], Ella sat down at the house piano to sing a breezy number of which, regrettably, I didn't quite catch the title but certainly came to again on my return as she proceeded with a beautifully modal take on the, still rather emotive, story of 'Lord [and Lady] Franklin' and the historical significance thereof in what had turned out to be the perfect penultimate performance prior to the novel instrumentation of the concluding female/male duo, 'Moonbean' [sic] comprising of vocals/electric-guitar and upright double-bass. They concluded with their own, young-spirited version of the standard 'Autumn Leaves' with a noteworthy bass solo to see us melodically home after enjoying what had turned out to be an eclectic evening of musical styles and genres in balance with each and all under the banner of a preset theme which could well have seemed a bit restrictive in its scope – Creative Freedom will always find a way!
14th November 2017
I clocked in early for a chicken pie with veg and after the sound check sat back and waited for the players and fans to role in. First to show were the four white horsemen of the apocalypse - ok, it was just four of the regulars from the White Horse evening, which no longer resides at said venue - after a nomadic period of pub hops they’ve now settled at Deanland. Anyway, a splattering of regulars and a couple more horsemen rode in and we were ready to ride.
9 acts and 11 players, so time for three songs each. 8:45 and I said ‘Good evening’ and opened with my open mic night classic, ‘I like to be sad’, which closes with the immortal words, ‘Now would you like a proper song about sadness and loss, or should I just clear off cause no one gives a toss’. Not a murmur from the stables, so I launched into ‘Journey’, my newest composition, followed by ‘What’s in a life’, which bemoans that open mic phenomena of men tuning guitars… and as the song says: ‘For (rude word beginning with F)’s sake just tune up before you go on’. After this warning, I can report that there was very little machine-head twiddling on stage and nearly everyone sounded in tune!
Time for some Jazzzz, ‘nice’ - Manus flew into ‘Little Wing’ and then gave us his Vladimir Putin inspired version of Blueberry Hill - yes, there really is a version by Vlad on You Tube https://youtu.be/IV4IjHz2yIo and to close we got a bit of Stones and ‘Honky Tonk Women’.
Country pickin’ time: it was great to have Glyn back at the Bells - he was joined on ‘Country Cocking’ by Paula with tambourine and BVs. ‘Big River’ is my fav Johnny Cash song and Glyn did a great version for me. He called his capo a ‘cheater’, the only other time I’ve heard it described as such is on a live Grateful Dead album, ‘Bear’s Choice’. To close a great set of Americana, we got ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ - ‘You know, feelin' good was good enough for me’.
Paula paying her first visit to our little evening, started with ‘Drift away’ and then played one of her own compositions, ‘I wish’, in which she wishes to be ‘the girl of your dreams’. Food and drink featured in Paula’s third song, which seemed to revolve round a jug of red wine.
George & Mary (two voice & guitar): John Prine’s ‘I know one’ - Phil Ochs’s ‘There but for fortune’. For their final number, Luther Perkins (ie Glyn) joined them on Johnny Cash’s ‘I still miss someone’.
Simon was on the desk tonight - thanks. Three self-penned ditties, all with his unique underlying humour. First up, he regaled us with ‘Too much snow’ complete with Dylanesk kazoo solos. ‘The Togglers Anthem’ was prequeled with a rambling story of a 17 year old Simon, a chap called George, a boat, some scaffolding, a van and a unique AA type service for cars and boats that didn’t float for long. Simon’s closing song was called simply, ‘Kim Jong-Un’ and was about a rocket man. I suggest he watches out for men with umbrellas and young woman who approach him in public places.
Clive and his Rhythm Devils gave us Canned Heat’s ‘Let’s work together’, and we did - Horseman corner were fired up and banging away on a malaise of rattily percussion instruments. Question: Is percussion instruments an oxymoron? In a world of covers, it’s good to hear folks play their own songs - Clive revisited his younger days with an early composition, ‘Two sides’ and reckoned bar an octave on the voice it would have sounded the same back in those halcyon days of his wild youff. Tabacco Road, complete with enthusiastic percussion section drew down the curtain on Clive’s set.
Jason and his Ovation gave us a bit of Leadbelly - ‘Take this hammer’ - some Beatles: ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’ and for his finale, the Stone’s ‘Wild horses’ - them horses are just crazy and they get everywhere.
The last of the horsemen sang about Love, Heart, Blues & Hurt: Andy (12 string) & Marilyn (6-string) opened with ‘I love you and you don’t love me’ followed by ‘Open season of our heart’ and to finish, Dylan’s ‘Living the blues’ which segued into ‘I don’t hurt no more’.
Nearly bedtime, which meant a bit of ‘Toast for one’ https://youtu.be/mhnIUH7cW90 from me, with Simon on BVs, dancing & lead kazoo and the audience on ubiquitous shaky percussion stuff and some lead guitar. 11:00 and I said goodnight - we packed the PA and the horsemen flew away. x
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31 October 2017
The veil was thin, the night was dark, pumpkins were glowing and there was some silliness at the folk and blues evening. I had created some atmosphere and dressed up for the occasion as did some other guests. It’s one of the few times of the year when it’s ok to join in with the children, even if we then went on to sing songs about death, murder and gruesome things. I checked back to discover that it has been 11 years since Halloween actually fell on a Tuesday, but could not say whether that would have been a ‘Bells’ night, it may have been the one in-between.
As is customary, being host for the evening, I started the evening with ‘I am stretched on your grave’ a traditional song which was interrupted by my failure to connect the bouzouki to the sound system, being preoccupied with the Irish whistle that I played as an introduction. I moved on to Iris De Ment’s song ‘Let the Mystery Be’, an upbeat song about whether there is life after death. Apparently this is currently being used as a theme to a TV series, HBO’s mystery series ‘The Leftovers’.
Jane from Wadhurst, new to the venue, took the stage next playing bluesy high-action slide guitar and singing ‘Witchy Woman’ and ‘When you’re Strange’. The guitar and sound system were somewhat at odds with each other, but in the end, all was well.
Following Jane with more bluesy vibes was Manus supported on bass by Paul. Manus gave us some of his distinctive guitar work also playing some slide tonight, very nicely complemented by the addition of Paul’s bass on ‘I’ll Put a Spell on You’. He followed this with another laid-back blues version of Ray Charles’s ‘Don’t let the Sun Catch you Crying’.
George and Mary were up next. They had gone the whole hog arriving in costume with wonderfully painted faces. I didn’t recognise George until I saw Mary. Her hair was a giveaway even though she had coloured it grey. Paul also supported them on bass. It’s very nice to hear a bit of bass. It really fills out the sound. They sang ‘The Road to Hell’ and Jesse Winchester’s ‘Ghosts’, with joyful lyrics moaning and wishing his haunting ghosts would die.
Clive went on to sing ‘The Witches Promise’, a Jethro Tull song and very appropriate too. Clive is very good at finding and singing songs which suit the changing seasons. He told a joke about his cat, jumping up onto the hob while he had left the kitchen to check out the contents of the pan, becoming a ‘Hob Goblin’, haha. With a different animal in mind, he went on to sing ‘Boris, the Spider’, a Who song.
Chris Martin had donned a mask and wig, with additional sunglasses, to join in with the Halloween theme. I daresay we would not have known it was him except that he was stationed at the sound-desk for most of the evening. ‘Who’s idea was it to wear this mask?’ was his comment from behind the false face having made his way through two of his songs: ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Sanity’. Chris has sung whilst wearing a mask before. The addition of air holes had not made this experience much better, it seems, but there is something weird about looking at someone whose face you cannot see.
Sylvie interrupted the sequence of singers by giving us a poem, and something of a quiz at the same time: ‘Droplets in this World of Time’, speaking of the immortality of the muse and the mortality of man. That’s deep, Sylvie. Within the poem were references to some immortals like Dylan Thomas, Mozart, Oscar Wilde, Enid Blyton, Elvis and Monet.
I think Simon followed Sylvie. It was a little hard to be sure, but a young man looking very like him took the spotlight next. He started with a ‘hippy ghoulish’ song by Jon Betmead, telling of how the clean white sheets became red with blood following a murder: ‘I locked her in my big-house til she lost all her mind…..’ . Simon thought the content was worrying and I think he’s right.
Putting his own gruesome and terror inducing content into a version of Stormy Weather, Simon continued with a song about glistening entrails, the dead rising from their graves being very vexing and something about raining toads. With a red moon in the sky it’s the apocalypse ……….. We were doing Halloween and Simon was giving us the End of Days. Scarey.
Another scarey sing-along followed as Frank Xerox sang Ghost Riders in the Sky, a cowboy ghost song which attracted the wailing of ghost riders in the audience. Covered many times and apparently among the top 100 Western songs of all time, it was written in 1948 by American songwriter and tv/fim actor Stan Jones with the full title of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend’. Frank continued with the song ‘Delilah’ made famous by Tom Jones. The name Delilah is associated with treacherous women because of the Bible story where she destroyed Samson. The song was written by Barry and Sylvan Mason with music by Les Reed in 1968 and it won the Ivor Novello Award for best Music and Lyrics in the same year. Following its great success for Tom Jones, it has become the anthem for Welsh Rugby Union. ‘I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more’. The audience participated and there was some demonic cackling (Helga?) at the mention of laughter. Madness and murder.
Lisa and Helga changed the tone completely, performing together, they sang ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ (made famous by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant), both playing guitar and with some lovely harmonies. Their second very beautiful song was a version of Sandy Denny’s ‘ Where does the time go’. Lisa brought her very personal style to the delivery of the lyrics and fingerstyle guitar and Helga added some fluid and sensitive flute.
Geoff, who is not a regular, stood up to sing ‘How to Save a Life’ which tells of drug addiction leading to death. This song by The Fray appeared on their debut album of the same name in 2006. ‘How did I go wrong, I lost a friend …. and I would have stayed up all night had I known how to save a life’. Sobering for sure. There may have been gremlins out to play. Certainly something affected the sound on Geoff’s guitar. He sang ‘Mack the Knife’ to follow. The song was a hit for Bobby Darin in 1959 but actually comes from ‘Die Dreigroschenoper’, known in English as the Threepenny Opera. The song was written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann. The musical drama premiered in Berlin in 1928. It speaks about sharks teeth and blood in the water, bodies oozing life and ‘cement for weight, dear’. Oooooo, not nice.
Mike Aldridge began his first song by saying that Bob Dylan had taken credit for it, but the song was much older. ‘In my Time of Dying’ also known as ‘Jesus Make Up my Dying Bed’, is an old gospel song inspired by a passage from the Bible in Psalms 41.3. It was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in December 1927 having been published at least as early as 1925. Dylan’s version recorded in 1962 did a lot to popularise the song. Led Zeppelin also claimed the song on their sixth album ‘Physical Graffiti’ in 1975. His second song, ‘Masochism Tango’ a Tom Lehrer song, suited the evening well: ‘Kick me once again …. If you smell something burning, it’s my heart …….. fracture my spine and say you’ll be mine …..’ sounding like a short horror film.
Keith Willson had waited for the last spot and only sang us one song. It was however, written about a real life murder which happened across the road from him when he lived in Brockley. The woman concerned had sent her man with £8 to buy weed in Deptford. Apparently he had a good night out (on £8?) and when he eventually came home she stabbed him to death. Very vivid.
Chris persuaded me to round off the evening with a final song, so I sang the traditional ‘Parting Glass’ which says goodnight but also acknowledges those who do not rise again. ‘Come fill to me the parting glass, goodnight and joy be with you all’.
I was very pleased that nearly everyone had chosen to sing songs that related to the theme of Halloween and especially those who went the extra mile and added costume and make-up. Very nice, it’s good to have things to laugh about especially in the midst of murder, death, witchy, scarey and ghosty things. Thank you everyone for making the evening so enjoyable, Simon for setting up, Chris driving the sound system and Clive being assistant sound engineer.
See you all soon, Ella
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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