29th May 2018
When Simon asked a few weeks ago if I was prepared to compere an odd evening at the Six Bells I assumed he wanted me to run a normal evening, occasionally. He could have meant odd in the sense of bizarre though. I’ll do my best.
Attendance was neither phenomenal nor embarrassing. Ten performers turned up, which gave everyone a couple of songs, then, when we’d been round once, a chance for a happy few to do a third. There was even a sprinkling of non-performers. Hurrah!
I opened with one of mine, Too Sad to Sing the Blues from the Calmer Waters Album, followed with a poem, The Double Bass Seeks Love, from my new pamphlet of musical poems Day Job Shoes, which is ripe for shameless self-promotion.
Andy lives in Brighton and had visited the club a few times before. From tonight’s performance he’s very welcome to come again. He played harmonica and guitar on two original songs. The first, The Sound of Snow Falling, was gentle and reflective, about being warm and safe inside when it’s snowing outside; the second original, The Ghost on Brooklyn Bridge, had an upbeat Latin tempo and realised its ghostliness by the use of minor chords.
Silvie is a regular visitor with her poems and unaccompanied songs. This time she performed two of her poems Monet’s Garden, thanking the artist for the pleasure he had given to so many visitors, with all those water lilies and The Razor Tree, concerning inept razor management by adolescent sons. A couple of Sundays ago, at the Green Man in Ringmer, there’d been a large number of French visitors, who she’d hoped would be impressed by the Monet verse, but they perhaps preferred Manet. For those of us who played there it was probably the biggest audience we’d seen in a long time.
Retournons a nos oignons. Frank Xerox was next up. His self-penned witty ditty Way Down in Havana was about an exotic dancer. Somewhat Dylanesque in its narrative style, this throbbing ballad told of many steamy sights, including fruit on the dancer’s head. One of his five a day? The second song, which used some more of Frank’s many “accents”, was The Devil Went Down, thankfully not also about an exotic dancer but a come-uppance ballad about the Devil wreaking punishments a la Goya on those who were responsible for the financial crash of 2008. Frank explained that it was all in revenge for the bankers having repossessed Hades.
The prolific singer songwriter and recordist Chris (CJ) Martin, who I don’t think has missed a Six Bells evening in living memory, then did two of his songs Run and I Can’t Make it Shine. The world is full of a number of things, and Chris writes about them, singing acoustic rock with recherché chord sequences. At risk of repeating what has been said before, this man is good – buy his CDs. He also works the sound desk, which is a service to humanity.
We’d got this far with all original material - a record? Then on to some original interpretations of covers. Manus gave us some of his tasteful jazz chords and licks in a rendition of Hendrix’s Little Wing followed by True Colours. Manus related this song to Grenfell Tower; he’d lived in a clad tower block and always felt that colours were being stuck on the outside with nobody listening to the colours within. He got a good funky groove going too. Not a note out of place. Since there was no phone signal at the Bells, the Googligentsia among you may wish to know that True Colours was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, although widely associated with Cyndi Lauper.
Heather is a balladeer with a great zest for life and has sung a couple of times at the Bells recently after a long rest from performance. In spite of suffering from what she called “Teacheritis” (a croaky voice caused by excessive educational effort) she gave us a Beatle’s cover The Long and Winding Road and then the Melanie version of Ruby Tuesday by the Stones. My croak-o-meter registered nothing during either of these.
Then, not realising the iconoclasticism involved, I called for a break. This is not traditional at the Bells and, ten minutes later, I found out why. Even Heather’s school teacherly authority did not help in speedily getting people out of their vibrant conversations and back to their seats. There was time during the break, though, for a group photo of that Kafkaesque body “The Committee”, which will no doubt appear on the website sometime.
Got going again with my song Requiem. Then we heard Simon Watt, again someone who has missed very few Bells evenings over the years. Simon is equally talented at performing covers (mainly country) and writing songs that express his own gentle humour. Tonight, the covers won. He told a tale of having seen “two old guys playing guitar” in a pub in Eastleigh and realising that, through their music, they were expressing friendship – just like us at the club. This, as in a Hollywood musical, led skilfully into a large orchestration of You’ve Got a Friend in Me (by Randy Newman) with Manus and Clive on tambourines, Andy on Harmonica and Frank on Guitar. A good country groove for the second number Bring it to Me by Sam Cooke.
Clive is encoded into the DNA of the club, ever present with his own compositions, his covers, his compering and his work on the sound desk. He did one of his own songs Blue Above the Grey emphasising positivity above negativity, then a Dylan song Tomorrow is a Long Time, which provoked a singalong.
Jason, who runs the Sunday Folk Club at the Elephant and Castle, Lewes, on the second Sunday of each month (please go, everyone), used his mellifluous voice to great effect in Thank You by “The Mighty Led Zepp”. There’s something of Elvis Costello in that tenor voice, with a nice deep resonance too. Lisa joined him with vocals and some good licks on his second song Tonight I’ll be Staying Here with You from Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album.
Lisa then did an incredibly original version of Elvis’s Don’t be Cruel, releasing it from its oomba-oomba rock and roll prison and turning it into a folk ballad. Then Jason joined her on So Begins the Task (S Stills) with some lovely harmonies.
And so, at around twenty to eleven ended the cycle of performers and the start of a quickfire second round – one song each and see how far we get. Andy went into open tuning to do Come Dance with Me, a song of the army and love in Northern Ireland, with some beautiful harmonies on the guitar. Silvie stood aside to let Frank perform both kinds of music (country and western) and we all joined in. Finally, Chris Martin did his legendary 12-bar hit Toast for One with Lisa, Heather and Jason as the backing vocals trio, Frank on lead guitar and Andy on harmonica.
Then there were the parish notices and the speeches of thanks and Simon reminded us to reconvene for the 70s evening in two weeks. As this was my debut, I was too overcome by what I’d undergone to remember to thank Chris and Clive on sound, so thanks to Chris and Clive, on sound. And thanks for lugging all those mysterious black cabinets about.
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