Thursday, April 28, 2011

Steve Tilston

Jazz@ Future Inns

Don't seem to have taken any notes at this one.

Steve Tilston was every bit as good as he always is, and his sidesman and mouth organ player Keith Warmington is simply charming. He was mainly trying out material from his forthcoming album: regret to say that I wasn't taking notes. He sang one about a Mexican rebel, and one about what this generation is leaving to the next. He carried off all his new songs with aplomb, and almost got through My Love She Speaks Like Silence without a hitch. ("What comes next -- come on, there must be some Dylan-heads here?") .....and then managed to mix up the verses of Slip-jigs and Reels on the encore. But no-one minded at all because he's so wonderful. What the correct procedure for getting the Queen to declare someone a national treasure?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Robin Williamson / John Renbourne

Bristol Folk House 

You remember Robin Williamson. I've mentioned him before: described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as "sacred"; by myself as "holy"; and by Bob Dylan as "quite good". He really does just radiate warmth and joy from the stage. There are different kinds of Williamson sets; this one was quite heavily focused on the bluesy (Don't Let Your Deal Go Down, Whang Dang Doodle) the whimsical (Sweet as Tennessee Whiskey) with a bit of Dylan (Buckets of Rain). When you go and hear a singer more than once, you expect to hear the same songs. I could listen to him plucking out Dylan on the harp a thousand times over. I still can't tell if he's parodying the song -- accentuating Dylan's tortuous rhymes ("well everybody can be like me, obviously / but not everyone can be like you, fortunately") or just drawing out a humour that's already there. And I'd have been positively disappointed if he hadn't, with that twinkly voice, finished on "Will anybody tell me where the blarney roses grow?" ("set to folk tune number 2). I love the way he makes the audience speak the words before joining in the chorus; as serious and deadpan as when he was teaching us names from Irish mythology, the last time I head him. You do, however, after several gigs, start to get used to some of the jokes and in-between patter. However, the story about how Don't Let Your Deal Go Down was taught him by Tom Paley was new to me. (As he loves to say, the song is usually played on blues harp, but works okay on an actual harp.) He's changed the chords, the tune and some of the words from when he learned it, but its still bacislly the song that Tom Paley taught him. (Tom Paley's the old guy (must be 90) who played at the Folk Against Fascism gig in London last year, notable for having appeared in a duo with Woody Guthrie --or, if the biography I'm reading is to be believed, for playing by himself because Woody Guthrie hadn't turned up. I love it that there's a tenuous continuity between Woody Guthrie and the Incredible String Band.) John Renbourne's moody jazzy slippy slidey guitar playing is never less than wonderful, but I was surprised by how passive he was tonight: Steve said you could have mistaken him for an accompanist, even though he's at least as eminent and venerable as Robin. No Incredible String Band songs or story telling tonight. Just tunes. Magical, magical tunes. Quite good, indeed.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Chapel Arts Center Bath 
That damn woman with the nasty sister. She gets about, doesn't she? This time the bad sister throws the good one in the sea rather than in a river, and it's three minstrels who fish her out, with no miller in sight. She still gets dismembered and recycled as a harp, and the harp limits itself to singing "Lay the bent to the bonny broom", as opposed to "bow and balance to me" or "oh the dreadful wind and the rain" or (more helpfully) "my sister dunnit". 

"You obviously like songs about death and doom and killing" said Jaqui McShee after the very enthusiastic ovation that the song elicited. Well, yes, possibly: or possibly the audience were (like me) giving their approval to a very traditional song, given a very satisfactory make-over, without losing any of its narrative drive. 

Pentangle were, of course, one of the very biggest names of the second (or was it third?) folk revival of the 1960s, and more or less invented "jazz folk". This group is, in fact "Jacqui McShee's Pentangle", with Ms McShee's astonishing unearthly voice being the only link with the original group. This incarnation seemed more jazzy than what I've heard of the original: several numbers had longish sax and flute interludes which sounded (to me, and you really shouldn't pay much attention to anything that I say) like fairly traditional jazz riffs. 

I associate Pentangle with "jazzy, tinkly versions of old songs" and I could have wished for a little more of that this evening. The opening number, with a whirring, droning undergrowth over which McShee's crystaline voice comes over, first with a traditional number, then with a self penned piece about the very important subject, life, thrilled me with its strangeness. But over the course of the evening, I felt perhaps I had had as much "ethereal" and "jazzy" as I needed, and would have liked some more, er folk songs.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Old Dance School

Bristol Folk House

Ah, yes. Eight horribly talented young people. They met at the Birmingham Conservatoire. All the boys were studying jazz and all the girls were studying classical music. One of the girls teaches classical violin. They all think Andy Cutting is wonderful. They finish the night with a long jiggy instrumental piece that leads into John Ball, which it will be remembered that Andy Cutting's friend Chris Wood sometimes plays. (It's almost compulsory for modern folkies to play at least one Sydney Carter song. What price a contemporary version of Friday Morning?) It's always an inspirational number whoever plays it. The jazz-classical influence is very obvious. I don't swear if you had played me the instrumental stuff, I would have instantly identified it as folk. Not that that matters. It's all music. The instrumental riff ends with two fiddles going "peep-peep-peep" like a string quartet, not "diddly-diddly-dee" like a folk group. There was something of Lau in the jazzy way the melody gets passed around, although it was more like melody and less about rhythm, and never stopped being music. The double bass provided some rhythm in lieu of percussion, like Miranda Sykes does with Show of Hands. It was clearly very clever indeed but for my personal taste, I couldn't help feeling that there were, er, too many notes.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Sid Kipper

Bath Comedy Festival

Lester and Mick used to periodically played Sid Kipper on Folkwaves, back in those glorious old days when we were still allowed to have folk music on the wireless. From his records, he appeared to be entirely mad, with a dangerous weakness for puns. ("On Feb 29th, the squire awarded a haunch of venison to any lady who successfully proposed to a young man. It was a case of meat buoys girl.") So I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear him live. He was originally part of a duo called the Kipper Family, and if you find that remotely funny, you'd probably have laughed at his songs as well. (*)

Well... You'd probably have laughed at at least one of his songs, in a very broad, carry-on style music hall way. A fair sample of the tone:

"Now our Norfolk turkeys are simply the best,
They sure knock the stuffing out of the rest
And if you tried one I'm sure that you would
Agree that our turkeys are Norfolk and good.
Norfolk and Good! Norfolk and Good!
You'll say our turkeys are Norfolk and Good!"

Beneath the silliness, there are some sharp folk in-jokes. "People debate whether or not women can Morris dance. Since they do, you'd think that would have finished the argument." (While you take part in this frolic / Remember that it's all symbolic.) I enjoyed the one about the young lady enthusiastically sending her young man off to fight in the wars, while he sings response verses coming up with excuses to stay at home. And the entirely daft cod Latin reworking of Gaudete

"Troilus et Cressida, In Loco Parentis
Honi soit qui mal y pense, Harry Belafontee"

And the entirely genuine 17th century protest song, played on a harpsichord.

"How roads many roads must a dodo walk down
Before you can call her a dodo?
How many seas must the white Dodo sail
Before she rests by the road-oh."

In fact, rather than reciting the entire set list, I liked nearly all of it. And the way Sid (actually comedian Chris Sugden, but don't tell anybody) keeps up the endless stream of cod Norfolk patter and malapropisms, without stepping out of character once is actually very clever indeed. ("....or you can look at my webpage, or go on Myface and Twat me...but I digest...) But I did start to feel by the end of the evening that I had now heard the joke, and that 25 of the best Kippersongs (sung in order of their royalties: "this one has earned by £178 in the last ten years") is less funny than one of them.

Also worth mentioning the support act, a local duo called Man Overboard, which I can only describe as "quirky": guitar guy Martyn Dormer follows a comedy ukele number called The Phantom Wanker of HMV with a creditably bellowed Port of Amsterdam, interspersed with some perfectly straight jiggedy jiggedy jigs by the fiddler Brendan Jones. The mixing of the very silly with the not particularly silly at a gig being done under auspices of the Bath Comedy Festival was very courageous, but I thought really worked. Will try to track these people down again.

(*) English folk music was invented by a group called "The Copper Family": get it?