Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Robert Plant At Glastonbury Abbey 9/8/2014

It had rained heavily on Saturday but had stopped by 4.30 when I set off for Glastonbury with my friends Jacquie, Chrissie and Chris. It was Chris actually who got me back into listening to Robert Plant when he gave me a copy of the Raising Sand album with Alison Krauss. It only took 40 minutes to get to Glastonbury and parking was quite easy considering there was a sell-out crowd of 9,900 in the magnificent setting of Glastonbury Abbey. We met up with Redders who is an old punk rocker and had cycled there from Westbury and then Odele who I met on the recycling team at Glastonbury Festival and our little gang was complete.We had brought some chairs and Jacquie and Chrissie had brought some nice  food for a picnic which Odele added to so we were all set for a great night.
The first band on were the Wildflowers who I had never heard of until a couple of weeks ago when I looked them up on Youtube. They were quite good but after a while I lost interest and spent more time talking to my friends.

The next act though I thought was really good. His name is George Ezra. He is only young but his voice sounds a lot older than him and is almost impossible to define. He played a great set. I think my favourite songs were Cassie-O and his hit single Budapest.

Finally it was time for Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters.

What a great band they are. Robert Plant has moved on from Led Zeppelin and is trying to be more experimental in the music infusing it with African tribal rhythms and using instruments I had never seen before.The band are  Justin Adams on guitar, John Baggot on keyboards, Juldeh Camara on ritti which is a one stringed African violin,Kologo on African banjo and drum, Billy Fuller on bass, Dave Smith on drums and Skin Tyson on guitars. He still does some Led Zeppelin songs but they are transformed with trance psychedelic rhythms  His voice sounds as great as ever but more restrained and better for it in my opinion. I usually write a set-list but I didn't bother on this occasion because I wasn't sure of the names of the songs. I really enjoyed a song called Rainbow though and Little Maggie. Whole Lotta Love/Who Do You Love was magnificent and Rock And Roll. I went down to front to take a couple of pictures . I really liked Skin Tyson on guitars and banjo.Some of his acoustic playing was wonderful. The whole band were great.The evening ended with a spectacular firework display and we were back home by midnight, tired but happy after a great night.

                                                                             Thank you very much Michael Eavis, Glastonbury Abbey and Robert Plant for a wonderful evening.

 The End.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2014, Part 2 Van Morrison.

As ladysmith Black Mambazo ended Brendan and I made our move to get to the front. Hundreds of people poured out and we poured in.We tried on the left first and then on the right but it was so crowded it was impossible to rejoin Dail and Evonne right at the front so we had to settle for a spot about fifteen yards from the front of the stage. While we were waiting for Van to come on we got chatting to a couple from Belfast and the ladies name was Anne McMurray who is a friend of a friend of ours Maurice Kinkead who does a lot of great work in East Belfast. She asked us if we were going to see Van in Orangefield soon. I'm not, but Brendan is. Anyway, what a small world it is.I hope Maurice will say hello to her from me next time he sees Anne. Van was due on stage at 8.25 for a seventy five minute set. The band shuffled on before that to tune up. Shana always looks beautiful but tonight she looked even more lovely than usual in a pink dress.It was the usual band of Alistair White, Chris White, Bobby Ruggerio, Dave Keary, Paul Moore and Paul Moran.
 I didn't recognise the first few notes and said to Brendan, "What's this?". Then Van came on and started blowing his saxophone and I immediately recognised Celtic Swing. The audience loved it, they were in party mood, out to enjoy themselves on the last night of the festival. The next song was Little Village which was great with Chris White excelling himself on the euphonium. Then it was one of Van's hits Whenever God Shines His Light On Me with Shana singing the parts that Sir Cliff used to do. The crowd loved this. A highlight for me followed, Someone Like You probably the second best known of Van's love songs but in all my history of going to Van concerts of 35 years I can't ever remember him singing this before. It was splendid with Shana joining in on vocals. At festivals you expect a bit of crowd involvement and most songs you accept it but during a beautiful ballad like this you would think people would listen. During this song a group in front of us were not even listening to the music but just prattled away to each other. Brendan couldn't stand it and tapped the ringleader on the shoulder and asked them in no uncertain terms to quieten down and have some consideration.Another Van classic followed Queen Of The Slipstream, I thought this was great and so did the audience.Van played some great harmonica on this song. If the audience liked that they absolutely loved the next one which was Baby Please Don't Go/ Parchman Farm.I didn't know anything about Parchman Farm so I looked it up on Wikipedia. It is an autobiographical song written by Bukka White about his experience on an infamous prison farm in Alabama. It was later recorded by Mose Allison with a different arrangement which i guess is where Van became aware of the song.
                    Then Van said, " As this is a folk festival, I'll sing a folk song". It was Dead Or Alive which is a Woody Guthrie song that Van recorded for The Skiffle Sessions album with Lonnie Doneghan. I bet Lonnie played at the Cambridge Festival a few times.Then it was the great Enlightenment which is a song I never get tired of hearing.Another great song followed Rough God Goes Riding. The next song though I could have done without which was Tear Your Playhouse Down which to me is one of the lesser of Van's lesser songs and in a time slot of only 75 minutes something like Here Comes The Night would have been a much better crowd pleaser.
The next song though was absolutely brilliant, Days Like This which delighted the hard core Van fans and festival goers alike. It was perfect with Van scatting along at the end and really enjoying himself. Next up was Moondance. The audience loved this when they recognised it. My only complaint is that when the time slot is so short there is no need to give all the band a solo. I know it gives Van's voice a rest but four minutes would have been long enough and they could have squeezed in another song without the solo's.A song which I heard ad-nauseam about ten years ago was next, Precious Time but I hadn't heard it for quite a while so I didn't mind and the Cambridge audience loved it so who am I to object.The whole audience sang along to one of Van's rare chart hits.They also loved Real Real Gone / You Send Me and Van seemed to be enjoying the party atmosphere because at the end he said, "One more time", and sang the last bit again. The Ray Charles Classic I Can't Stop Loving You followed with Shana trying to repeat the part that the Crawford Bell Singers used to do so well a few years ago. The audience went wild when they recognised the opening bars of Brown Eyed Girl which Van was almost obliged to do for this audience. He seemed to enjoy the audience participation and stopped singing at one point and let the crowd sing all the Sha La La's. I knew it was coming to an end now when Help Me began and during Gloria I was heading for the exit to avoid the crush but I did listen from the back. The crowd loved it and I think Van made quite a few new fans. There was no transcendental songs like In The Garden etc but I knew that wouldn't happen. It it was a most enjoyable evening in beautiful weather in a nice atmosphere and when I met up with Dail and Evonne we all agreed it had been a great day at Cambridge Folk Festival and the highlight had been seeing Van the Man.

The End.

Review: Cambridge Folk Festival 2014. Part 1

It had rained heavily on Saturday at Cambridge Folk Festival but on Sunday morning when Dail, her friend Evonne and I set off from Dail's house in the pretty town of Stamford it was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky so I was relieved I didn't have to pack my emergency poncho. It only took about an hour to get to the festival site in Cherry Hinton on the outskirts of Cambridge. This was the 50th annual festival and I had never been before but this year I thought I would make the effort especially as Van Morrison was on. When we entered the arena where all the stages were I noticed  how crowded it was compared to the Village Pump Festival the week before. The arena was hardly any bigger than at the Village Pump but there was about ten times the amount of people which meant that it was packed. What made it worse was that everybody seemed to have brought fold up chairs.It said in the programme not to bring chairs unless you were elderly,disabled or injured but people had ignored that and placed chairs to claim their spot. It was just a sea of chairs. At the Village Pump there was room to breathe but not here.

                                                                  Anyway, that was the only thing I didn't like about this festival. Everything else was great. We took a walk up to the front and  watched a bit of Sarah Jarosz who is a young American singer-songwriter who was accompanied by a fiddle player and a cellist. She was quite good I thought. Then we went to the Club Tent where they showcase new young musicians and there was a really good young English singer-guitarist on. I think his name was Luke Jackson . Dail wanted to secure her position right at the front so we went back to the main stage and got a place right on the barrier and Dail and Evonne took turns keeping this place for the next eight hours. Evonne and I went for a stroll and got a drink and we listened to The High King's.
They are a traditional Irish folk band and their set was mainly well known Irish songs but performed brilliantly. This is just the sort of lively music festival audiences love on a sunny day and they went down a storm. After that we got some food and rejoined Dail. Jason Isbell was on next. I hadn't heard him before but I had heard great reports of him and I must say I thought he was great. Some of the songs were really sad and touched a nerve but it was a great performance. He was accompanied on vocals and violin by his wife Amanda Shires who I think you will agree is gorgeous (See photo).The Oysterband were on after Jason and Dail and Evonne were blown away by them and afterwards couldn't stop talking about them but I didn't see them. I had gone for a walk.
   Strolling past Stage 2 I heard a fair maiden singing a plaintive ballad. "I know that voice", I thought to myself and had a look. Just as I thought it was the one and only Kate Rusby making a surprise appearance. I think Kate is wonderful and I'm going to see her in Bath in December so I stopped and listened to the rest of her set. She brought on Sarah Jarosz as her guest and it was really nice.

 After Kate's surprise appearance I walked on and I met Someone I recognised. It was none other than Chris White who is one of Van Morrison's horn players. I shook hands with him and told him that we had met before. It was in the pub after a Van concert at the Albert Hall. He said that he remembered me but he might have just been polite. I said I was looking forward to seeing Van later. He was friendly. I think all of Van's band are really nice people. I should have asked for a photo but I didn't think. Never-mind. Then strolling through the market area I found a tattoo parlour doing Henna tattoo's which last about 14 days. "I know, I'll get a Van tattoo", I thought. " Can I have a tattoo saying Van The Man in Celtic lettering please?", I said to the girl. "We don't do Celtic lettering", she replied, "This is your choices". "Ok, do what you think is best".I felt obliged to have one once I had sat down. Anyway, it turned out rubbish and a waste of money. I took a photo of it but I'm not showing you it. It will be gone in two weeks and good riddence.
                                                               After that waste of time I saw The Rails on stage 2. I had seen them in Bath less than two weeks ago. In Bath they were a two piece acoustic act but at Cambridge they were a five piece electric outfit and were great. I must get The Rails album because I really like them. Kami looked really cool in her shades and I filmed Bonnie Portmore which is my favourite of their songs (See video below) . Back at the main stage I tried to rejoin Dail and Evonne but it had become impossible so I listened to Julie Fowlis from a distance. Julie is a traditional singer from the Outer Hebrides. An internet friend Jez has often mentioned her so I had a good listen.She has an exquisite voice singing in the Gaelic. Very nice indeed.

 I needed another drink and a cigarette and sat at a table outside the main bar. Who should I meet but Brendan from Dublin who I last met up with in Brighton back in February. It was great to see another die-hard Van fan. We watched Ladysmith Black Mambazo from a distance. I don't think Brendan liked them much and I wasn't all that bothered. I got a passer by to take our photo and we passed the time chatting about Van. Eventually Ladysmith ended and as thousands of people moved out we knew it was time to make our move. It was time for the legend they call Van The Man.

To be continued in Part 2, Van Morrison At Cambridge 2014.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Richard Thompson & The Rails At Bath Forum, 23/7/2014

It was a week ago today that we went to see the great Richard Thompson in Bath but I have been so busy since I haven't had the chance to write a review until today. This is what happened.                                                       We caught the train to Bath at 2.10 because Jacky & Bill hadn't been to Bath for years so I thought it would be nice to show them around. We walked up Milsom Street and past the abbey and had a look at the river. Then we had a quiet drink under the shade of the trees at The Boater pub. After that we walked along the river as far as the cricket club. It was so hot that we sat down in a shady spot and watched a ladies cricket match for quite a while. It was really pleasant and quite appropriate because Richard Thompson is a big cricket fan. Later on we had some food at a pub near the venue and then it was showtime.

 I bought a Richard Thompson Acoustic Classics shirt at the merchandise stall and joined Jacky & Bill in our seats quite near the front of the nice art-deco style venue. The opening act were The Rails who are Richard's daughter Kami and her husband James Walbourne. They began with the brilliant Bonnie Portmore which I discovered via their appearance at Glastonbury and really like. ( See video below) They have an album out called Fair Warning and most of the songs from their 40 minute set came from that. I'm not sure of the titles of all the songs but I really liked William Taylor, Send Her To Holloway and a song called Lonely from a forthcoming Thompson family album featuring Richard,Teddy, Kami,James and Kami's mother Linda so that should be good. I thought The Rails were great and during the interval I had a quick little chat with them and they signed a flyer for me. They are on at Cambridge Folk Festival this weekend so I may get the chance to see them again. Also during the interval I asked a man at the door if there was any chance that I could have the huge poster from the foyer and he said he would find out.
   Then it was time for the main man. This is the second time I have seen Richard at this venue and he never ceases to amaze me with his skill on the guitar and his ability to sing brilliantly at the same time.This is the setlist. I hope I have the song titles correct.
Bathsheba Smiles
Saving The Good Stuff For You
God Loves A Drunk
Johnny On The Sea
Fergus Lang
Vincent Black Lightning 1952
Sunset Song
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
Genesis Hall
Good Things Happen To Bad People
The New Me
I Read About Love
Three short pieces about World War 1
Wall Of Death
Dimming Of The Day
I Feel So Good
Gossamer Wind
One Door Opens
That's Enough ( With The Rails)
                                                   I think you will agree that is a very impressive list of songs. I really enjoyed God Loves A Drunk which I first got to know on a Norma Waterson album. The three short pieces about World War 1 were letters from soldiers verbatim which Richard has set to music for a project coming out in 2016 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle Of The Somme. It was great to hear the Fairport Convention song Genesis Hall as well because I am a big fan of Fairport. The last song when he was joined by The Rails is also from the forthcoming family album and was brilliant. In fact the whole concert was brilliant.

                                                       As we left, the man on the door was waiting with my huge Richard Thompson poster. It will cost a fortune to frame it but I'll get it done in due course. We caught the train at about 10.45 and got home in time for a last drink in the Ludlow and a chat with my friend Jacquie the landlady.What a perfect day it had been.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Baka Beyond At The Crown, Bathford 10/7/2014.

 I had a wonderful evening at The Crown in Bathford last night. This is what happened. It was one of my internet friends Brian who told me about the gig. He is friends with Baka Beyond. I had heard the name but never heard the music. However i have always liked the Afro Celt style of music so I really wanted to go. I told my friend Jacquie about it and she said she would drive. As soon as Jacquie finished work we set off. It was a nice warm evening and as we drove through Sally In The Woods towards Bath the countryside looked really lush and green. How lucky we are to live in such a nice area. Soon we arrived at The Crown. I have passed this pub countless times but never been in. The staff were charming and our waitress had dressed up for the occasion. We both opted for the stuffed mushroom tartlettes and salad which was delicious. I think the pub gave some of the proceeds from the evening to Baka Beyond's charity which is good of them. After eating we chilled out for a while in the bucolic surroundings of the garden until the music began. Eventually we could hear the band starting up so we went inside. The bar was crowded by now with the cream of Bath's bohemian intelligentsia some of whom had cycled out from Bath which isn't far away. I'll just tell you a little bit about Baka Beyond. The band were formed after the singer Su Hart and guitarist Martin Cradick visited the Baka people in Cameroon in 1992. They founded a charity called The Global Music Exchange and the royalties from the music are used for projects to support the Baka culture and way of life.(Click on  picture at the base of the page for more details).

I think there were six musicians in the band tonight of various nationalities. Su on vocals, also drums, bass, guitar, violin and a cool dude on bongos and other drums.There were other instruments as well but I don't know what they are called. The music was great, really happy and infectious. As well as being a great singer Su is a great little dancer as well and encouraged the audience to join in. The place was jumping. Some of the songs were in French which is the official language of Cameroon.I really liked the African style guitar sound which reminded me of a band I used to like years ago called the Bhundu Boys from Zimbabwe.I can't tell you the names of the songs because this was the first time I had ever heard this group but I hope it won't be the last.I did film one song but sadly it came out a bit dark and didn't really do the group justice but the sound is good and you can see it below.
 During the interval I introduced myself to Su and said hello from Brian and she immediately knew who I was talking about.She said to say hi to Brian and tell him about the Canadian tour in August. She was really nice and I asked her for a photo and she obliged.I bought a CD from her called 'After The Tempest' which I am playing at this very moment and really enjoying. Highly recommended. Jacquie and I left before the end of the performance because it was getting late and I thought Jacquie deserved a well earned drink back in her pub The Ludlow Arms in Westbury after a long day and being kind enough to take me to Bathford. So thank you very much indeed to Baka Beyond, The Crown at Bathford, Brian for telling me about it and Jacquie for a most enjoyable evening.Lets do it all again soon.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bob Dylan In Bristol 1966

Here is a famous iconic photo of Bob Dylan and a story I wrote about one little incident in his traumatic year of 1966..I hope you enjoy it.

These days it doesn't take long to drive from Bristol to Cardiff,you merely drive across the Severn Bridge. In the early 1960's though it was a different matter. One had to drive up to Gloucester before you could cross the Bristol Channel, a detour of 80 miles. There was an alternative though. You could cross the river by the Aust ferry.This ramshackle car ferry service was falling into disrepair by 1966 as the new bridge was being built.
On the morning of May 11th 1966 a car drew up and waited for this ferry. Sitting on the back seat was one of the most famous people in the world,Bob Dylan. The previous night at the Colston Hall in Bristol Bob had played the opening date of his British tour and it hadn't gone well. Bob and The Band had crash landed in Britain carrying 4 tons of amplification.Something unheard of in those days. After the first 'folk' half of the show Bob unleashed his new 'electric' sound. The audience had heard nothing like this before. To them it sounded like an attack of mortar bombs and artillery. They didn't like it and boo'ed throughout the concert. Next morning as Bob slumped in the car, his amphetamine eyes hidden behind his trademark dark glasses he was full of fore-boding about the next concert in Cardiff.
Having to wait for the ferry to arrive Bob got out of the car to stretch his legs and one of his entourage Barry Feinstein took Bob's photo on that rainy morning over 40 years ago. That picture showing the haggard unkempt mean moody Dylan has passed into folklore as one of the most iconic pictures in rock. Dylan who had enjoyed the most fruitful creative periods of his amazing career was now entering burn out. A few nights later at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester an irate fan shouted 'JUDAS!' at Dylan and the rest is history. Bob was proved to be right though, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde became two of the greatest albums in history, influencing the likes of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Bob had re-invented Rock music.
After his UK tour an exhausted Dylan returned to the States and shortly afterwards had a motorcycle accident and withdrew from the public gaze. Not long after the famous photo was taken the ferry across the Severn closed for good. Bob was one of the last people to use it. The boat called Severn Princess was sold. It ended up in Ireland where it was recently discovered derelict and abandoned. It has now been returned to the river Severn at Chepstow where it will form part of a museum and the iconic picture of Bob taken on that rainy morning will be part of the exhibits. It is also the cover of the Martin Scorcese biopic of Bob No Direction Home.
          The photographer Barry Feinstein (See picture above)who took that famous photo went on to have a very successful career and he died recently which is why I am repeating this story.

In The Jingle Jangle Morning, Happy Birthday Bob Dylan, 73 today!

Bob Dylan at Blackbushe 1978 Posted by Picasa

The year was 1978 and the times they were a changin'.Punk rock had swept the country and the old guard was being pushed aside.It was announced that Bob Dylan was to arrive in Britain for 5 nights at Londons Earls Court.The news was greeted with derision by the new wave but for anyone over 25 this was the best news in years.It was Dylans first visit to Britain for 9 years, since his legendary appearance at the Isle Of Wight festival in 1969.Excitement spread like wildfire throughout the land,the tickets were to go on sale at various venues around the country one Sunday morning at 9.00.Each person was allowed to buy 4 tickets.The nearest venue to us was the Colston Hall in Bristol.
The night before the tickets went on sale I began to get worried that we would be at the back of the queue and miss out on the tickets.
"I think we should be in the queue now," I said to my friends.
We set off for Bristol with our sleeping bags sure that we would be the first in line at the box office.When we got to Colston Hall we were surprised to see a line of people stretching from the box office to the corner of the street.To our horror when we got to the corner we found the queue stretched all the way along the next street as well.There were already thousands of people camped out to get Bob tickets.This was the amazing appeal of Bob Dylan in those days.
There was a fantastic atmosphere on the streets of Bristol that night as a mini Bob fest was held, people sat on the pavement drinking and chatting and listening to Dylan on tape recorders and the sweet smell of marijuana drifted up Colston Street.Next morning the bleary eyed revellers began to shuffle forward when the box office opened.Finally with a sigh of relief I had the precious tickets in my grasp.We were going to see Bob Dylan!
A few weeks later we found ourselves in the vastness of Earls Court arena,Bob was just a tiny figure in the distance, this was before the age of huge video screens.If my memory serves me well he was wearing a top hat.The band were supurb though and included 3 girl singers who were excellent.I think this was the best band Bob had in his career.It's so long ago now in the mists of time that i can't remember a lot about the concert apart from Bob getting a huge round of applause when he first played the harmonica on Love Minus Zero, No Limit, also the crowd gave a huge cheers when during Its Alright Ma,I'm Only Bleeding bob sang "Sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked", this was only 4 years since Nixon resigned don't forget.I think my favourite song that night was I Want you which Bob had slowed right down to a haunting love ballad.There were also songs from his brand new album Street Legal which were excellent.I think the last song he did was Forever Young and during this song people started holding up cigarette lighters and candles until there were 15,000 little lights inside Earls Court.It was an amazing sight.The whole concert was a deeply moving spiritual experience.
Afterwards in a packed tube train the excitement of the evening had become too much for me and i got a really bad comedown and felt really claustrophobic,almost panicing.I hate tube trains anyway. I soon recovered though when i got in the fresh air.
Then it was announced that Dylan was to end his European tour with a huge outdoor concert at Blackbushe Areodrome near Camberley in Surrey.It was to be known as the 'Picnic'.Some picnic this was!Once more we set off to see Bob.The official figure of the attendance that day was 165,000 but anyone who was there knows that the real figure was about 3 times that.It was vast, I think it is only rivalled by the Stones concert in Hyde Park as the biggest concert ever in Britain.As well as Bob Eric Clapton was on and Joan Armatrading and Graham Parker And The Rumour who were a shit hot band in those days.All the glitterati were there, during Bobs set Ringo Starr and George Harrison could be seen at the side of the stage.A good friend of mine sent me a bootleg of this concert a couple of years ago.This is the setlist from that amazing night,
My Back Pages, Love Her With a Feeling, Baby Stop Crying, Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, Shelter From The Storm, It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Girl From The North Country , Ballad Of a Thin Man, Maggie's Farm, Simple Twist Of Fate, Like a Rolling Stone,I Shall Be Released, Is Your Love In Vain, Where Are You Tonight?, A Change Is Gonna Come, Mr. Tambourine Man, Laissez-Faire, Gates Of Eden, True Love Tends To Forget, One More Cup Of Coffee, Blowin' In The Wind I Want You, SeƱor ,Masters Of War, Just Like a Woman, To Ramona, Don't Think Twice It's Alright, All Along the Watchtower, All I Really Want to Do, It's Alright Ma, Forever Young, Changing Of The Guards, The Times They Are A Changin'.
It took us 5 hours to find our car afterwards and it was dawn before we finally made it to the main road to head home.There would never again be a concert in Britain like Dylans concert at Blackbushe which was the hippies graveyard.For me it represented the end of an era.
                                                                                             The following winter was the winter of discontent and in 1979 Thatcher siezed power, pestilence and blight spread throughout the land as she systematically stuck the boot into the working people.A darkness descended upon the country which she held in the grip of her icy claw.How could a country which was supposed to be known for its sense of fair play and support for the underdog have fallen into the hands of this mean spirited she-devil? I saw Dylan again in 1981 but it wasn't the same.By then i was disillusioned, if Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation how come someone like Thatcher got elected? For me it was only Glastonbury Festival which kept the flame of hope alive during those dark years of unemployment and poverty.I lost interest in Bob for a while especially when he reached his nadir with the Saved album and then his shambolic awful performance at Live Aid but in recent years I have returned to playing Bobs records and there is no doubt to me that he is one of the greatest poets who ever lived and anyone who ever saw Bob perform live is privileged.

So thank you for writing the best songs
Thank you for righting a few wrongs
You're a savage gift on a wayward bus
But you stepped down and you sang to us
(Words by Joan Baez)


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shelagh McDonald,The Lady Who Vanished.

Kevin is a musician friend of mine. He sent me the Trees album a couple of years ago that I hadn't heard for 30 years. Kev phones me up occasionally and we have chats about music and one evening I mentioned to him about Annie Briggs and Vashti Bunyan and Kev said ,"There's another great singer who disappeared as well,Shelagh McDonald,she used to live in Bristol and she was really good,check her out". When I had got my 'American Gothic' out of my system I thought,"What shall I buy next?". Then I remembered what Kevin had said so I looked on the net to see if there were any Shelagh McDonald albums available and there were three, 'The Shelagh McDonald Album','Stargazer' and 'Let No Man Steal Your Thyme' which was a double album comprising of her first two albums and other earlier recordings,demo's and out-takes etc and that is the one I opted for. A few days later the CD plopped through the letter box. The first thing I noticed on opening the package was how nice looking she was,the elfin mystical looking long haired hippy chick of the early 70's (See pictures). Opening the accompanying booklet I was amazed to see the list of great musicians who played on her albums, it was the gliterati of the British folk/rock scene of the time.Richard Thompson,Keith Christmas,Gerry Conway,Andy Roberts,Keith Tippet,Gordon Huntley,Pat Donaldson,Dave Mattacks,Danny Thompson and even Katie Kissoon on backing vocals plus lots of others. What an line-up of talent. Also the notes told the  story of Shelagh up to 2005 when this compilation was released. Not a lot is known about her early life except that she came from the Edinburgh area of Scotland.She discovered a talent for singing and playing the guitar and when she left school in the late 60's she left home and headed for Bristol where she soon made a name for herself playing in the clubs of Bristol's thriving folk scene and she began an on off relationship with singer Keith Christmas. (I pinched the top photo with Keith and Shelagh from Keiths Facebook page,I hope he doesn't mind) Soon her talent was spotted and she headed for the bright lights of London and a record contract. Her first album received lukewarm reviews but her second one 'Stargazer' was a hit with critics and a growing following of fans. Karl Dallas one of the leading music journalists hailed her as the new Sandy Denny and she was compared to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. Just when she seemed set for fame and fortune though her world began to fall apart. One fateful night she took a tab of acid and the experience left her a psychological mess. Even weeks later she was still suffering from horrible hallucinations. I have every sympathy.British LSD in the 70's was the strongest in the world up to Operation Julie in 1977 which took it off the streets. To borrow from Allen Ginsberg I saw some of the best minds of my generation destroyed by LSD.It al ways seemed to be the sensitive,creative types who suffered the most. In desperation Shelagh headed back to Scotland and did not contact any of her old friends and for 33 years up to the release of this compilation cd and the sleeve notes being written nothing was heard of her again.She had completely vanished.
So then I put on the first cd and the opening couple of tracks were not that impressive to me.They were early recordings from a radio series called Dungeon Folk.However when the third track called Mirage played then I was really impressed.She had made the transition from folk singer to folk-rock singer. That whole side was really good but CD 2 went from really good to quite stunning. It is a mini-masterpiece,As good as Fairport Convention,Pentangle, Nick Drake or any of the luminaries of the folk rock scene of the time. The production by Sandy Robertson is quite superb as well. Every track on the Stargazer album is brilliant. The lyrics of Liz's Song almost suggest she was planning to disappear but that could be just a coincidence. Some tracks like Odyssey and The Road To Paradise are like progressive rock. I would have loved to have seen her with this band in concert,that would have been really something. Sweet Sunlight is a beautiful song and her voice is exquisite. Stargazer,the title track speaks for itself . I particularly enjoyed Canadian Man which has a real Joni Mitchell influence, Good Times has some great funky saxophone, Dowie Dens Of Yarrow would have graced any Sandy Denny album.Spin and City's Cry are also great.The latter with the unmistakeable sound of Richard Thompson's guitar reminding me of Fairports album What We Did On Our Holidays.I can't praise this album enough.
I looked on Wikipedia to find out more information and discovered there is one final twist in the tale.When this album was released in 2005 it prompted an article about Shelagh in The Independent by Charles Donavon. This led to similar copycat articles in other papers including the Scottish Daily Mail. In November 2005 Shelagh read the article and turned up at the newspaper office to tell her story. She revealed that after her bad acid experience she had totally lost the ability to sing and she had worked in a department store till 1981. Then she met a hippy bookseller (A man after my own heart! ) called George Farquhar and they adopted an itinerant lifestyle travelling around the Scottish Islands and abroad and eventually lived in a tent,camping wherever they could. She told the newspaper that her voice had returned and she had started writing songs again. Since that visit to the newspaper 5 years ago though nothing else has been heard from Shelagh and she has disappeared back into the mists of obscurity from which she had so briefly emerged.
                                                                              I'm not expected Shelagh McDonald to rekindle her career now but it would be great if more people discovered her music and realised what a great talent she was.I urge you to listen to the song 'Stargazer',the choral ending is quite brilliant.Also thank you very much to Kevin for telling me about Shelagh McDonald.

                There is a very happy ending to this story.I received a message yesterday from a fan of Shelagh's to say that she is playing her first official gig in 40 years next week in Camden Town.That is brilliant and I wish her every success with that.I hope it leads to more dates.The gig is sold out apparently and I found out too late or I would have loved to have seen her live.Anyway I looked on the web and found that she had done an interview on Scottish community radio in December and this is really good.Shelagh is on at about 19 minutes in and she sings a few songs as well. Her guitar playing is superb and her voice is as good as ever.I'd love to see her at the Village Pump Festival right here in Westbury. Her old friend Keith Christmas is often on so it would be great if Shelagh appeared one year and it would also be great if she made a new album.We shall see.Anyway you can hear Shelagh here-

Another update. I just looked on youtube and found some recent footage of Shelagh which I have put on this page.

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