A cold coming we had of it. The worst time of the year, for such a journey. Crystal clear sky, a rising mist hugging the outlines of the trees, Winter clinging on by its fingertips. At least, that is what it felt to those of us whose journeying across the unlit moors towards the unpredictable maelstrom of another Swan Acoustic Session.
It was, of course, St Patrick's Day; and many of an Irish persuasion (or sympathy) may have been elsewhere engaged. But there was a goodly crowd - some regulars present, others missing; a solid selection of occasionals; and even some first-timers. But from David B's organisational name-check, it seemed that we were celebrating a reunion for St John the Apostle and Gospeller, rather than St Patrick.
David had us up and away by 2040, in the shape of Don and John; who have been before, but not recently. They started with "Ordinary Man" by Peter Hames, featured on the eponymous Album by Christy Moore. They followed this with "Wayfaring Stranger", a traditional song (ie, one where no-one quite remembers who wrote it), but which has been covered by all manner of musical luminaries, from Burl Ives to Ed Sheeran. And of course, now Don and John; who play well together, with Don taking lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and John providing harmony and (what used to be called) lead guitar. Good stuff.
Don (O'Connor) and John (Jenner) were followed by John (D) and John (Nixon), another pairing of singer/guitarists, also known as (I hope I've got his right) the Gingham Hillbillies. They had to leave at half-time, so they were permitted four songs in the first half. They started with "Mandolin Wind": written and originally performed by Rod Stewart - though apparently later covered by the Everly Brothers, who your blogger always associates more with the 1950s. This was followed by "Dead Flowers", and "Wild Horses": both Rolling Stones songs written by Jagger and Richards from the "Sticky Fingers" album. They finished with "Live Minus Zero/No Limit", a Bob Dylan song from 1965. John and John took it in turns to take the vocal and guitar lead, each joining in on the other's rendition.
John and John might have been followed by John, had not David B wisely suggested we break up the John-guitar fest with some more gentle Harp Music from Frances (White). She started with a very pleasing tune "The Maid Behind the Bar", and then into a very plausible rendition of JS Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". (Does anyone else mix this work up with "Air on a G-string" and "Sheep May Safely Graze"?) But as always, great to have a tonal change from all these guitars.
And so on to John (Waller); who, having exhausted his back-catalogue of self-penned songs, was now proposing to work through his back-catalogue of songs which hadn't originally been considered good enough to perform. The first of these was entitled "Memorial", about urban decay. He followed this with the obligatory Al Stewart number, "Manuscript". The session's other Al Stewart aficionado, Graeme, had to leave before he could provide an Al Stewart offering of his own.
And so the baton passed to a couple of visitors, George and Jean from faraway Filey; in the area to visit relatives, but having first sussed the Session out via the Internet! George on Banjo and Jean on Shaker rattled through a couple of old standard Country songs, "Roving Gambler" and "Cotton Mill Girls", both of which were, they insisted, old enough to be considered "trad". Both originate from the USA (despite the possible Lancastrian connections for CMG); and apparently Roving Gambler was a hit for Kelly Harrell in 1925; though he may not have written it. There you go.
And so to our regular accordionist, Julian Hyde. It seems thatJulian
and his accordion had spent three weeks apart while one of them was in rehab in Scotland. But despite not having learned any new tunes while it was away, re-united, the accordion and Julian
provided us with three lovely fluid tunes: "Abbess", by Andy Cutting; followed by a medley of "Leaving Storr" and "The Ross Memorial Hospital" by Phil Cunningham. Julian
is a real master of his instrument, and a joy to listen to. As an aside: do such instruments have a gender, or even a name? I knowJulian
has arguments with it when it is time for it to go back into its box.
On to Barry Lane, and back to a guitars. Barry gave us two songs: "Slow Moving Freight Train", and "Carolina Star", both by Hugh Moffatt, a songwriter your blogger had not come across before. It seems he was (or is) more successful as a writer for other performers (like Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash) than as a recording artist himself.
NOW. I am able to relate this information, because Barry took the trouble to write out, in impeccable handwriting, the titles and the writers of the songs he performed. Though myself a mere ingénue in the ranks of SAS Bloggerdom, but may I, on behalf of the Association of SAS Bloggers, heartily commend this practice to all performers? It is a bugger of a job to interrupt the flow of craic and banter with a whining "Sorry, what was that called? who wrote it?" after every song. Let alone then try to transcribe accurately what mumbled or ambiguous response may be forthcoming. And while I am up here on my High Horse, could I, as a fully paid- up member of the Independent Association of Songwriters, ask performers please to give credit to the original writers of songs, not just whatever miserable crooner may have made them famous? Here endeth the Rant.
And so to Andy Brown, the Swan Acoustic Session's resident Parliamentary Candidate in the forthcoming General Election. Andy gave us two songs: "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" by Soft Cell members David Ball and Marc Almond, and "Don't Look Back in Anger" by Oasis member Noel Gallagher. I really hope these song titles do not reflect Andy's chances in, and fate after, said Election. But hey, in the interests of impartiality, should we not have songs performed by all the other prospective candidates in the Skipton and Ripon Constituency? If they read this blog, they should take this as an invitation to the next Swan Acoustic Session.
And finally, to the patient James Porter, known as the Juke Box of Addingham for the width of his repertoire. James gave us "Find My Love", written by Fairground Attraction member Mark Nevin, and "Send me Some Lovin'", written by John S Marascalso and Leo Price in the 1950s, and later covered by a veritable galaxy of the Great and the Good, including Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, Hank Williams Jr, Otis Redding, John Lennon; and now James Porter. Wow. No wonder David B sent us all on a beer break.
Reconvening refreshed, we found the duo of Don and John going independently solo. John gave us "Save Your Tears", a self-penned (with friends) song about a mutual acquaintance who had, to put it mildly, been through a hard time. And followed that with a Dan Penn and Chips Momen song "Dark End of the Street", apparently about cheating (initially, at cards). It apparently took 30 minutes to write, and went on to be covered by about 20 artists, including Aretha Franklin, Ry Cooder, Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, ... and John Jenner.
Don also gave us"So Do I"; writen by Wally Page and covered by Christy Moore and now by Dom.. Great stuff. And followed it up with a Coldplay number, "In My Place", written by Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion and Chris Martin. Released as a single, it went to No. 1 in Poland and No 2 in Ireland (and reasonable positions in other charts).
John, John and Frances having left, it was time for John (Waller) again. Shamelessly repeating one of his own songs he had performed at SAS six months earlier, he gave us "Grandad 2050"; which was immediately seized upon by our Parliamentary Candidate as suitable support for his Campaign. You'll have to make your own guess as to our Candidate's political allegiance from the gnomic title. Pension Annuity freedom? End-of-working life penury?? Climate change devastation??? Whatever the Lib Dems may currently believe in???? Frightened of anything foreign????? He followed this with "Pretty Young Things", a Becky Mills song, with the lyrics necessarily changed to third person masculine.
George and Jean then gave us another two Trad songs: "Bury Me Beneath the Willow", which was popularised by the Carter Family. They followed this with "Cornbread and Butterbeans"; an Homage to the simple life as expressed by those early settlers who followed the dictum to "Go West". Much covered, but the original writers remain lost in the murky waters of history. But well done George and Jean - a set of songs most have not heard before, and I am sure you have more up your sleeve. Do make sure you coincide your future visits to local relatives with Swan Acoustic Sessions!
On to Adrian, who gave us an air "Dr MacKay's Farewell to Creagorry" written by Iain MacLachlan, with later words from David Silver, and subsequently to be used as theme music for a 1960s BBC TV series entitled The Dark Island). It would be good to hear Adrian's rich, strong voice more often. But he reverted to tunes only for his final concession to St Patrick: a medley of "Run Rig" and "Swedish Jig".
Barry Lane then gave us "Richest Poor Boy" by the late Waylon Jennings; and "Don't Tell Mama... " by Buddy Brock and Kim Williams - the lyrics suitable amended to reflect a West Yorkshire location for the tragic incident described in the song.
Back to aspirant MP Andy Brown. Two self-penned songs; "Some Days" and "What Shoots Up", the one cheerful, the other violent. Great to hear more original songs - but what further clues here to Andy's political Allegiance? A loud brassy guitar to accompany them.
James finished us off with "Love in Vain" written by Robert Johnson in the 30s, later covered by the Rolling Stones. And "The Spider and the Fly", this time actually written by Jagger and Richards.
Well, that was supposed to be it. It being 2332, David B asked the rhetorical question: "have we all had enough?" Cue Don and John to launch into a set of reels and jigs on guitars, to be joined by various guitarists able to follow the three-chord sequences; it all to be blown away by Adrian and his accordion, who took up, developed, and then took over in a rampant series of tunes, incidentally incorporating "Barwick Green" which loyal Radio 4 listeners would recognise, and through a whole lot of other standards that your weary blogger could not begin to note down. St Pat would be proud!
A fitting end to an eclectic evening with much to commend it. You never know who is going to come to SAS sessions, or what they will play and sing. As always: do come and join in. Thank you and good night. JW
(with many thanks to the miracle that is google)