The last time I came to the Swan in Addingham the evening turned into something of a festival of harp music. This time we were treated to an exhibition of high quality guitar work.
Brian started it off by giving us a couple of Christie Moore songs. Black Cat County Chains is the tale of a man working on a prison chain gang that includes a rhyme you don’t often come across of “bread and water” with “a mile and a quarter”. He followed it up with I’m Missing You.
Then Graham did a John Denver song called Rhyme and Reason with lots of skilful hammering on and lifting off techniques that were beyond the ability of tonight’s blogger to follow entirely but sounded absolutely fabulous. That was twinned with the classic Gordon Lightfoot song ‘In the Early Morning Rain’ that I think includes the absolute classic country line: “You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train”. Ain’t it the truth brothers and sisters. Yee Ha!
Alex, who is new to the Swan, went next. Your blogger has seen Alex do his incredibly delicate classical guitar work at Skipton Folk Club but really enjoyed the lightness of touch that he displayed tonight. It was a case of sitting back and enjoying the demonstration of what a guitar is capable of doing. He did a complex arrangement of Autumn Leaves and then a piece of his own called Slow and Easy, presumably named because it is fast and damn hard.
Next up we had the return of John for the first time in a good while. He made the audience laugh with a rendition of ‘Rather be Lonely’ by Loudon Wainwright the third. I think it was “I need some space but you are in my face” that struck a chord. His second number was a really interesting Richard Thompson song about a man who doesn’t want to be a poor substitute for a dead soldier that his lover is still mourning. Not much to laugh at in that one, but a great deal to admire in the fingerpicking work.
James then added further to the variety of the evening by using a reggae style beat to do Cry to Me, a song he’d picked up from an old Stones album. That was followed by Kirsty McCall’s ‘We’ll Never Pass this way again’. The thing I always enjoy about Jame’s work is that he plays with absolute authenticity, giving the song his own character and making it interestingly fresh whilst still recognisably related to the original.
Talking of authenticity brings me to Barry who practically invented the term. He showed off some of his best bluegrass techniques including some walking base lines and a lot of swing rhythms in the finger work. Tonight he started out with ‘Don’t tell me a Country Boy Can’t Sing the Blues’ off a Johnny Cash LP and so you think it was written somewhere in the depths of the bible belt. Instead it is the product of Leeds writer Stew Page showing once again that Yorkshire can hold its own on the Grand Old Oprey. Talking of which that is where the subject of his next effort was heading before the inevitable car crash leaves him with an amputated arm. Having started out playing after he came back blinded in the war this counts as particularly bad luck and therefore an ideal subject for country music. Golden Guitar was written by Bill Anderson, who clearly understands how to work a tear jerker. A finishing lyric of “That boy was my son” drains every last bit of emotion out of the tale.
Having witnessed such a series of top class guitar players your blogger (hello folks it is Andy writing) was somewhat intimidated. I tried to cope by keeping it relatively simple and went for Always on My Mind by Elvis, inspired by thoughts of Kirsty McCall and her classic “There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he is Elvis”. I then tried to cover Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. There has never been any chance that I could look like the young Neil Young but as every year passes and he gets more raddled I can at least try and do a fair imitation of the battered old man version.
After an interval in which I refreshed my glass of the Swan’s excellent dark mild we were ready to go again. Brian commenced with, you’ve guessed it, another couple of Christie Moore classics. Pair of Brown Eyes was followed by one he didn’t write but did perform which was Only the Rivers Run Free.
Graham followed this with Crosby, Stills and Nash (without the Young as I’d already covered that base!). Our House comes from the Deja Vue LP. I can’t have been the only person who played that constantly in the early 70s nor was the only one who thoroughly enjoyed Graham’s version. He followed this up with Chris Christopherson’s Me and Bobby McGee with a quick chord change slipped in between the two verses. Loved this and I think Graham has forgiven me for asking why he didn’t finish it off by wrecking his vocal chords giving us his Janis Joplin impersonation.
Alex was then back with more classy stuff including his own composition ‘Sun Rise over Lismoor’ that included loads of interesting harmonics. He followed that up with a medley of classic guitar preludes from luminaries such as Bach and more obscure artists that your blogger can’t even spell such as the Venezuelan Antonio Laurer. You don’t often go to somewhere where no one blinks an eyelid if you move from Country and Western to classical via Reggae but that’s part of the joy of the Swan. You play what you like and the listeners appreciate quality. There was that in spades from Alex tonight.
John managed the difficult job of following that with ease. He gave us a Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein number ‘All the Things you Are’ followed by Sandy Denny ‘The Sea’.
James then went for Tim Harding’s much covered classic Reason to Believe and was clearly in Rod Stewart mode tonight as that was followed by Tonight’s the Night.
Barry went back to his skiffle days for inspiration and sang about the Wabash Canonball, a piece that he had traced as far back as the 1920s but knew to be older so we’ll put that down as “traditional”. He then decided that ‘When I’m not Chasing Demons the Demons are Chasing Me’ was what we all needed to think about as our thoughts started to turn to home. Great song well sung but not the kind of thought that tucks you up comfortably in your bed with sweet dreams.
I can’t say I exactly cured that problem as I went for Joan Baez being pissed off with Dylan and writing Diamonds and Rust to let him know that it wasn’t a great idea to wait ten years or so between calls. I then tried to stick with songs she’d sung and finish the evening with House of the Rising Sun in the hope that everyone knew it and so would join in. I was right about one thing. Everyone knew it.
So we had to rely on Graham to lead us into a rousing chorus to end the night. Honky Tonk Women did get us all playing along and sent off into the night thinking we’d had a great session with huge amounts of variety.