Friday, April 29, 2011

Robin Williamson / John Renbourne

Bristol Folkhouse 23 April

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.

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