Just back from the Rhythm Festival.
But how to describe it?
- It’s where I go to feel young and clean shaven (compared to the rest of the crowd).
- It’s where you look at the stage and say: “I thought he was dead ages ago.”
- It’s where a blues band announces that the bass player has had a stroke, lost the power of speech except for swearing, but will sing the next number anyway. (Not good.)
- It’s a lot better than I’m making it sound so far.
- And it’s where you find out if past greats still have it… Or not. (And you meet the next wave too.)
S0 – Who has still got it?
The Damned – Definitely still got it. Old punks with energy. (Old songs better than new.)
The Men They Couldn’t Hang – Still got it. (See past post.) Their Smugglers song gets little kids on parents’ shoulders. (It’s on this good album.) Couldn’t get a decent video for Smugglers though, so here’s The Colours instead. It’s about a mutineer sailor in the Nore and Spithead British naval mutinies of 1797. Apparently it was banned by the BBC due to the line “You’ve Come Here To Watch Me Hang”, which echoed the events in South African townships at the time.
Jackie Leven – Still got it. Delivers the most moving ballads with his beautiful voice. He’s mate of Ian Rankin – author of the Inspector Rebus mysteries. They’ve done a good album together. Jackie’s a bit of a scaredy cat though. That nice Ralph McTell – you know the one, Tickle on the Tum, and “Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the Streets of London…” He shouts at Jackie. Bosses him about. It’s not very nice. Ralphie is much fiercer than you’d think.
I was chatting to Jackie about his song Call Mother a Lonely Field with the lyrics
Like young Irish men in English bars
the song of home betrays us.
In years gone by I would sometimes attempt an English accent while in London, for mischief or when talking to police officers: “Ole-rite mite? Nah, dunno nuffink abaht it.” Sounded less suspicious than a Belfast voice – though to them I may have sounded Australian. I’ve never been great at accents. But anyway, I based my fake accent on this next singer…
Not heard of him? Here’s a typical Bill line: “You’re a dedicated swallower of fascism.” There are so many familiar great songs I could add here, but instead you can have one that’s new to me too. The Last Flight to Abu Dhabi – a comment on rich rats fleeing the financial crisis. (The actual song starts 3’15 in, post rant.) He’s singing it at a gig in Texas.
A stage hand brought him out a new cup of tea after every couple of songs. (He’s getting more and more like Tony Benn.) Bill takes a slurp and then explains that it’s a special tea mix that makes you sing in tune. He got it from Madonna, he says. “Or Lady Saga as we call her.”
He also gave a little workshop on how Woody Guthrie was quite the perv, as well as being the giant of American folk music and singer of the songs of the common people. To summarize, in Woody’s song Ingrid Bergman, every time he sings of Stromboli about to explode, he’s not really talking about the Sicilian volcano. Luckily Billy Bragg was not on the same night as Woody’s son Arlo. Speaking of whom…
Arlo Guthrie – Still got it. He told tales of Woodstock, his father in psychiatric care and how he was given his most commercially successfully song by folk singer Steve Goodman. Steve approached Arlo in Chicago’s Quiet Knight bar in 1971.
The conversation went something like this.
Steve: Can I play you a song I’ve written?
Steve: I’ll buy you a beer.
Arlo: OK. I’ll listen as long as it takes me to drink it.
And Arlo rounds off the story today by saying: “And do you know? I listened to that song, and it was the best beer I ever had.” The song wasn’t bad either. You may know it – City of New Orleans.Good morning, America, how are you? Don’t you know me, I’m your native son I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done. .
Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band – Losing it. I’ve seen them electrify an audience. Still not bad. But more creaky than freaky these days.
The Wailers – Lost it. Not sure how many original Wailers are left in their line-up going through the motions.
Donovan – Lost it. (Did he ever have it?)
10cc – Not quite lost it. Not my sort of thing, but put on a decent show.
But it’s new discoveries that make cowering in your tent all night through a hurricane worthwhile. New people like…
The Dualers – Brother Si and Tyber Cranstoun from south London lead a very tight exuberant ska band. They used to be buskers, which shows in their impressive work rate on stage. They were the revelation for me this year. I’ll be seeing them again.
Dala – No political ranting, historical score settling, or crossness of any kind – but Canadians Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine harmonize beautifully.
There now. Ain’t that lovely. Wonder who’ll be back next year?