Mama Roux’s, Digbeth
I have always rued my missing of the early RW gigs as a duo with Danny Thompson, so when this came up, I was in like a shot. This is the problem with artists who are world famous superstars in the Afterword, because the reality is always so slightly different. As I arrived at the venue, to be ticked off the list of 7 who had pre-ordered, I came to realise I am, as ever, following a niche taste. I think there were perhaps 20 people, stocky men in their prime, much as I, shuffling around in the somewhat bleak surroundings.
First on, and already on stage, tuning up, was support, Bill Mackay, who has done some recordings with Ryley, and it was a fine line between the end of tuning and the start of his set. Solo electric guitar without vocal is a tough act to pull off, which I think he did. A bit reminiscent of a recent exposure to Duke Garwood, lots of echo and no shortage of volume, a power play of string plucking, picking and strumming, all sorts of styles incorporated in the same piece, from ragtime to power chords, bottleneck to pizzicato, a look of intense concentration on his face. Great if you like this, and luckily I do. He topped his set with a wonderful instrumental cover of Free’s “O I Wept”, playing it, he said, for the first time, to commemorate it being the favourite song on the tour bus. Terrific.
30 minutes after he left he was back, this time as 2nd guitar to Walker, alongside a keyboard player, doubling on 3rd guitar and the best rhythm section this side of 1968, the bassist alternating between stand up and electric, the drummer using everything in his grasp, and more, to hit his small but vital kit. Walker alternated between acoustic 6, semi-acoustic 6 and 12 and a plain ornery electric 6 string, it being overtly clear he was no longer the earnest young man of Primrose Green. And the music from then was no longer quite the same. OK, it was the same, but extended, extenuated, extemporised and spun through a time warp to, yes, again 1968. Because this was the mood and ambience of the evening, tropes of Tim Buckley in the vocals, echoes of Horse Latitudes and The End Doors wig-out bits in the wig-out bits and, especially, echoes of Jerry Garcia in his guitar motifs, the notes bubbling through the backing, like a hookah pipe in a lysergic close-up. The keyboards were that swirly sound of SanFran bands of that time, the rhythm section frantically playing for their lives, a cascade of notes and thuds, as if playing constant solos, regardless of the twin/trio guitars doing just that on top. A mess? No, not at all, it all meshed and melded, just like it should. Walker’s vocals are more of a shout, and he yelped a lot to counterpoint his phrasing, words largely incomprehensible, but I did mange to work out that several songs were the new revisions of the songs from his 2 albums, together with a couple from the one due next week. We got Primrose Green and On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee from his debut, at least, they being recognisable, if in free-form frenzies. Looking today at the track listing of his 2nd record, I couldn’t tell you exactly which he played, but I enjoyed ’em all. Mackay was mainly adding textures to Walkers own immaculate picking, but was given some extended soloing as the show wound down, as did the bassist, who drew a bow and gave an expert lesson on the double-bass as the big bad brother of the cello. 90 minutes, I guess, 1 encore and off. More terrific.
Lone Groovers aplenty, with a hint of Wight Walker, as defined by the venue. A hall I have never visited, less heard of, it resembled a lost and rediscovered post apocalyptic transplant of Worthy Farm’s Shangri La, uncertain if yet ready for purpose, bar the never more dudes craft ale bar. A real find, if car parking in the vicinity might cause angst to the owner.
It made me think..
Jings, I love live music.