The Jazz Cafe, Camden, London
A night out you say? In London? In late 2020? Well, yes. Thanks to cabaret style table seating, table service for drinks and face coverings when not actually seated I was able to go to my first gig since my birthday in March. Even in a normal year when we would go to a gig or two a month this would be have been an excellent show, but in 2020 when audience and performers alike are starved of being in the same (socially distanced) room with a group of like minded people making and listening to music it was just the boost everyone needed.
This was an evening at The Jazz Café in Camden to celebrate the legacy of John Prine, who succumbed to Covid earlier this year. This first half was made up of covers of Prine songs, the second by the artists’ own material, from a line up of (deep breath) Angie Gannon, Beth Rowley, Felix Holt, Joe Harvey-White, Josh Flowers, Laura Tenshert, Louis Brennan, Michele Stodart, Naomi Larsson, Pat Ralla, Ren Harvieu, Robert Chaney, Romeo Stodart and Zak Hobbs.
The Jazz Café has been refurbished and greatly improved since our last visit. Gone are the echoing metal surfaces and the bottle bars to either side of the stage which used to add the clatter of empties being thrown into bins to every performance. Instead the venue is now designed with a theme of faded early C20 glamour, which presumably lends itself to jazz but suits the Americana style of the night too. So it was that we were led to two bar stools to the side of the stage which had the plus of a view over the heads of the people in front of us.
Highlights were many, lowlights totally absent, and if the first half overshadowed the second, well it’s hard to outdo songs as good as Angel from Montgomery. To pick two peaks from the Prine songs, Louis Brennan leant his wonderful rolling bass vocals to superb effect in Sam Stone, and Michele Stodart’s take on Hello in There, piling on the empathy by pointing out how relevant it is to isolated older people this year, was pure beauty and heartbreak. Oddly enough no one took on Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.
The second half was packed with superb playing and wonderful songs too of course. A dark and thrilling new Louis Brennan song (called, I think, Not Violent) was high drama, Ren Harvieu was in better and more confident voice than than at the Townes Van Zandt tributes the same collective performed in 2019, Pat Ralla and Joe Harvey White’s new songs promised great things for the next Hanging Stars album, and it’s always a treat to hear Josh Flowers play The Silent type.
Unlike the TVZ shows where all the performers were on stage at the same time last night there was a house band, built around Zak Hobbs, who accompanied most of the other performers in ones, twos and threes. The playing was tight, giving no indication of rustiness and the sound excellent. By the time the evening came to an end (at 10pm due to the Covid curfew) with a rousing song called Santa Clause Got Stoned and a singalong of Prine’s When I get to Heaven everyone was completely in the zone, fully engaged in a gig once more.
Then the lights came up, and we all put on our masks and made room for each other as we wandered out into the London December chill.
‘It’s like we’re all learning how to go to a show again’, said Michele Stodart, ‘You guys nailed it!’ I can’t have been the only one there who had a tear in my eye at some points. There was a quality of attention in the crowd which must have owed something to how much we were taking in the very experience of being there.
It made me think..
I have missed this. I have really, really missed this.