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PICKIN’ & GRINNIN’


‘Spider’ John Koerner


Cluny, Newcastle- Upon-Tyne, July 18, 2012 Bearing in mind that ‘Spider’ John


Koerner was one of Bob Dylan’s mentors when he first arrived in Greenwich Village, the audience at the Cluny was disappointingly small. The North-East is awash with singer-songwriters at the moment but I didn’t even see one in the Cluny, and it was their loss. John Koerner is a human encyclopedia of folk and blues music and took us on an almost 2-hour historical journey back and forth through the roots and influences of American folk music. He began the evening with a 12-bar blues number called Careless Love that harked back to the dawn of the twentieth century, with the tale of Stewboss The Racehorse—which was probably from the 1930s— following it. He also sang a gold rush song that


was first performed in 1849, as well as including his own songs from the 1960s and 1970s, with folk ballads, blues and hillbilly songs all merging delightfully well. Even as a long time Americana fan, I hardly recognised any of the songs but that didn’t stop me sitting enraptured as John and fiddle player, Chip Smith played whatever took their mood. Chip was the perfect companion for the night, as his fiddle playing enhanced everything, without threatening to overshadow the star. He even played ‘the bones’ on two songs, which I haven’t seen anyone do since my uncle George died in 1973. Of those I did recognise, Wabash


Cannonball was a footstompin’ tour de force, and The Cowhand Song with its’ chorus of ‘yippee-ki-aye’ had the tiny audience in raptures as they hollered along with the septuagenarian. On Delia’s Gone, instead of performing harmonies, Chip created an echo with his voice which was something I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. John’s version of Leadbelly’s Midnight Special really made the night come alive and made me realise what Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton and Joan Baez must have felt when he performed the same song in front of them as a


24 Maverick ‘Spider’ John Koerner


young man 50 years ago. ‘Spider’ John Koerner certainly


knows how to entertain a crowd and interspersed several songs with stories and silly jokes, but it was the songs and music that we’ll all take away with us and store in the memory banks. Alan Harrison


The Deep Dark Woods


The Haunt, Brighton, August 25, 2012 Six months after their previous show


in Brighton, the Americana Music Awards nominees (Emerging Artist category) the Deep Dark Woods made a welcome return to the city. Advance ticket sales suggested that this was going to be a sell-out and whilst there was a good-sized crowd, sadly the chatter emanating from the floor spoilt the overall experience. I cannot understand why people pay to see live music and then proceed to talk all the way through the show. It is so disrespectful to the musicians and to those who have paid to listen to music … not inane chatter! That said, it didn’t seem to affect the quintet who have no doubt played in front of audiences where not everyone has always been attentive. From the opening notes of Back Alley


Blues to the closing notes of Peggy O their trademark vocals, harmonies and instrumentation demonstrated why they have been showered with critical acclaim and recognition beyond their native Canadian home. Their brand of roots folk has drawn comparison with the Band and I can also hear the influence of the Byrds, Son Volt and Neil Young in their music—not bad company to be in? Ryan Boldt’s original compositions and languid vocals are what the Deep Dark Woods are admired for however there is more to this collective than just Boldt. Together they are a tightly knit band that has toured now for a number of years (save for the more recent addition of organist Geoff Hilhorst); each individual band member is an accomplished musician who contributes fully—many of the songs tonight included extended (and for them, flamboyant) instrumental jams. As one might expect, songs from their


2011 release THE PLACE I LEFT BEHIND dominated the set-list. When they play live the songs are more energetic than the album versions Sugar Mama, for example becomes a real toe-tapper. About half way through the evening they played a new song; I caught the lines: ‘I’m a sad and lonesome rambler, the money’s almost spent, thinking about my baby, I forgot to pay the rent.’ It sounded like another finely crafted lyric. Up against a tight curfew, the seventy-five minute set was all too short. I am hoping that


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