Friday, 3 July 2015

The Nursing Homes of North London are Empty Tonight

Check the pulses of those in front of me… 

At last night’s gig, during the My Grey Horse set, I was old enough to be everyone’s Dad. Tonight I am young enough to be everyone’s son! As I queue at the venue door you can see the confusion on the bouncer’s face – he is not sure whether to check the tickets or the pulses of those in front of me!!

I wander into the venue, Under the Bridge, having suffered a very quizzical look from the bouncer whose unspoken question is, ‘Surely you’re too young to be at this gig?’ The venue is under the away stand at Stamford Bridge the home of the Premier League Champions Chelsea and I wonder how different it was when Fotheringay were last on the road. That was in 1970 and Chelsea only managed 3rd place in Division One behind champions Everton (you may just have found out where my football allegiances lie!) 

Its 45 years since they last played live. This gig is taking the denim-clad audience back to their carefree youth. Back to a time when they could have bought Fotheringay’s first album for less then the cost of the pint they buy at the bar tonight. A time when they would have sat cross-legged on their mate’s Afghan for the whole duration of the gig and still sprung up without any ache or pain! A time when, despite the 10 pints, they wouldn’t have had to visit the facilities after every second song!

It’s taking me back to a time before I fell in love with music. That was a simpler time, a time before I realized I couldn’t sing. A time before I painstakingly started to learn to play guitar! A time when my favorite - well, only - album was the Trumpton LP and I used to wake my Dad up early on a Saturday morning to put it on the record player for me! I guess what I’m trying to say is tonight is a little bit before my time!!!

Going to their God….
I find a seat, a kind of Dave Allenesque chair. I sip my whisky as I wait for the support act, absent-mindedly wiping imaginary ash off my upper leg with one finger bent double to give the illusion of having lost half a digit, and I find myself practicing my Irish accent with the words "May your God go with you.” If I’m honest most of the audience look like they are more likely to be going to their God rather than their God going with them!

Tonight seems more Darby and Joan than Rock ‘n’ Roll as the audience reminisce about the heady days of folk-rock and wonder where nearly half a century, their waistline and their hair has gone! At least they still have their denim!

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that the average age of the audience is 87 but there is a strange laid back feeling to the gig. Even the lighting engineer is sat doing the crossword and fails to notice the support act is on stage!!

Really should just play covers…
Fabian Holland is the support and proof that some people really should just play covers. He is a wonderful guitarist but his self-penned songs leave me as flat as the Dutch countryside. They are composed of recycled predictable rhymes and damn obvious lyrics that are an insult to the poetry of Denny’s songs, which we will hear later. A lot has changed since Fotheringay last toured, not least the growth of an individualistic society (although I’m aware that is something of an oxymoron). But whatever the Thatcherite legacy is, please don’t let it destroy music too - not everyone is a one-man band, Fabian. Cultivate a partnership with someone else to write songs together. A little seed of poetry in the lyric fertilized by your exquisite guitar playing we could witness the growth of a headline act. Continue to plough your own furrow Mr. Holland and you’ll be a wallflower all your gigging life!

At the break, the person sitting next to me is doing his crossword. I half expect him to reach in his bag and bring out a packed lunch too. It does have more of the feel of a village cricket match crowd than a gig audience!

Fotheringay take the stage and invite people forward as if we are at some church meeting. At this point I should point out that this is Fotheringay 2015, i.e. the surviving members plus extras! Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas both have died (there is no truth in the rumor that Jerry Donahue is dead - he's just not moving!). Their replacements for this tour Kathryn Roberts, Sally Barker and PJ Wright.

I had thought long and hard about going to this gig – I have been listening to Fotheringay for years but was it worth coming to hear them live in 2015 without Denny and Lucas? In the end I decided to come because I never had the chance to see them first time round! Roberts and Barker are excellent, but Wright’s vocals are nowhere near strong enough and are the weak link in the new Fotheringay chain. However, this might be an intentional link back to the original line up as Lucas’ vocals were similarly criticised; “his voice offers nothing that you could not hear in any amateur folk club, any night of the week” (Dave Thompson - Allmusic).

The musical statue…
It is great to hear the songs live but nothing has moved on. At last night’s gig Matt Owens had a set full of songs that owed much to his favourite artists of the 70’s yet there was a modern feel to the gig and sound – a sound that had the crowd dancing. Tonight the songs still have that very early 70’s sound and the gig feels like an anachronistic monolith, some kind of weird time travel where only the sound has travelled back in time. Back to a time that was at a turn of a decade that would give us prog rock, glam rock and ultimately punk rock and with so much music under the bridge these songs tonight sound dated.

The beauty of the songs goes without saying and on CD they still sound great, but live they need updating, reworking for a different time and relative dimension in space! Jerry Donahue, the musical statue, declared they might well tour some more after this. I’d think twice if I was you Mr Donahue there can’t be much mileage in such dated songs and such an aged audience! Or sack PJ Wright and employ Matt Owens he would have the octogenarians leaving behind their crosswords and dancing!
Gig: 14 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 19th June 2015

Under the Bridge

Fabian Holland

Running total of artists seen 35

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