I should probably count this to check it (although in our post-truth, Bannon-esque world, my facts are just as good yours….), but Alasdair Roberts is probably the artist I’ve written about most of all on these tattered, coffee-stained pages. (Apart from Robert Wyatt, of course, and maybe Griff…)
In fact I wrote about him, here, only about six weeks ago, which in relative terms is pretty much yesterday on this Blog. I spoke then with breathless excitement about said folkie’s planned trip to Cheltenham. All the more surprising then that it should take me so long to get round to talking about the evening – countless eager punters have been besieging me with requests for a few words and perhaps the odd snatch or too…? Well, as you know, I’m a slave to my readership.
Alasdair Roberts, Smokey Joe’s
Might as well get my cantankerous, valetudinarian rant out of the way first – it was bloody freezing at Smokey Joe’s, like sitting outside pretty much. I’m a chilly mortal, me, and I can’t stand being cold – caught out by the slightest cold snap and I’m likely to go over all Mr Woodhouse and retire to my bed with a hot lemon.
Alasdair Roberts is made of sterner stuff than I and the polar conditions didn’t seem to trouble him over much. To be honest, fond as I imagine he is of long walks in the bracing Scotch air, he will have shrugged this off and scorned me as the southern softie I clearly am. In fact I fancy every new Roberts song is unveiled on the scotch muir, ‘midst the purple heather, to a mildly curious audience of highland beasties.
In the last post, I raved about Plaint of Lapwing, his joint record with James Green, labouring under the illusion that this was his most recent record, but it was pointed out by a forbearing friend on Twitter that there’s actually a newer record out, March’s Pangs. And it was this record Roberts drew most of the evening from – I don’t think he played anything from the Lapwing record at all.
The Guardian used the phrase “the weirdness of ancient folk” in one of its throw-away (although positive) reviews, and that’s actually a great description of Roberts’ craft. I’ve spoken before about all of this and it’d be fairly easy to put together an Alasdair Roberts bingo card, with words hapless reviewers will fall back on (“bleak”, “brogue” and “austere” all turn up in the Guardian’s piece). I’m as guilty as everyone else of this – it’s impossible not to marvel at the old-worldliness of the man’s vision, and to revel being taken back to harsher, more open times; all part of his charm.
If you’re energetic enough (ie not as lazy as me) to look further, however, you’re going to find echoes that speak to modern times. At one point, Roberts wryly speculated as he was using some wilfully obscure tuning that once Article 50 was triggered he’d possibly not be able to use it anymore. It was something of a jolt back to current woes and reminded me that songs such as “In Dispraise of Hunger”, “Farewell Sorrow” and the beautiful title track of the new record have as much to do with today’s misery as yesterday’s.
A few old favourites appeared – “Fair Flower of Northumberland”, “Jock Hawk’s Adventures in Glasgow” and “Farewell Sorrow” – but enough of the fragile splendour of the new songs was revealed to make me buy a copy of Pangs from the man himself. And it’s actually a bit of a revelation. He has a full band with him for most of the record, and a number of the songs feel completely new creations, when compared to the reedy charm of their solo versions.
Have a listen to these gaunt unclothed offerings and then go and buy the record for their fuller, finer, fattened-up versions.
(Oh, and for old time’s sake, In Dispraise of Hunger)