Aside, the wandering eye, has opened…

I have, you know, other stuff to write and at least one other recording to sort out and post, but for now… Well, I just can’t get this tune out of my head.

A chance conversation as I was leaving the Long Ryders the other week, led me to the Jayhawks, a band I am embarrassed to say I know next to nothing about (save for the fact that Stephen MCarthy was a member for a while), but whose back-catalogue I am resolved to start looking through.

Post Haste.

 

The really annoying thing is they’re playing in Bristol in September, but I already have a ticket for Teenage Fanclub the same night.

Damn…

Now what I did I do regret…

IMG_1867I’ve spent fifteen minutes now, trying to fashion some sort of clumsy Mason-Dixon line metaphor to introduce a few lines about seeing the Long Ryders last week. However you re-word it, though, the M5 is a pretty feeble substitute for a six-lane highway, crawling along the M32 no match for cracking through an Appalachian pass.

No doubt about it the Long Ryders were/are a really American band, albeit one with some of the best inspirations and passions a band can have – the Byrds, Elvis, Gram, the Burritos, you can’t fault them. I liked them quite a lot in their Paisley Underground heyday, but if truth be told they were never quite paisley enough for my tastes. I was at the time looking for something with a little more Syd Barret, maybe some Pretty Things, a dash of Soft Machine in it (the Soft Boys in fact…) And, thinking about it now, the old transatlantic gap cliché really does ring true. A very North American band, something missed in translation.

When I saw that Sid Griffin and pals were coming to the Fleece, however, I started listening to Native Sons and State of Our Union again for first time in…ooh… ages. I don’t think I’d heard either record this century, and in fact I had to repurchase them because my originals were actual cassettes… But, wow! What great records they are – chockfull of references my callow twenty-year-old self couldn’t be bothered with but which to a frosty-bearded fifty-year-old veteran now sound just fine.

The Long Ryders, The Fleece

The Fleece continues to be my current favourite venue, obviously for the acts it manages to get (not to mention the pillars and the sticky floors which I always refer to) but also for the reputation it’s managed to earn amongst gig-goers. You know it’ll be well attended and noisy. And so it was, full of middle-aged punters, both balding and silver-highlighted, who burst keenly into song as soon as Griffin embarked on the first bars of Run Dusty Run.

It wasn’t his first appearance as it turned out. We’d spent a puzzling 15 minutes or so watching a muffled and be-hooded roadie setting up guitars and plugging in amps in what was already a stuffy atmosphere. A few bemused looks were exchanged and it wasn’t until the rest of the band trouped on that the hoodie came down and Sid Griffin (for it was he) introduced himself. To be honest, he’s looking a little heavy these days and sporting an endearingly seedy “Beatles hair cut”, which actually reminded me of Robyn Hitchcock more than a little (the Soft Boys references are going to keep coming, I feel).

It’s interesting what you notice about a band’s music at a distance of thirty years or so. Just as the country stylings washed over me at the time, leaving me unmoved and barely cognisant, I was also completely unaware of the contrast (possibly even, tension) that exists between the two main songwriters in the band. This came out really clearly onstage, as vocal responsibilities were tossed back and forth between Griffin and guitarist Stephen McCarthy. Griffin goofed around between songs and generally sang the rougher good-time ditties, while McCarthy didn’t do a lot of the banter but sang on his own more soulful, slightly more reedy, Gene Clark-type numbers. Bassist Tom Stevens also sang on a couple which I’m guessing were his own. I like this intra-band democracy thing (it reminded me of my mistakenly imagining Richmond Fontaine to be just Willy Vlautin’s band). Turns out that some of my very favourite Long Ryder songs were McCarthy compositions. Who knew? (Why didn’t I know?)

It was a great set which included the obligatory Gram Parson cover in the encore (“Older Guys”) and was more than a little shambolic at times – there were a couple of sound problems; Griffin forgot his words more than once and occasionally came across as more Jack Black than Drug Store Truck Driving Man – but one that was hugely appreciated by the grizzled bunch of punters that spilt out onto the road at chucking out time.

The recordings are a little spoilt by the gutsy singing of more than one emotional feller nearby, but if you can get over that, they’re kind of fun…

Mason-Dixon Line

The Light Gets in the Way

Lights of Downtown / State of Our Union

Jackson stays at my place, ’cause he ain’t got a home…

IMG_1846Gah! I’m annoyed with myself.

I’ve had a nice leisurely Bank Holiday Weekend, shooting the breeze, watching footie and yet somehow not got round to writing this up… *Smacks head theatrically*. Great evening too.

Richmond Fontaine, The Bullingdon

My second trip to Oxford’s fine Bullingdon, saw the arrival of the ever-enjoyable Willy Vlautin and Richmond Fontaine. Actually, as I write that, it makes it look like Vlautin’s chums are no more than a backing band, the musicians who provide background colour for his extraordinary song/story writing gifts. If I’d bothered to pay attention to stuff, of course, I’d know that songwriting credits are not exclusively Valutin’s; but as I hadn’t (routinely don’t) it was left to this evening to make it clear to me that RF are a proper band, Vlautin repeatedly referring to drummer Sean Oldham as “the leader of the band”.

It seems a bit late in the day to have made this discovery, although not as late as I did at one time believe. Turns out from talking to Dan Eccles after, there’s another tour this Autumn, which will be their last. (After which, he revealed to me, exclusively if you will, that one of the projects he intends to work on the setting up of a piano tuning business. You read it here first…)

Eccles and bassist Freddy Trujillo came out and chatted for ages to people after what was a long set, and it all went to reinforce the idea you couldn’t help but form watching the set – they’re a really decent bunch of fellers. Vlautin particularly comes across as self-effacing, ordinary and likeable, introducing many of the songs with charming, incidental stories. A bloke you could find yourself chatting to for ages over a few drinks…

They played for coming on for two hours, including two encores and 22 songs drawn from pretty much all the albums (although the latest “You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To” featured heavily). Vlautin’s story telling talents were much in evidence and were enhanced by his part-drawled, part-sung delivery. Eccles’ guitar work was also pretty remarkable, light at times, heavy and almost ungainly at others. He’d already done a set previously, backing support act Fernando (who was also very good) earlier in the evening, so he could’ve been excused for wanting to get off early.

The Bullingdon is great for sound and the recordings are OK, with wild cheering and clinks of bottles being thrown into bins at the bar, all adding to the atmosphere. I’m attaching a particular run of three (four) great, great songs that came one after each other towards the end of the evening. You’d be a fool not to…

The Boyfriends

Lost in the Trees / Willamette

We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River