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

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