Friday, March 13, 2009

Review: John Kelly/Big Al Whittle... at the Loughborough Acoustic Club, Thursday March 12th, 2009...




















Back from Berlin... and a wander down to the Loughborough Acoustic Club with Mr Marmion to see John Kelly in a double-header with Big Al Whittle. An intriguing combo – Kelly mainly focuses on traditional materials, deployed in a unique style that uses harmonium and guitar as backing for his high, pure voice. Big Al – rumbustious blues/old jazz/nouveau music hall for want of a better term. The latter better suited to the venue – one would have thought. Yet John Kelly, seated at his harmonium in front of the stage and eschewing the p.a. - which is usually considered necessary in this club given the proximity to the bar, managed to weave his spell, drawing a rapt audience deep into his unique sound world. Performing, with his usual relaxed and gentle humour, a run through half a dozen or so songs – 'Banks of Ponchartrain,' Leasy Lindsay,' 'Lady Gregory,' among them... I have written before about John – here – but to repeat – he has a refreshing purity of vision that is not the stifling ignorant 'purism' of so much English folk music. Rather: a strong sense of purpose and skill that transforms even familiar material, spinning well-loved songs sideways to reveal new emotional depths.

Big Al Whittle has a George Melly-ish side to him – larger than life and rooted in American blues and jazz. Without the annoying campness and overwrought bathos of the late Melly... Al's Americana accent whips back into local dialect when necessary to refute any 'blackfacing' and his broad good humour is buttressed by his crisp, accurate picking skills – opening on a couple of standards – missed the first one as I was in the jakes releasing some of the Guinness, but I caught up with 'It's a sin to tell a lie,' - which had the bar staff singing along and doing some nice steps. Al writes songs such as 'Trish' (whose mini-skirt went 'swish, swish swish') – an evocation of long-lost and unrequited student love back in the earnest revolutionary day of Mao's red book and other murderer classics of late marxism: 'Trish, Trish, she was a communist.' 'Aunty Nellie,' a celebration of a game young lass's exploits during WW2 with our American cousins. Set in a 12 bar blues structure but sung in broad local accent – 'you've been having hankie pankie with those Yankees down in Burton Wood.' Great ribald stuff. Mr Marmion was laughing so much I feared for his health. As was I. Other joys – 'Buster the Line Dancing Dawg.' (Further explanation here...)... plus a link to a version of the song by the great Jack Hudson(!)). And 'Big Red Sausage.' Hmmmm... As for his song about Brides in the Bath murderer 'George Joseph Smith' – almost finished us off – 'drown 'em in the bath, drown 'em in the bath, drown 'em in the bath because I'm a psychopath.'

Note that Big Al's web site has links to all these songs. Worth buying the album, I'd say...

A great night – the contrast in styles created an interesting dynamic and spread the time further than I would have thought – two half-hour-ish spots seeming much longer with being so crammed with fascinating and funny musics...

As a footnote – Big Al reminded me glancingly of a local musician, Dave Turner, whom I saw many years ago playing in his hometown of Nottingham and surrounding areas. Dave also fused blues picking with baroque streams of comedic thought. Unfortunately I discovered he had died recently. But the anarchic spirit lives on...


4 comments:

Spring Day said...

Hello Rod,

nice to see your album is available now - I'm going to give it a try soon.
I'm contacting you now because of a little private blog that I've founded together with the blogger Lucky (from luckypsychichut.blogspot.com) and one of our blog readers, who's been working in the record shop of Recommended Records in London in the 80's. I'm not sure, if you're interested, but in case you are, send me a message to springanyday@gmail.com. The idea is to gather a few people who do not just like to grab music on the internet and then run away, but who like to discuss and say something about it. We're just at the beginning and not really into jazz yet (we've been covering Tom Newman, Accordion Tribe, Mike Adcock & Clive Bell, Sten Sandell and Albert Marcoeur so far), but the form and the styles are open and we'll definitely get into jazz sooner or later - and you're a broad- and open-minded person anyway. So, if you'd like to have a look at this, just let me know, and I'll send you the invitation to this little secret blog that we call "Lust Corner"...

big al whittle said...

dear rod

many thanks for this review. very much appreciated and totally unexpected!

as you are into jazz/blues. I wonder what you make of my recently thought up theory linking the musics of Clapton and Bix beiderbecke with their childhood traumas.
http://www.bigalwhittle.co.uk/blackguitar/id3.html

best wishes

Big Al Whittle

Rod Warner said...

Hi Al - you're welcome... interesting stuff on Bix and Clapton... Heretical thoughts on the guitarist, no doubt - Clapton has bored the bejasus out of me for longer than I care to remember and seems just not very interesting compared to the people whom he ripped off to get his style... Bix was a different character - apart from all the jazzbo mythmaking, he was a singular voice in early jazz. To me these two demonstrate the difference between blackface and channelling...

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