With Just A Hint Of Mayhem

Music trivia, useless info, extra added random stuff and the odd rant from me

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry – Grand Opera House, York – Tuesday January 24th 2017 January 26, 2017


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Almost a year ago Billy Bragg and Joe Henry travelled from Chicago to Los Angeles, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles where they got deep into the largely American tradition of railroad songs. Their new album resulted from this trip as they stopped off at famous and yet dying stations en route to record. In America the aeroplane has effectively killed off long distance rail travel. As Billy and Joe informed us, it is no longer to get a passenger train to Nashville. They played two sets tonight. The first had both showcasing songs from the album and ended with a few solo songs from Joe Henry. The second started with some solo tunes from Billy Bragg and then finished with the two of them singing together.

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The show kicked off with “Railroad Bill” a chugging little traditional tune. My favourites from the joint part of the first set were “John Henry” a brilliant traditional song with a great story in the lyric. They did not confine themselves to old traditional tunes though, there was also a marvellous arrangement of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain”. I had never seen this as a railway song, but listening to it at the gig and later it clearly is. The stories that Joe and Billy told between the songs were at times as entertaining as the tunes themselves. Both of them share an encyclopaedic knowledge of and passion for music and that makes the whole performance so meaningful.

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry perform live at the 2016 Non-COMMvention in Philadelphia.

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry perform live at the 2016 Non-COMMvention in Philadelphia.

I must confess that I knew little about Joe Henry before tonight, but I am most definitely a fan now. His own songs are incredibly good, especially “Trampoline” and “After The War”. But what really blew myself and my beautiful wife Catherine (a.k.a. Catwoman) away was his stunning cover of Allen Toussaint‘s “Freedom For The Stallion”. Joe was a close friend of the late, great Mr Toussaint which made this even more poignant. Williambloke took the stage after a brief interval to open the second set and he was on his usual top form politically. To showcase that he opened with a recently written take on Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin'”. He added “….back” to the end of the title and the new lyrics are a very clever and very effective dig at the new orange president in the USA. Billy covered and Anais Mitchell song called “Why We Build The Wall” and that is one of the most thought-provoking songs that I have heard in a long while. He also did some of his own songs; “Between The Wars” and “Accident Waiting To Happen”

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After that Billy and Joe came back together for some more railway tunes and stories. This included covers of Carter Family and Hank Williams songs “Railroading On The Great Divide” and “Lonesome Whistle”. There were also two Leadbelly covers, first with “Rock Island Line” which most people in the UK recall as a Lonnie Donegan song. The second of the Leadbelly songs was “Midnight Special” a song that I have heard many, many times but I never knew any of the history of it. Apparently it has its roots in the story of an US prison which was close to a point on the track where trains took a turn. If this happened at night the light of the train would scan across the prison and it was said that the prisoner who was bathed in that light would be the next one to be given parole. Now I don’t know whether that actually happened but it is a great story.

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Mr Bragg and Mr Henry left the stage briefly before returning for the obligatory encore. “Gentle On My Mind” a song made famous was first. This is yet another song that I never saw as a railroad song until tonight. Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” was nicely arranged and played. The show closed with a magnificent Woody Guthrie cover from his dust bowl years; “Ramblin’ Round”. This in many ways was more of a relaxing show than a rousing and loud one. But I bloody loved it and I urge you to go and see Billy and Joe if you get the chance, or at least get yourself a copy of their ‘Shine A Light’ album.

 

Fascinating Aida – Grand Opera House, York – Wednesday 14th November 2012 November 18, 2012


Last Wednesday I went to see an act that has been around for thirty years. I had been conscious of them but never really aware of what they were. My interest was raised when my good friend John Williams (not the composer or the classical guitarist but a better bloke altogether) sent me a clip of this act from YouTube. I came close to wetting myself while watching it. The act was Fascinating Aida and that clip was for their excellent take on budget airlines “Cheap Flights“. If you have never seen them live or on-line the best way I could describe them would be a satirical, singing cabaret ensemble who are also bloody hilarious!

They kicked off their show with a superb song attacking the banking and big business fraternity which made an excellent acronym from their ‘Companies Using Nifty Taxation Schemes’ I’ll let you guess the actual acronym. They included their biggest internet hits; the aforementioned “Cheap Flights” and the not to be missed “Dogging”. You don’t know what dogging is? I suggest you ask your parents or maybe Stan Collymore.

The group managed to take a dig at so many people in such a short space of time including Tom Cruise, Pamela Anderson, U2, the Germans and many politicians to but a few. In fact their Belgian Song Cycle (at least I think that is what it was called) contained many of these put downs. As a result of that song cycle I will never be able to look at Cheryl Cole again without thinking ladyboy!

Their show is also very topical and referred amusingly to the austerity protests in Europe earlier in the week. These are three very talented women who I would like to thank very much for a hilarious evening out with Catwoman, Caron and John. So Dillie, Adele and Liza we loved your show and we would be delighted to see you again sometime. I would also advise any of my readers who have never seen Fascinating Aida on-line or in concert to check them out immediately!

 

 
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