Still on the folk theme, I went to see the Steve Tilston Trio the other day at the excellent Bush Hall to find – this was a welcome and unexpected surprise – that the folk legend Wizz Jones was opening the show for him. Jones is in his 70s now, but has been the Zelig of the British folk scene, right back to the early ’60s. There’s a famous archive clip of him, at the start of the beatnik boom, playing a song – “it’s hard times in Newquay, if you’ve got long hair’ – about the good burghers of Newquay’s unfriendly response to the small number of beats who had arrived in the town for the summer. (The clip has the reporter Alan Whicker on fine form).
Since then he’s played with almost everyone, from Rod Stewart to Clive Palmer of Incredible String Band to Eric Clapton to Ralph McTell to Billy Connolly to Martin Carthy to Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and other assorted Pentanglers, even Sonic Youth, without ever becoming famous himself. He gave Ralph McTell his stage name. A musician’s musician, as the saying goes. Last year, Bruce Springsteen opened his Berlin concert last year with Wizz Jones’ song When I Leave Berlin (link opens video). And some of his classic records from the 70s – such as Right Now, The Legendary Me, and When I Leave Berlin – have been re-released over the last decade.
He opened his set with the Henry Hipkens’ song, That’s How I Learned To Sing The Blues (see the video at the top of the post) and it included a version of Jesse Winchester’s Black Dog and Jackson C. Frank’s Blues Run The Game, a Bert Jansch favourite. The guitar playing was fine, and his voice has held up pretty well (arguably it’s better now than when he was younger, it’s deepened a little as he’s got older.) In fact, it was a beautifully constructed set.
Of course, this breaks most of the rules of the support act. They’re supposed to be young, slightly inept, nervous, even a little surprised to be there.
But Jones had helped Steve Tilston early in his career, as he’d helped McTell, and has covered at least one of his songs (Some Times In This Life Are Beautiful), so perhaps there was just some personal and professional respect being acknowledged and some dues being paid. And nothing wrong with that. But Tilston chided Jones gently from the stage later on: “You could have played some of your own songs, Wizz. They’re just as good.”
I bumped into Wizz Jones after Steve Tilston had finished his set, and my wife said to him that I’d told her he’d been around the British folk and scene all his life, and with a fine reputation, but without the limelight falling on him. “Ah yes”, he said. “The ubiquitous Wizz Jones”. And off he went.