I’ve been finding writing a bit slow going recently, so thought I’d try some tricks to get going again. Trick 1: write a list. So here’s a list of some things I noticed at Ryley Walker‘s gig at Bush Hall this week, his last appearance before flying back to the States. The concert had been added to his schedule after an early gig at Bush Hall sold out.
The two support acts felt like they were from a timewarp. The Hummingbirds had been cryogenically frozen in early 1964 and recently reheated. Like listening to the Merseybeats: very nice, but why. Meg Baird, singing solo, with soprano voice and good technical guitar, was more late 60s, think Joni Mitchell or Vashti Bunyan. I kind of wish she’d made more of her voice by singing something traditional, like Barbara Allen.
Ryley Walker, on the other hand, has a pretty distinctive sound, with declamatory voice and vocals over full jazz/blues infected guitar. Earlier in his career he’d obviously been influenced by John Martyn, but I think he’s moving away from that now. There were times when I heard some sense of mid-period Van Morrison in there.
Danny Thompson, the fabulous British bass player, was supposed to be accompanying Ryley, but was ill. He’s of an age when you worry about this, since several of his collaborators have died in the past few years: Bert Jansch, John Martyn, John Renbourn. Get well soon.
Walker’s technically a good guitarist. He’s obviously done his 10,000 hours, and he gets a rich sound from his 12-string guitar, even when he has to play solo at short notice
He also has an engaging manner onstage (and in interview). He tells stories, he thanks the audience, he talks about what he’s doing. When first tuning up he made a joke about the free jazz guitarist Derek Bailey. (“This is just me tuning up, it’s not my Derek Bailey cover.”) I wondered how many 26-year olds from Illinois, even if they were guitar players, would know who Derek Bailey was. Anyway, he thanks the audience for turning out and treats them like long-lost friends at the same time. Towards the end of his set, he tod us he was about to play his last song, meaning, of course, the last one before the encore. “Then I’ll have a piss and a beer and play a couple more,” he said: he knows that we know that he knows.
Meg Baird, in contrast, said almost nothing to the audience, clearly wanting her music to speak for itself. When she did speak towards the end of her set, she said she found it hard to speak about her songs, but garbled it, kind of proving her point. But one consequence was that while she was re-tuning in the middle of the set she lost the audience. The Hummingbirds, on the other hand, got chattier and chattier as the set went on. On one song they got so animated about the story of how it came to be written (or not) they almost forgot to play the song.