Nick Morgan and crew
The Bloomsbury Theatre,
October 31st 2006
was never going to be one of those ‘I was
there’ concerts. But discussing those over
coffee in the restaurant beforehand made us late.
Nick’s stand-in Alex was winning with a
Talking Heads gig (David Byrne in his massive
suit), before Trizzer played her ace: Hendrix
in Chislehurst Caves.
as we arrived, a muffled second verse of Bob Dylan’s
‘Mr Tambourine Man’ was escaping from
the auditorium. Ah, so that’s how he’s
approaching it – get THE biggie in first.
The only UK No. 1 of The
Byrds which McGuinn founded with Gene Clark
and David Crosby. It was their first single - and
the title of their debut album - which topped the
charts here in the summer of ’65. Inside,
standing on the right of the stage dressed all in
black was a man playing a Rickenbacker 12-string
and singing in that distinctive voice.
We moved to take our seats as the applause welled
up, only to find our way in blocked by a bloke in
a wheelchair with a pair of crutches stuck in it.
Photographer Kate, not usually one to hold back
in anything, decided the kerfuffle would be too
much and we retreated. The place was a sell-out;
around 99% reliving something they may or may not
have remembered from the sixties.
sat centre stage and played a 7-string guitar specially
made for him by Martin. The extra string is a second
G tuned an octave higher. He reckons it gives him
all the benefits of six and twelve string guitars
and he can even make it sound a bit like a banjo.
Personally I’d opt for a six-string guitar,
twelve-string guitar and a banjo every time.
Throughout, he wore a hat. At a carefully jaunty
angle. A black fedora with a small but obvious red
feather in the band. George Melly’s similar
model, A3 bassist Mr Segs’s trilby, Richard
Thompson’s beret, and Noddy Holder’s
exaggerated topper all seem right and suit their
wearers. McGuinn’s had an air of a dull politician
donning a baseball cap backwards. Worse, the cosy
nature of this concert made it look like McGuinn
was being rude by not taking it off.
He definitely began to remind me of someone? Who
There are summer days when the Byrds, oft credited
with inventing folk-rock, are still the perfect
sound. It has west coast relations but the combination
of the jingly-jangly 12 string and three-part harmonies
made it unique. The lush, sustained Rickenbacker
sound was first achieved by an engineer compressing
the recordings to protect his equipment. But, frankly,
as a lead singer McGuinn needed those harmonies.
Some of the stories, told in a voice a couple of
notes deeper than Truman Capote’s, were OK.
Dylan once asked him, ‘What was that song
you just played?’ about a Byrds number given
the ‘Beatles Beat’ treatment. He was
told, ‘That’s one of yours, man.’
Half a dozen yelps greeted mention of the widely
acclaimed The Sweethearts of the Rodeo album. Released
in 1968 it was the Byrds sixth in three years. Influenced
by new Byrd Gram Parsons it is sometimes cited as
the start of country rock. From it, McGuinn did
Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’.
40 years ago, the Nashville mafia wasn’t happy
about hippies trying to gatecrash country music.
Ralph Emery, influential host of TV show Nashville
Now and a DJ, refused to play the Byrds version
of that song on his radio programme after previewing
15 seconds of the disc.
he said ‘What’s it about?’, Rog
answered, ‘I don’t know. It’s
a Bob Dylan song’. (Bloomsbury chuckled at
days McGuinn concentrates on his solo career and
working on his worthy but cheesily-named Folk
Den Project, capturing America’s (and
with it a lot of our) musical heritage. This set
featured Den songs, ‘The Water is Wide’
learned from Pete Seeger and ‘Easter’
from the King of the 12-String, Lead Belly. We also
got, as Rog put it, ‘a song about a dog’
(‘Old Blue’) followed by ‘a song
about a horse’ (‘Chestnut Mare’).
There are musos who claim that Gene
Clark was the most important musician
in the Byrds. Playing their poppy co-composition
‘You Showed Me’ (a top 10 hit for the
Turtles) suited Rog’s style. But a Richard
‘Rabbit’ Brown number was made anodyne.
And when Rog sang ‘St James Infirmary Blues’
I was reminded of Neil Sedaka and, for one terrifying
moment, Chris de Burgh. Some white men really ain’t
equipped to sing the blues.
But neither of those was who he really reminded
it! Even before he sang a song that he and his wife
‘assembled from a blessing’, Rog’s
doppelganger dawned on me. We were watching Ned
Flanders - Homer Simpson’s relentlessly
pleasant, piously Christian next-door neighbour
– in human form. And indeed, I discover online,
Roger was Born Again in 1977, obviously as Ned.
Rog/Ned returned to his standing position for the
three-song encore including ‘Chimes of Freedom’
and Pete Seeger's ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’
with which the audience joined in – moderately,
even during the anti-war lines.
Roger practices in that hat.
Picture: Thom Allen
we regrouped in the foyer, the departing audience
were doing their own reviews. ‘That was very
good.’ ‘Nice’ was heard several
Alex said McGuinn seemed like an ‘all–round
good egg’. (Kate observed it was only natural
since he came out of the Byrds.) And it appears
he is: at his happiest touring; cooperating with
fans’ websites and playing benefits - not
least with The
Rock Bottom Remainders a super-rich band made
up successful writers including Amy Tan, Scott Turow,
Stephen King and Ned’s creator Matt Groening.
McGuinn’s singing voice is limited (it was
why he failed his audition to join The Kingston
Trio). He’s not a great guitarist. He’s
not a particularly good raconteur. But he played
with Bobby Darin, flew in a Lear Jet with Peter
Fonda, performed in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder
Revue, wrote and recorded some bloody good tunes.
He qualifies as legendary even if you think Rolling
Stone went over the top with "Music would
be a very, very different place if it hadn't been
for Roger McGuinn".
He’s definitely been there and done all that.
Respect is due.
This night, I was there. But it felt rather more
like an autograph convention than a gig. - Jozzer
(concert photographs by Kate)
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