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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
, Reprieve Benefit, The Globe Theatre, London, June 5th, 2006
I couldn’t help thinking that listening to Nick Yarris, standing on the stage of the Globe Theatre, talking about his 23 years in solitary confinement in a prison, was probably almost as moving as anything written by Shakespeare himself. Ok, I know that like Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of Reprieve, which works on behalf of people facing the death penalty all over the world, Nick spoke for a bit too long and was a bit repetitive, but that didn’t blunt his, or their, message.

Nick Yarris
And anyway, when you go to a charity gig you know that half the price of the ticket is for the chat. And of course for the comedy, which never seems far away from a good cause these days. So we enjoyed most of Stephen K Amos’ compere routine, all of Paul Hamilton’s witty poems (especially the one about the Salvation Army, ‘God’s terrorists’). The hugely talented Stewart Lee (he directed and co-wrote Jerry Springer: the Opera) also chose to focus on Jesus gags, but ended up in slightly surreal musings about the structure of jokes, whilst the rather conceited Mark Thomas, a sort of motor-mouthed Marxist Max Miller, chose to speak largely about himself – and very funny some of it was too.
Of course we’d come along mainly for the music, and the opportunity to enjoy it in these most incongruous surroundings, the wonderful replica of the Elizabethan theatre that staged many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, built only a stone’s throw from its original site. And so had Whiskyfun favourite Ron Sexsmith, whom we spotted with some of his band members in the pit, and who was happy to discuss the merits of his fine new album, Time Being, and things Vancouver Island, with the Photographer during the interval.

The Photographer with Ron Sexsmith, Karine Polwart, Allison Moorer, Steve Earle
I could see that Ron, like us, was very taken with Scottish singer songwriter Karine Polwart, who came on stage to join David Knopfler and guitarist Harry Bogdanovs and sing her song ‘Sun’s comin’ over the hill’, quite a whisky soaked tragedy, the prolific Knopfler (yes, he’s the other Knopfler who co-founded Dire Straits) having happily performed a few songs of his own (‘Deptford Days’ and ‘The King of Ashes’). Finishing off the first half of the evening were the hugely infectious Proclaimers, loved by all I think, for simply being such great and genuine blokes. They stormed the audience with ‘Letter from America’, ‘I’m on my way’, ‘Scotland’s Story’ (a sort of Sunday Post history of immigration in Scotland), ‘Sunshine on Leith’ and “I’m gonna be (500 miles)”. Phew! The sun’s starting to go down, the moon’s rising, it’s getting bloody cold (how did the Elizabethans manage I wonder) and it’s time for a cup of tea.
Allison Moorer has just released a new album, Getting Somewhere. It’s her sixth, but I confess she was barely known to me before this evening. Believe me she has a voice to die for – it filled the cavernous open space of the Globe, and I bet you could probably have heard it over the river at St Paul’s. She sang ‘Farewell fairweather’, Soft place to fall’, ‘Getting somewhere’ and ‘Long time coming’. Hmm I thought, almost a lady Steve Earle. Do the research. She married Steve a year or so ago and he produced the new album. But her voice is fantastic – all her own work and well worth looking out for. And then we had Steve. By this time of course we were running late (de rigueur for these sort of gigs) and Steve wasn’t in any rush, but he managed seven songs and some chilling reflections on capital punishment (“I’ve witnessed an execution and I wish I hadn’t, but how can you refuse a man’s last request?”). He also invited us to return the following evening and join him for Titus Andronicus (“this is the only theatre in London where I know where the front door is; I mean I can’t tell you many times I’ve played at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, but I couldn’t tell you how to get in”).
He begins with the spoken ‘Warrior’ from the Revolution Starts Now, “This is the best time of the day—the dawn, the final cleansing breath unsullied yet by acrid fume or death’s cacophony ...”, which is probably about as Shakespearian as we get all night. “I’ve waited a long time to play that here”, he says. He follows with ‘Feel alright’, ‘My old Friend the blues’, ‘I am Kilrain of the 20th Maine’ and ‘Copperhead Road’ (on mandolin), ‘Coming around’ (with Allison Moorer) and finally, and appropriately, from the soundtrack of Dead Men Walking, ‘Ellis Unit One’, about a prison officer working in a death chamber.
And that was it. We’d put money in the buckets, laughed at the jokes, listened intently to the serious bits (I’m still trying to understand just what 23 years in solitary confinement feels like) and enjoyed some fun music and some thoughtful music, and ‘discovered’ Allison Moorer (please buy her music). And thankfully we’d run out of time, and the very nice volunteer stewards at the Globe (“I always wanted to work with Shakespeare”) were anxious to get home. So whilst the mike-stands were put in place for that big everyone on stage to sing that final song (help – not more Pete Seeger) moment the sound engineer’s finger across his throat, ‘though perhaps not the most well-chosen gesture of the night, told us that at least we’d been spared. Some aren’t so lucky. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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