Poole Lighthouse Theatre
5th November 2011
My Back Pages
Ballad of Easy Rider
Wasn’t Born To Follow
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
Drug Store Truck Driving Man
Pretty Boy Floyd
St James Infirmary
All I Really Want To Do
Rock Island Line
King Of The Hill
Your Love Is A Gold Mine
Parade of Lost Dreams
Chimes of Freedom
Lover of The Bayou
Just A Season
Jolly Roger (from Cardiff Rose)
Bells of Rhymney
What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?
Don’t You Write Her Off
He Was A Friend of Mine
You Showed Me
Mr Tambourine Man (Dylan version)
Mr Tambourine Man (Byrds version)
Eight Miles High
Turn Turn Turn
I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better
May The Road Rise To Meet You
Two months ago: same clothes. Possibly a different Rickenbacker. Tonight was red, but it might just be the lighting.
I had a friend in Norwich, years ago, who placed Roger McGuinn with Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa, Steve Miller, Jim Morrison and Paul Kantner at the peak of his personal pantheon of rock creativity. He was wrong about at least two of them. He was devoted to McGuinn’s work, and still called him Jim McGuinn (McGuinn had changed his name to Roger under the influence of the Subud faith in 1967). Because of him, I got to listen to a whole lot more than the singles I already knew, and I had a Byrds buying spree myself … The Notorious Byrd Brothers, Sweetheart of The Radio, Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde, Ballad of Easy Rider were all purchased over a couple of months. A year on, The Byrds (Untitled) double album was on constant rotation. After that my attention drifted, though I have every Byrds album up to (Untitled) on CD. McGuinn has one of the ultimate instant recognition rock voices, a point few of his bandmates willingly accepted as their pay ticket back in the day. McGuinn has stuck with solo shows for a long time, and recorded one on Live From Mars in 1996. Given his altercations with bandmates over many years, and through the battles over the Byrds name, you can see why the idea of travelling with his wife, a van, two guitars, a chair and a potted palm appeals. There was no sign of even a roadie, which contrasts with the other solo Roger, Rodger (with a “d”) Hodgson who has a range of stringed and keyboard instruments, and carefully choreographed lighting to lift the one man show experience. Rodger Hodgson has the sense to bill himself prominently as ‘The Voice of Supertramp’. In Britain, Roger McGuinn might benefit from doing the same: ‘The Voice of The Byrds.’ Rock fans might find it inconceivable that people don’t immediately flash ‘McGuinn … The Byrds’ but a lot of younger fans don’t.
The Theatre was much less than half full. It was November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night, and because it fell on a Saturday, the fireworks parties were all concentrated on one day, the right day for a change. The Lighthouse at Poole shares its public areas between the Theatre and the larger Concert Hall. While one of the icons of rock was playing The Theatre, which is the smaller hall, an Elvis impersonator plus tribute band was playing the larger one.
Another friend declined to go to the Poole show, having seen two solo shows at a ten year interval, and finding they were much the same. He missed out. The show has been reworked, and McGuinn has lost the early years material about Elvis, folk clubs and Bobby Darin. Inevitably, The Byrds greatest hits remain, and he still closes with his sublime version of the old Irish blessing May The Road Rise To Meet You.
The narrative is in themed sections. He begins standing with 12 string electric Rickenbacker doing My Back Pages, then sits. He alternates between the Rickenbacker and his Martin HD7 acoustic. He also tells us the story of this unusual 7-string model, which he had commissioned with just the G string doubled like a twelve string. He tells a lot of stories, which is why the show would benefit from a more intimate, club-like space. He puts one to rest. When I saw The Searchers recently, they played Mr Tambourine Man, and said they had inspired its twelve string sound. McGuinn had been playing acoustic 12 string for years before that, and when The Byrds got their advance for equipment, he saw George Harrison with a 12 string Rickenbacker in A Hard Days Night, and bought one.
The themes start just about where I got interested myself, with the Easy Rider soundtrack, linked to Sweetheart of The Rodeo and Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde for Drug Store Truck Driving Man. McGuinn avoids singalongs, but elicits several clap-a-longs, which this one was. St James Infirmary was the first of the plugs for the “Limited Edition CD” which would be on sale afterwards (£20 with autograph). He also referenced Lonnie Donegan for the British audience before doing Rock Island Line. There were two songs from Back to Rio, King of The Hill, which he wrote with Tom Petty, and Your Love Is A Gold Mine, with its line about topaz on the soles of her shoes (accidental lift or a deliberate nod to Paul Simon?). Parade of Lost Dreams was another original referencing that Limited Edition (his caps in speech) CD.
After Chimes of Freedom, he took the interval, returning with a standing version of Lover on The Bayou, which introduced the (Untitled) block of three songs. I’d forgotten (if I ever knew) that they were intended to be part of a rock opera called The Trip. (Untitled) was an album I played to death, and it had a studio album plus a live album which included a whole side of Eight Miles High. The next block was folky, with Jolly Roger, an original ‘sea shanty’ from the Cardiff Rose album, then the Bells of Rhymney, which he now pronounces correctly as ‘Rumney’. He tells the tale of Welsh fans complaining. He was much too nice, I’d have said And Rim-knee was all Pete Seeger’s fault. What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor? was the lone track from his current and well-reviewed “CCD” (geddit? Sea CD) album of sea shanties. The album was playing before and during the interval over the PA, too quietly, but I did pick out Waltzing Matilda, and thought there isn’t a lot of sea on the outback. He knows people come to here the oldies, and just one track from the latest work was very restrained. Perhaps it was too restrained.
I got a personal surprise with Don’t You Write Her Off. This was a remnant of one of the brief reunions, this time as McGuinn, Clark & Hillman. I didn’t know it until last week, when I found a secondhand single for a pound. As in 1996, he did You Showed Me, a 1964 composition with Gene Clark. It appeared on Pre-Flyte and was The Turtles last American hit in 1969, reaching #6. It’s obscure in Britain. The Turtles covered it on The Turtles Present The Battle of The Bands under the fake group name ‘Natural Thing.’ You Showed Me was a favourite of Richard Nixon’s daughter and led to an invitation to play at the White House, where The Turtles in a rock story that’s legendary in status, snorted cocaine from President Lincoln’s desk. That’s one McGuinn didn’t tell.
The next two were predictable. He did, as in 1996, Mr Tambourine Man as a Dylan imitation, then as The Byrds did it. He’s obsessed with doing folky songs with ‘A Beatle Beat’ which he mentioned at least four times in the show. Does he mean 4/4 time? Eight Miles High showed off his very considerable guitar playing skills. He stood up for Turn, Turn, Turn, signalling the end. Encores were I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better and May The Road Rise To Meet You.
Overall? This year started with upcoming bands and some of the best shows I’ve seen in years in the Spring … Decemberists, The Unthanks, Simon Felice. It’s coming to an end in the autumn with performers in the autumn of their years: Glen Campbell, The Manfreds, The Searchers, Roger McGuinn. The combined effect of nostalgia is somewhat wearing. McGuinn has this show off pat, but the effect of such a distinctive voice plus twelve string becomes relentless and there are so many points where you want a band to kick in. Mr Tambourine Man shouted for the expert playing of the original (McGuinn was the only Byrd who played on the original, along with LA’s top session guys). Eight Miles High was intriguing, but I wanted Hillman’s bass to make it soar. I understand completely where he’s coming from. The ace session people who back Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, or James Taylor make prices shoot sky high, and a tour becomes a minor industrial operation requiring military logistics. And you have to talk to the drummer over breakfast. But you can find enthusiastic young bands who can play this stuff. Glen Campbell had Instant People. Robbie Robertson did TV shows with Dawes. There’s the Ray Davies route, which is half solo acoustic, then bring on a young band and do the hits.
On my Norwich friend’s creative assessment. He played five songs from the Mr Tambourine Man LP: Mr Tambourine Man, I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better, All I Really Want To Do, The Bells of Rhymney and Chimes of Freedom. He played five Dylan solo compositions, plus a co-write (Ballad of Easy Rider) and He Was A Friend of Mine, which is traditional, but highly identified with Dylan. McGuinn rewrote the lyrics immediately after the Kennedy assassination, so before The Byrds were even formed. While McGuinn has written some great songs, he’s not prolific, and is equally an interpreter as well as a writer. The missing song at the show was So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star. That was a missed opportunity for a tale too. The screaming audiences at the beginning of the recording were taken from The Beatles concert at Bournemouth Winter Gardens, a mere five miles away. Looking at the audience, I’d guess I wasn’t the only person who’d been at that show. My breathing along with two thousand others must have formed an infinitesimal part of the recording.