Garth and Maud Hudson with Goldrush
Alternative Truck Festival Benefit
Students Union, Oxford Brookes University, Headington, Oxford
Sunday 22nd July 2007
Picture by Roger Woods
I didn’t know anything about the Trucks Festival, which takes place in the Oxfordshire village of Steventon. It’s been going for ten years, and tickets sell out very early for this small outdoor festival. This year when Garth and Maud Hudson were announced as headliners, tickets were already unavailable.
Rains of near-Biblical proportions flooded areas of Central England the day before the festival, and by the Friday the festival site was under several feet of water. The festival was cancelled, but an alternative festival / benefit was staged at a few hours notice at Oxford Brookes University. It was announced that tickets would be available on the door for Sunday, and I set off to see them.
They were backed by local band Goldrush, who have been prime movers in the festivals. They’re major Band fans, and decided that they’d invite Garth and Maud, and to their delight they accepted. I was there very early in the day, hoping to miss Sunday traffic and wandered in and out during the afternoon and evening. Most of the bands I saw were young, loud and (for me) more of a pleasure to play in than listen to.
Goldrush came on at ten-thirty and did a four song set before pausing before Garth and Maud joined them. They’re a very accomplished, melodic band and I’ll be exploring their albums. They are multi-instrumentalists, and watching someone switch between guitar, bass, violin, trumpet and keyboards was a Band-like introduction. I felt their set was marred by the sound system, which had clearly been designed for the festival with a huge mixing desk. It was way, way too loud for the small students union venue, and the sound engineer was, I suspect, near deaf, an occupational hazard. There was so much treble that when she came on, Maud had to ask repeatedly and quite rightly for them to “take the highs off this mic”. I have ear damage from my days in the same job, and had to press my finger in my ear to avoid physical pain. I glanced at the audience and counted seven people, all female, doing the same thing. It’s simply a fact that women have more acute hearing, particularly in the treble register. Sadly, the sound engineer must have suffered hearing loss beyond the point of being able to function in the job, and from experience I’d be certain the decibel level was way over health and safety limits.
Fortunately, when Garth and Maud came on at eleven-twenty, levels returned to the loud end of normal. Goldrush were augmented by a drummer (they had used a snare drum in their set, but not a drummer). They backed It Makes No Difference, and then left for Garth and Maud to perform a couple of solo numbers. We were treated to a short sax solo from Garth, but the rented-in instrument was not up to it, and Garth mimed breaking it in half at the end (and never returned to it). The following long Garth instrumental may or may not have a title, but “A History of Western Popular Music, played by a genius” would be a reasonable one. Then Maud singing solo, accompanied by Garth was simply beautiful. Goldrush joined them again for The Shape I’m In, a stomping flat-out version with excellent vocals. The solid beat was so loud and persistently steady that they made a joke with Garth about a metronome. There was another solo instrumental with teasing references to Chest Fever, which we eventually got with Goldrush rejoining him. Apart from the feat of knowing the words (!) they really sang this incredibly well. In one verse it sounded more like Richard Manuel than in any reunited Band version, which is high praise.
Then solo singer Danny Wilson joined the stage for one of his own compositions. An excellent song, with added vocalists, but Maud’s voice towered above everyone in the choruses, and the composer was visibly moved when he thanked her at the end. Goldrush then played “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” with Garth and Maud. We asked the singer afterwards, and they’d suggested this to Garth and Maud. Is this the first Garth performance since The Basement Tapes? It was a rarity that brought smiles to our faces whatever.
Goldrush had Garth and Maud join them for one of their own songs, and announced they’d always dreamed of Garth playing on the song. Well, it happened! A heavily reworked version of Don’t Do It followed, done as a slow blues rather than as a soul song. It was another superb Maud vocal. I’ve always been impressed with her voice on recordings, but actually you have to be there to experience the full power, range and expression.
At this point, 12.35 a.m. Goldrush announced in some panic that they had three minutes to switch off time. It caught Garth and Maud by surprise, as they had other numbers on their set list, but there was nothing for it but to go straight into The Weight, with Maud taking one verse. They even had to cut the last verse because of time.
It was a strange evening, not least because of the small crowd. I saw a local soul band (now semi-pro) three days earlier in a similar sized venue, and I know they had three hundred which was fire capacity because it was sold out. This was really a lot fewer, and a young and enthusiastic crowd, who must have wondered why those old guys at the front were mouthing the words to every number. It was after all, a last minute rescue of / benefit for an abandoned larger festival, which has been postponed until September 22nd.
We suspected they’d inherited the uniformed security team from the main festival, because at the end a small phalanx of black uniformed security guards blocked access to the small side area to the stage. There were only two young men and we four Band Guestbookers hoping to offer their congratulations, but even so we couldn’t get through. As we got to the car park, they’d surrounded Garth and Maud in Presidential fashion and were hurrying them to their transport.
Two souvenirs were the programme and the “This Is Truck” sampler CD which came with entry for a mere extra £3. The CD includes Garth & Maud Hudson’s version of “It Makes No Difference” from “Live at the Wolf” as well as Goldrush on “Can’t Give Up The Ghost.” The programme includes an excellent essay on Garth Hudson by John Niven, the author of “The Music From Big Pink” novella.