The Tivoli, Wimborne, Dorset
20th June 2013
Support: Hall of Ghosts (John Williams)
(NOT IN ACCURATE ORDER, probably incomplete, and not including all the snippets of songs in narrative sections)
Wild Mountain Thyme
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
The Song of The Wandering Angus (Burl Ives after Yeats … part)
City of New Orleans
The Blizzard (The Colorado Song)
Both Sides Now
In My Life
A day of extremes. The afternoon was spent watching the 7-year olds’ annual school play (Treasure Island) with music and singing, the evening was Judy Collins. What they had in common was lone piano accompaniment in parts and sing-alongs. Judy said she’d been professional for fifty four years, and she’s seventy-two. Ten times the age of the afternoon’s performers. As to how people go down with an audience, both extremely well, but even the audience for the resurrected and reformed Beatles with Elvis sitting in couldn’t compete with a hall full of mums, dads and grandparents at the school play for enthusiastic response, and rightly so.
Judy Collins announced it was her fourth visit to the Tivoli, and I saw her here in 2010 (See review). She said she’d try to sing different songs to last time, and largely she did, so she must keep notes. As last time, it was Judy on 12-string guitar, with grand piano accompaniment by her musical director.
It’s unusual to exhort a singalong with the opener, but she did on Wild Mountain Thyme (aka Will Ye Go Lassie Go, Purple Heather) and that song’s a fair bet for audience awareness and we joined in. Similar exhortations fell on deaf ears later in the set, in Helplessly Hoping (never a natural singalong unless you have the voices of C, S and N) and City of New Orleans (definitely catchy enough). Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album and Arlo Guthrie are simply lower profile in the UK. City of New Orleans was written by Steve Goodman, but Arlo Guthrie had the hit.
The set continued with Chelsea Morning, with a break for an anecdote about how Chelsea Clinton was named for the song and how she had had access to the White House in the Clinton era. Then she sang Norwegian Wood. Both those two were sung in 2010, and another full-song repeat was Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes, and I’m sure no one’s going to complain about hearing that again. Norwegian Wood was a little shaky in parts, with a slip and stop on words, but she can carry those minor events off by continuing to chat and play. She sounded as if her nose was slightly blocked, and she mentioned allergies … hay fever is rampant at the moment as we’re in a delayed Spring, even if this was the day before the summer solstice.
The folk song influence is that ability to chat to the audience … it distinguishes the English folk singers and bands from their monosyllabic, gruff and grunting rock counterparts too. Judy’s chat is what makes the shows so enjoyable. I’m sure she never repeated a story, but she name dropped as often as ever. But she can. She was there and it’s all true. Pete Seeger, Dave van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Harry Belafonte, Arlo Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Joni Mitchell and of course Steven Stills all got name-checked. This is where we get verses of songs by each … the Harry Belafonte bit, Scarlet Ribbons and The Banana Boat Song, was a repeat of 2010. But then we got a few lines of Turn, Turn, Turn, Bells of Rhymney and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? When Pete Seeger was mentioned … and she’d shared a stage with him just last week. Turn, Turn, Turn got the longest extract, but that was her 1969 single. Incidentally there were two more songs in her set about coal mining, but I should pedantically note that she wrongly attributed Bells of Rhymney to Mr Seeger, who composed a melody to accompany Idris Davies’ existing 1938 poem. I love the snippets of song: Michael Row The Bow Ashore was one of another half dozen we heard a verse of.
I was fascinated by her section on folk singers of the early 60s and how they daren’t admit to writing original songs, so Burl Ives had to pretend he’d found songs from “an old lady with a basket on her head.” She gave us a little of the Burl Ives’ setting of a W.B. Yeats poem, The Song of Wandering Angus, which was recently done with a new melody by The Waterboys. Burl Ives is under-rated, as a singer, writer and influence on the folk movement. I guess Messrs Dylan and Cohen changed that attitude to your own songs once and for all. In her stories about the 1961 folk scene she mentioned that Woody Guthrie had written hundreds of songs, but Bob Dylan sang the wrong ones.
Mountain Girl, her own composition, came around this point. Coal Tattoo also came in the set here and dates from her first live album in 1964.
After a rousing City of New Orleans, the guitar was put away, the pianist left the stage, and Judy moved to piano, as last time. However, this was a suite shifting magically from My Father to Albatross to The Blizzard (The Colorado Song) from 1990. This suite was continuous, the songs all linked with piano and over twenty minutes long. I have a feeling The Blizzard had appeared in 2010. When she stood up, and her pianist returned, she used hand-held mic, and didn’t pick up the guitar, but gave us the song everyone was hoping for: Both Sides Now.
The single encore returned to John Lennon for In My Life. So two Lennon. No Leonard Cohen songs, which was a surprise.
She can still hold those long sustained notes as she finishes songs. It’s a treat to see her in a community theatre in a small market town. You have to think of those she knew and helped boost in their careers: Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Steven Stills (to name a few). Does she ever think about the larger venues they play? If she does, I hope she feels no envy. This size is a perfect setting for her and it is a privilege to be in the audience.