Chris Wood


I have a ticket to hear Chris Wood at the Wardrobe; Chris Wood is going ahead with his gig at the Wardrobe; so I damn well go and hear Chris Wood at the Wardrobe. The small theater is about two thirds full; the bar is only accepting card payments. Everyone understands that this will be the last gig for a while. 

I once said that Chris Wood was not only my favorite performer; he was also my favorite human being. I have lots of favorite performers. A French gourmet, asked to name the best meal he had ever eaten, shrugged as only a French gourmet can shrug, and replied "the last one, of course." Martin Carthy is the best traditional singer; and Jim Moray is the best musician; and Luke Jackson has the best voice. But Chris Wood is the best song writer. 

When I was first getting into folk music, the lamented Folkwaves was playing The Cottagers Reply incessantly. Then they started to play Come Down Jehovah equally incessantly. I heard him do Hollow Point for the first time at the first Hatfield Festival, and will never forget the impact of gradually realizing what that song was about. 

And so he journeyed on and onward 
he called his friend just to explain 
that he would be late and not to worry
and so to Stockwell tube he came...

Chris sings the Cottager's Reply tonight. Someone calls out for Hollow Point, but he says it is too much of a downer to finish on. He says that he knows a journalist who knows the two officers responsible for Jean Charles De Menzes’ death. The journalist thinks the officers would be cool about the song: Chris says that this pleases him. The song was never meant to be accusatory. "So now I've got to sing the fucking thing, haven't I?" 

The person who asked for the song gets out a phone to record it; Chris asks them not to. It could have been an agonizingly awkward moment, but it just feels like your mate saying he doesn't want a selfie. Chris is so relaxed and confident and happy and at home on the stage that he feels like everyone's mate. He wants to sing one of the Yorkshire versions of While Shepherds Watched even though its the wrong season, but he gets to talking about church bells and sings the Cornish Lover instead. He doesn't have anything as establishment as a set-list. 

But he's mostly moved on from the great big ballads. He talks about admiring "Magnum" style photography, and very many of his new songs are slices of life. None The Wiser is a set of state of the nation vignettes observed while on tour; So Much To Defend is about the people he observed during a long walking holiday along the Thames. Some of his lyrics are deep and dense: 

we laugh at Christ as he walks out on the water
and we undermine the faithful with our teasing
but in the vaults of the bank of England they're still sacrificing chickens
to a god they call quantitative easing

But some are simple and direct: 

Victoria saves her kitchen scraps for the chickens in her yard 
She says the online Woody Guthrie shop won’t recognise her card 
But she keeps in trim with her fundraising 
She’ll be out there this weekend 
A muddy young mum on a charity run 
There’s so much to defend

He sings about the people at a friendly match between two minor football teams; he sings a lament to a much loved sofa before someone comes to take it away. A new song about people choosing to be willfully ignorant feels like a Chris Wood verse still in search of a chorus; and one about Superman deciding that he's had enough and is going to give up is whimsically untypical but still rather touching. The persona is sometimes a self-consciously grumpy old man. He comes onto the stage and says that he refuses to do anything which an Old Etonian has told him to do. He talks about his own father raising him on "cynicism and corporal punishment". But if I didn't know better I would say there was a twinkle in his voice. Despite all the anger, these are songs which love life and which want us to love life too. He says that an Irish lady recently thanked him for a concert with the words "That was medicinal" and he felt that was one of the nicest reviews he's ever had. There's very little actual traditional folk music in tonight's set, but there is a sweet, laid back, meditative folksy sensibility in nearly everything. 

Welcome to the last days of the British folk scene, he says. He fears that lovely small venues like the Wardrobe may not survive the Virus. The tour promoter and the venue manager are both despondent, angry with the Prime Minister for advising people to stay away from venues without officially closing them. A lot of us in the audience go to gigs every week and had a summer of festivals lined up. We sardonically say goodbye and hope to meet each other again in the autumn. 

Chris Wood is one of the main reasons I became interested in folk music a decade ago. If this is really to be the last gig for months or years, I can't think of a nicer one to go out on. 

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