Chapel Arts Bath
And then you get an evening which is so special that writing a review almost seems impolite.
(The reason I set up this subsidiary arts blog was so that I didn't have to say something critically incisive about every show. "It was a nice gig. I had a good time" is permissable. I did promise myself I would say something about every live gig I go to.)
Jim Moray is one of my favourite folkies. He started out allegedly as "the bad boy of folk", putting night club beats and hip-hop mashups into The Tradition. He's moved on from that, a bit: this evening consisted mostly of Jim and his Guitar and Jim and his Keyboard. The closest he got to electrical jiggery pokery was in the first number, Lemady ("Hark said the fair maid, the nightingales are singing") in which he used a sampling system and an IPhone to harmonise with himself.)
I think it was Steve Knightley who says that an audience needs to feel completely safe in a performer's hands. It can sometimes happen that you go to a gig and love the first three songs, quite enjoy the next three, but by the interval feel that you have probably now heard enough. (I am told this is also problem in Stand Up Comedy: you have to listen to two forty five minute sets from someone who is capable of being very funny indeed for twenty minutes.) But something in tonight's performance made me feel that time had stopped. If after the first two hours Jim had asked the audience if we wanted some more I am sure we would have happily listened to him singing until midnight. (The venue might not have been too happy, I admit.)
I'm not quite sure what the trick was. It's a long time since we've heard him; it's a long time since he's been on the stage; so maybe there was something fresh about reacqainting outselves with songs that singer himself was returning to. Within a narrow-ish folkie window, Jim Moray sings quite a wide range of material. He'll give you John Barleycorn, Lord Bateman and Willie of Winsbury pretty straight; but puts his own pop-inspired tunes to Jenny on the Shore and the mighty Lord Douglas. He sang Jim Jones, the best of all the transportation ballads, which I don't think I have heard him do before; and very much let the old tune and story speak for itself. He's a fine song-writer in his own right; his account of the Voyager I and the "Sounds of Earth" recording is an instant standard.
There was going to be a moment when the planets were aligned
a moment in their orbit when they all came to one side
if you could make a slingshot, use the gravity to steer
a chance like this won't come again for a full two hundred years
But it is undoubtedly the case that there is a certain Jim-Moray-ness to everything he does -- even when he goes off piste and says that he feels like playing some Morris Dance tunes on his guitar. And that's the best way I can describe the evening. Even when he's creating new tunes and altering the lyrics, Jim Moray is fundamentally interested in the folk tradition: he always lets us know if what he is singing was compiled by Francis Child or discovered by Vaughan Willians. But he's also always fundamentally Jim Moray. We are spending a couple of ours inside the interconnected world of English folk music with Jim as our guide, seeing the world and the songs through his ears. I felt by the end of the evening that I had been, as the cliche goes, taken on a journey. Truthfully and hyperbole aside the last gig that felt this magical was by Mr Martin Carthy (at the Wardrobe back in March 2018).
Everyone in the audience was pleased to be there. Jan (who runs the venue) greeted me like a long-lost friend. It was set up cabaret style: prior to Freedom Day they had only been selling pairs of tickets to maintain some level of social distancing. That restriction has been lifted, so me and two other "singletons" were put on a table together. So by definition I spent the evening with two people who love folk music as much as I do. I go to a lot of gigs and I sometimes find myself wondering whether I really want to be on Bath Station at quarter to eleven at night. Evening like this are what I do it for. Truly a moment when all the planets were aligned.
[I grow weary of this motif - Ed.]