The wonderful Chris Wood played his guitar and sang at the Linenhall last night for well over two hours. Each song was introduced with humour and/or an interesting back story. He claimed that people in England think he's 'a bit of grump' as a folk singer and indeed some of his back catalogue might have led to an expectation of perhaps even a Van-Morrison-style performance with no interaction with his audience. But Chris Wood smiled and joked his way through a set of songs that covered the full gamut of human experience and he really engaged with the Castlebar audience.
Some songs were very dark, of course – Hollow Point based on the shooting of a Brazilian electrician on the London Tube by security forces – some poignant like his empty-nest song and the 'adult' love song 'The Sweetness Game' – some very critical of current society and ambitions in England – and some delightful up-beat songs – perhaps a sign of his mellowing as he ages? He certainly smiled a lot, beaming up at the appreciative audience who had travelled from far and wide for the opportunity to hear this unique voice here in Castlebar. And what a voice he has! And his guitar picking! (Why oh why did we give up the guitar?)
Songs based on observations of people and events while on a 50-city tour in 2012 with Joan Armatrading - or on observations over a four-day walk from recession-hit London (where they sacrifice chickens to the god of Quantitative Easing in the bowels of the Bank of England) to his home (in Kent?) along the banks of the River Thames. We have 'a lot to defend' he observes sardonically – England he paraphrases is 'less a country than a mosaic of ambitions and insularities' and he lists these mercilessly from the Argos catalogues to the army recruiting centres to a favourite tranquiliser rhyming with 'None the Wiser'. A song about selling a house and its commuting distance to London – 'it takes me four hours but with a car like THAT you'll make it in three!' the seller says.
His take on William Blake's Jerusalem contrasts with the jingoistic rendition more associated with football crowds, emphasising the 'dark satanic mills' aspect rather than the likelihood of them building a Jerusalem in England's green land any time soon. He did say that he gets a bit of flak when singing his more downbeat version to audiences in his homeland of England.
One song appeared to have been written on the road from Dublin on his way to the concert - Flailing (?) – Chris Wood's take on the destruction of hedgerows he saw along the N5 – the flailing of the trees with the brash blowing across the road in the wind. Sure enough, I had noticed the same myself on the road to Mullingar yesterday at the temporary traffic lights – but I didn't think to write a song about it.
Perhaps we went in expecting to hear a lot of his extensive back catalogue, especially anyone who bought his Albion anthology album, but quite a bit of new material from 'None the Wiser'. Some, like My Darling's Downsized and Hollow Point from the Handmade Life 2010 album and often heard on Lyric FM's The Blue of the Night, were familiar to me at least, but plenty of recent material that I hadn't heard before including ~four+ songs from his current 'None the Wiser' album – fabulous, tuneful, thought-provoking material right up to the end.
And then finally, after a long bout of applause and stomping the audience got him back to sing his award winning 'One in a Million' a beautiful tune, retelling the tale (spoiler alert) of the lost ring rediscovered in a fish stomach – standing ovation.
Thanks to the Linenhall for bringing great musicians such as this to Mayo.