I had my ticket booked for this Brighton Festival event last year and then everything seemed to stop. Thankfully, my voucher enabled me to obtain a ticket for the rescheduled concert. I felt some apprehension going to this concert, my first since last year. It wasn’t anxiety around safety concerns, more around navigating regulations of the new normal. The Brighton Dome staff were great as usual. I had to be in my seat 45 minutes before the start, but I do normally arrive early to orientate myself, so that worked well. The rows in front of me and behind me (in the rear stalls) were intentionally empty, as well as, two seats on either side of me. I have attended many sold-out concerts at the Brighton Dome and couldn’t help feeling sad that on this occasion, regulations required the venue to only use a fraction of its capacity. I am always intrigued by the choice of pre-concert warm-up music. They appeared to have chosen one of Robert Wyatt’s quieter albums. I enjoyed their choice, but that sense of melancholy in his voice was to reverberate throughout the concert. Apologies, there are likely to be errors of fact and omission in what follows, but this is my best effort.
The band came onto the stage, followed shortly afterwards by Eliza Carthy. She sang The Snow it melts the soonest solo and standing away from the microphones. It was testimony to the strength of her voice and the wonderful Brighton Dome acoustics that her singing was able to reach my weary old ears. This powerful solo introduction was followed by The Poacher, which broadened the spotlight. The band included a Sitar (?) and Cello player, and both musicians were seated, it took me back to the Velvet Underground and Godspeed You! Black Emperor who played the Dome a few times. Eliza then addressed the audience, acknowledging that she had last been at the Dome in February 2020 for the launch of the Brighton Festival. She shared her relief at being back on stage. Martin Carthy then sang Scarborough Fayre, without his glasses as he acknowledged he knew the words. The timbre of time in his voice was very poignant.
Kenneth Branagh read the poem, Tommy, by Rudyard Kipling. It powerfully questioned the folly of ridiculing those who risk their lives serving others and the poem still seemed very topical in 2021. I think there was another Kipling connection with Poor Little Lamb, sung solo by Eliza. One of the band, then did a sword dance and whilst the two somersaults at the end were impressive, I was more impressed by how he played his harmonica throughout.
Wilko Johnson then joined the proceedings for a couple of songs. The last time I saw him playing was at another Brighton venue the Komedia. What was memorable that evening was the way he moved horizontally along the stage throughout the evening. On this occasion, he had been tethered to his amp with a long red chord, but it was a joy to behold his footwork. I cannot tell you the names of the tunes, he played, the first one might be Keep on loving you. What stood out for me was the interplay between his guitar and the sitar, really magical. I am not sure if the inclusion of the sitar was an allusion to the East further than East Anglia, but it was a treat.
Martin Carthy then spoke to the question – How do you get young people into folk music? A good question, but given this was the matinee performance, he was probably addressing the wrong audience. I am not sure what it was like for him and the other musicians looking out at a masked audience. He talked about Ewan MacColl, which made for an interesting prelude to singing Henry Martin/The Long Tall Ship. I saw Ralph McTell a few years ago in London and some of the folklore reminded me of that evening: https://wordpress.com/post/woodlanddecay.com/554 This was followed by some jigs, tap dancing and Roger the Miller.
I enjoyed watching the warmth and mutual respect between father and daughter, with Eliza dedicating a song to Dr McMbe, celebrating his 80th a week earlier. We then had talk of black dogs in folklore and wolf mythology which was a prelude to Miranda Richardson and the poem Drowned at Sea, to Dead on Land. Marry Waterson graphics provided the backdrop for the concert and these were enchanting at times (Scarborough Fayre) and troubling at others (Tommy).
The concert ended with an encore of Napoleon’s Dream and then a question from Eliza for the Dome management – Are they allowed to sing? I am sure when she last visited in February 2020, she could never have envisaged having to ask that question. All the musicians and performers came together for the Finale – The Bad Times are just Around the Corner, by Noel Coward. The song ends And wait until we drop down dead. I have checked the lyrics, but I might be missing the irony. Overall, impressive work by Brighton Dome to stage this concert and the musicians and performers for performing this entertaining and thought-provoking concert. The sense of melancholy Robert Wyatt used to channel, hasn’t left me, but perhaps that is a folk thing.