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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Jozzer

The Bloomsbury Theatre, London
October 31st 2006

It was never going to be one of those ‘I was there’ concerts. But discussing those over coffee in the restaurant beforehand made us late. Nick’s stand-in Alex was winning with a Talking Heads gig (David Byrne in his massive suit), before Trizzer played her ace: Hendrix in Chislehurst Caves.

So as we arrived, a muffled second verse of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ was escaping from the auditorium. Ah, so that’s how he’s approaching it – get THE biggie in first. The only UK No. 1 of The Byrds which McGuinn founded with Gene Clark and David Crosby. It was their first single - and the title of their debut album - which topped the charts here in the summer of ’65. Inside, standing on the right of the stage dressed all in black was a man playing a Rickenbacker 12-string and singing in that distinctive voice.
We moved to take our seats as the applause welled up, only to find our way in blocked by a bloke in a wheelchair with a pair of crutches stuck in it. Photographer Kate, not usually one to hold back in anything, decided the kerfuffle would be too much and we retreated. The place was a sell-out; around 99% reliving something they may or may not have remembered from the sixties.
McGuinn sat centre stage and played a 7-string guitar specially made for him by Martin. The extra string is a second G tuned an octave higher. He reckons it gives him all the benefits of six and twelve string guitars and he can even make it sound a bit like a banjo. Personally I’d opt for a six-string guitar, twelve-string guitar and a banjo every time.
Throughout, he wore a hat. At a carefully jaunty angle. A black fedora with a small but obvious red feather in the band. George Melly’s similar model, A3 bassist Mr Segs’s trilby, Richard Thompson’s beret, and Noddy Holder’s exaggerated topper all seem right and suit their wearers. McGuinn’s had an air of a dull politician donning a baseball cap backwards. Worse, the cosy nature of this concert made it look like McGuinn was being rude by not taking it off.
He definitely began to remind me of someone? Who was it?

There are summer days when the Byrds, oft credited with inventing folk-rock, are still the perfect sound. It has west coast relations but the combination of the jingly-jangly 12 string and three-part harmonies made it unique. The lush, sustained Rickenbacker sound was first achieved by an engineer compressing the recordings to protect his equipment. But, frankly, as a lead singer McGuinn needed those harmonies.
Some of the stories, told in a voice a couple of notes deeper than Truman Capote’s, were OK. Dylan once asked him, ‘What was that song you just played?’ about a Byrds number given the ‘Beatles Beat’ treatment. He was told, ‘That’s one of yours, man.’
Half a dozen yelps greeted mention of the widely acclaimed The Sweethearts of the Rodeo album. Released in 1968 it was the Byrds sixth in three years. Influenced by new Byrd Gram Parsons it is sometimes cited as the start of country rock. From it, McGuinn did Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’. 40 years ago, the Nashville mafia wasn’t happy about hippies trying to gatecrash country music. Ralph Emery, influential host of TV show Nashville Now and a DJ, refused to play the Byrds version of that song on his radio programme after previewing 15 seconds of the disc.
When he said ‘What’s it about?’, Rog answered, ‘I don’t know. It’s a Bob Dylan song’. (Bloomsbury chuckled at that.)
These days McGuinn concentrates on his solo career and working on his worthy but cheesily-named Folk Den Project, capturing America’s (and with it a lot of our) musical heritage. This set featured Den songs, ‘The Water is Wide’ learned from Pete Seeger and ‘Easter’ from the King of the 12-String, Lead Belly. We also got, as Rog put it, ‘a song about a dog’ (‘Old Blue’) followed by ‘a song about a horse’ (‘Chestnut Mare’).
There are musos who claim that Gene Clark was the most important musician in the Byrds. Playing their poppy co-composition ‘You Showed Me’ (a top 10 hit for the Turtles) suited Rog’s style. But a Richard ‘Rabbit’ Brown number was made anodyne. And when Rog sang ‘St James Infirmary Blues’ I was reminded of Neil Sedaka and, for one terrifying moment, Chris de Burgh. Some white men really ain’t equipped to sing the blues.
But neither of those was who he really reminded me of…
Got it! Even before he sang a song that he and his wife ‘assembled from a blessing’, Rog’s doppelganger dawned on me. We were watching Ned Flanders - Homer Simpson’s relentlessly pleasant, piously Christian next-door neighbour – in human form. And indeed, I discover online, Roger was Born Again in 1977, obviously as Ned.
Rog/Ned returned to his standing position for the three-song encore including ‘Chimes of Freedom’ and Pete Seeger's ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ with which the audience joined in – moderately, even during the anti-war lines.

Roger practices in that hat.
Picture: Thom Allen
As we regrouped in the foyer, the departing audience were doing their own reviews. ‘That was very good.’ ‘Nice’ was heard several times.
Alex said McGuinn seemed like an ‘all–round good egg’. (Kate observed it was only natural since he came out of the Byrds.) And it appears he is: at his happiest touring; cooperating with fans’ websites and playing benefits - not least with The Rock Bottom Remainders a super-rich band made up successful writers including Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Stephen King and Ned’s creator Matt Groening. McGuinn’s singing voice is limited (it was why he failed his audition to join The Kingston Trio). He’s not a great guitarist. He’s not a particularly good raconteur. But he played with Bobby Darin, flew in a Lear Jet with Peter Fonda, performed in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, wrote and recorded some bloody good tunes. He qualifies as legendary even if you think Rolling Stone went over the top with "Music would be a very, very different place if it hadn't been for Roger McGuinn".
He’s definitely been there and done all that. Respect is due.
This night, I was there. But it felt rather more like an autograph convention than a gig. - Jozzer (concert photographs by Kate)

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