Friday 24 May 2013


Live Review

Glee Club, Birmingham

Chris Wood is one of those performers who has reached the age where grumpiness is obligatory, cynicism is acceptable - as long as it's the healthy variety and yet has still managed to keep a touch of the endearing naughty schoolboy about his persona.

Chris Wood  - picture courtesy of
Wood is also one of those old folk tradition troubadours where the lyrics reign supreme. His biting, insightful and witty words often don't need his guitar and it wouldn't be too far a speculation to say that had he not learned to play he could have made his name as a poet.
The Kentish lad was flanked on the double bass by Neil Harland and keyboard player Justin Mitchell as they opened with John Barleycorn where Wood's deep voice executed the traditional tale perfectly, accentuated by the bass sound of his guitar.
Refreshingly he then moved on to a political song, something which is sadly lacking on the folk circuit at the moment. Caesar is about greed, and like a lot of Wood's songs they were introduced with his soft humming voice, a little like a mellower version of the blues holler which announces they have something to say. The track had a soft funk undertone from the gospel organ sound of Mitchell which added to the colour of the music rather than intruded on it.
Neil Harland - picture courtesy of  Jim McAdam
The title track of his album None the Wiser lets his cynicism out for while as he turns a road song with cutting lyrics into an indictment of modern life and the recession affecting us all. And let's face it's not many people can fit a term such as "quantitative easing" into a song and get away with it.
One of his staple songs, which he performed at the Symphony Hall as part of the Joan Armatrading tour, is Jerusalem. Yes the famous and rousing British hymn synonymous with the last night of the proms.
Although there is definite feeling in his voice and he genuinely respects the song and the lyrics you can't help but ask why? Redoing Jerusalem is a bit like trying to reinvent the wheel and his version is not entirely convincing


He pulled out what he called a couple of grown up love songs which according to the amiable raconteur are identified by an element of grumpiness, which may well be true but all the same Henrietta has the clever lyrics which are Wood's signature trait. The other, The Sweetness Game was another soft ballad to which his velvety voice is so well-suited and is even highlighted by the odd touch of grittiness.
There was a distinct touch of Pearl & Dean about the opening of  A Whole Life Lived which is a song about differing generations and the realisation that age is catching up on you.
He followed this up with The Little Carpenter and then Young Randall which is a traditional folk song with a gentle opening which gives way to the deep bass.
Although Thou Shalt is about a mid-life crisis it was more upbeat with Harland's slapping bass keeping the rhythm. There were the same clever lyrics and there seemed to be real pathos in his voice.
Wood is fascinated by the stories behind the songs and if you go to his concerts you must be prepared to take on board the potted histories he has accrued, such as with I Am which was written in a lunatic asylum, not by Wood it should be noted. Wood's lone voice simply accented by the keyboard had a real depth of feeling to it.
Things went more upbeat for his poaching song which had something of the feel of Midnight Cowboy sound about it, that sort of contradictory urban country feel. His other offerings included Tally of Salt with Hugh Lupton's lyrics which was a soft ballad telling the story of marriage which just had a hint of jazz.
Chris Wood
 picture courtesy of
Towards the end he went for a more traditional sounding folk song in Let Me In which had a slight bluegrass mountain feel.
He pulled one of Martin Simpson's out of the bag with Come Down Jehovah which he describes as an atheist spiritual.
Wood moved towards the end of the set with Sofia a love story from the Crusades which more than any showed his penchant for storytelling.
The last one of the night was again from his None the Wiser album, The Wolfless Years, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It's a song about the return of the wolf to parts of North America which had the unexpected benefit of bringing with it a blossoming of wild flowers, although he didn't render an explanation of this. However, from the Procol Harum-style opening to the end, the gentle ballad was a wonderful tale of nature and the surprises it can spring on us.
For more information visit

No comments:

Post a Comment