Monday 28 October 2013


Live Review

MAC, Birmingham

If you don't like your folk music unadorned with lyrics shooting from the hip and peppered with political comment and barbs, then Dick Gaughan is best avoided.

Dick Gaughan - picture courtesy of
Copyright Niall Reddy
With his natural Scottish wit and insightful musings on the world around him Gaughan, alone on a bare stage at the Midlands Art Centre with just a single guitar, kept his audience enthralled.
Gaughan does almost as much talking as he does playing but his friendly Scots accent, informal chatting and almost constant strumming of his instrument as he talks is both engaging and thought provoking.
He is a fine, precise guitar player and while his playing style is certainly not as intricate as someone like Andy Irvine or as delicate as fellow countryman Ewan McLennan it's not really that important. You get a sense that the music is only there to help you  focus on the sharp lyrics which Gaughan sings with a passion that you wish many younger folk singers would take note of.
What You Do With What You've Got is a cautionary tale about using our talents whatever they are and a call to action that we can all make a difference if we use what we have for the better of others.
During the set there were few political figures or movements which didn't come under Gaughan's scrutiny whether it was Tony Blair, George Osborne, Scottish independence, Labour, Tories they were all fair game. The noticeable thing about Gaughan is that he is never cynical in the sense he still believes things can change if people are willing to stand up and be counted.
His preamble to Shipwreck saw ex-PM Blair came in for some stick where he described the political movement of New Labour and Cool Brittania as being like a bunch of sheep being led by headless chickens. Strangely enough no one in the audience seemed inclined to raise a voice in protest.
There were liberal amounts of Scottish history thrown both in the songs and the monologues between.
One such was The Yew Tree a song written by Brian McNeill which was inspired by a conversation he had with a 1,000 year old yew tree, you have to hear the full story to make sense of it. 
A history lesson in a song may sound like a turn off but with Gaughan's strong and precise guitar playing and easy singing style it never gets heavy, patronising or boring.
As you can imagine with the Leith troubadour who is socially aware and politically astute that sooner or later his countryman and national treasure Robert Burns would crop up somewhere and Now Westlin Winds is a lyrically wonderful song which Gaughan brings to life with his strong voice and guitar.
Scottish national treasure Robert Burns
A Different Kind of Love Song was inspired by a rant from a woman who once took Gaughan to task and by surprise. after one of his gigs. about the content of his songs accusing him of only singing about troubles. Gaughan was taken aback and left somewhat speechless while pondering all the things he realised he should have said at the time. Instead he turned it into a song and when you read the lyrics you begin to understand that he sings the songs he does because the problems of the world go on and sometimes for generations without enough people taking enough notice. 
As he told his audience at the MAC he wrote one particular song 25 years ago and it's just as relevant now as it was then which he claims either makes him a prophet or that things haven't changed as quick as he would have liked.
Another history lesson in the form of a storytelling song with Thomas Muir of Huntershill showed Gaughan at full passion, while it was almost a rant the simple verse structure make it easy to listen to and enjoy the story of injustice as it unfolded through his words.
This was tempered with quite a hard edged song Keep Looking At The Light and then followed by a song which epitomises his pet hate of prejudice Both Sides The Tweed which, like most of his songs have really thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics such as the refrain "Let virtue distinguish the brave, Place riches in lowest degree, Think them poorest who can be a slave, Them richest who dare to be free." there was almost a blues rhythm underneath his deep and clear voice.
He drew the set to an end with his version of the Johnny Cash song Apache Tears which has a wonderful and sad legend to it about young braves who jumped over a cliff edge rather than be captured by the US cavalry. His last song of the night carried on from that with the more upbeat Geronimo's Cadillac.

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