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« Canmore Folk Music Festival, 3-5 August 2013 | Main | ...and the small ones »

Tom Russell in Hove, actually

It is one of life's continuing mysteries how as good a songwriter as Tom Russell manages to stay below so many music fans' radar.

His gig at Hove's Palmeira pub was the last on a British tour which I haven't seen written up elsewhere. Of course, it was sold out - but, come on: that means maybe a hundred people. Even I have sung a song at the Palmeira...  Tom was reminiscing fondly about the last time he had played Brighton at 'an East Indian ballroom' (the Hanbury in Kemptown). I've also seen him at the Greys (a far smaller pub than the Palmeira) and the Anchor out in Barcombe (hidden in the depths of the country, beyond the reach of our satnav).Why not the Dome - which regularly features folk who live many floors below Tom in the Tower of Song? Go figure.

It feels wrong to say 'Tom Russell gig' in the same way that 'Gillian Welch concert' is only halfway there. The great Thad Beckman is Tom's David Rawlings, conjuring similarly beautiful and essential sounds from his battered and ancient Gibson. Perhaps less oblique in his strategies than Rawlings, but full of both subtlety and power, and blessed with jaw-dropping technique. There were frequent pauses for roaring applause after beautiful solos - with Tom mock-ruefully decrying his audience as 'bastards'.

Russell's interaction with the crowd is practised and warm, with lots of stories and bizarre asides. He enjoys trying out his British accent, playing around the familiar local Brighton line that he is now in Hove, 'actually'. Over the evening we also get a burst of Norwegian (in honour of some fans who've flown in from Bergen); a graceful acknowledgement of shouted praise for his pristine new cowboy boots (seemingly made of orange suede); and Pancho Villa's final words (clearly a born delegator, they were 'don't let it end like this - tell them I said something').

I do sometimes have a problem with Tom's more sentimental side, but not this time. He played some songs of that can cross the line - 'Finding You', 'Guadalupe', 'Nina Simone' - but kept them straight, direct and powerful. The set as a whole was simply one to treasure, stuffed full of classics and probably the best I've seen him play.

Too many highlights to enumerate fully, but let's list a few: an inspired immigration double-punch to end the first set of a beautifully sung reading of the glorious 'California Snow' followed by a stonking and unanswerable singalong 'Who's Going To Build Your Wall?'; then a similar double-punch closing the second half, with an appropriate boxing theme - 'Muhammad Ali' and (one of my very favourites) 'The Pugilist Is 59'. Special mention also for a disquisition on Bob Dylan which included Tom singing a burst of 'Love Is Just A Four Letter Word', followed by the opening line of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' and then shouting 'take that, Shakespeare!'; and for his final encore of a Johnny Cash medley - this is a man of taste.

In what is already shaping up to be a fine year for live music, this is bound to be up there in the best gig list. Well played, Tom and Thad: long may you run.

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Reader Comments (4)

Could not agree more with your comments. I saw him up in Farncombe's wonderful St. John the Evangelist's on Thursday eve, and the two of them - how integral Thad has become to his great tunes - played two outstanding sets. Long may they run indeed.

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Cole

Thanks, Graham. I wouldn't usually complain about being able to see someone that good from a couple of yards away, but they do deserve a bigger audience...

July 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterPete

I saw Tom at Cecil Sharp House in Camden, London a year ago; and this time he takes us to The Palmeira a pub in Hove. Blimey these are nooks and crannies places - still its great to get out there on the road: where next ? Because for this singer, songwriter and performer it is worth every mile, every rain drop (I took my son and we were not allowed in at 7pm, and had to wait outside in the rain for an hour)..all the better for us to be battle to deserve this is special, it is "in the know", you are down the corridor, you've made it past all that glistens but is not gold and have found the beating Heart, purposefully hidden away from view; but why ? Tom is as dedicated a performer, and songwriter, you'll find anywhere. Tonight we Ride..He is up there, past the stars, Fairwell Never Never Land..til next time in the UK Mr. Russell - actuallly I think a jaunt abroad to see ya may be in order...

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGary Duckworth

My wife and I were also lucky enough to make it to the other St John The Evangelist in Oxford on Friday night where Tom and Thad played another excellent show and in fact a partially different set. We got Navajo Rug and US Steel. Our round trip from North East London was over 150 miles but I agree it was worth every step of the way.
It has been one of the great joys of the last ten years or so discovering artists like Tom, Fred Eaglesmith, Chris Smither and others playing small venues. Long may they keep coming

July 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Lawson

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