|Singing for Louisa
||[Jan. 22nd, 2014|10:39 pm]
I've been reading about the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis. I'm looking forward to seeing it: they've made some terrific films, and the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early 60s, what's not to like? But in the meantime, all the press coverage around it, talking about how it's loosely based on Dave Van Ronk, "the man who wasn't Dylan" and how it's a portrsit of a loser, of failure - as in this Guardian interview with the Coen brothers sent me off at a tangent. The film is fiction - a roman à clé by the sound of it, but still a fiction - but in real life, if you get to make a career of doing the thing you love doing, and spend your life doing it, and have the respect of your peers, that isn't exactly failure. Unless anything less than Dylan's level of fame is failure, and we know what Dylan said about that, don't we? There's no success like failure...
The Guardian journalist is snide, in passing, about "the Irish folk quartet who take to the stage at the Gaslight club in immaculate fishermen's jerseys and warble about trawling," this'd be what they have in mind: the Clancy Brothers performing The Irish Rover, and, after the break, I'll Tell Me Ma. The "brother" on the left in each case is Louis Killen, whose memorial concert we were at on Saturday evening.
When we went to Louisa Killen's 'One Night in Gateshead' concert, I said that "She had enough anecdotes about the folk revival of the late 50s, starting a folk club and collecting songs, that I'd have loved to hear more..." I'd have liked to hear them from Louisa herself, but the recollections of others paid generous tribute to a respected and influential and evidently much-loved musician. The transition to Louisa came late in life, and people talked of things Louis had done in the past, occasionally switching between the two names, but without awkwardness.
The first half centred on the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s, with contributions from High Level Ranters Johnny Handle, Alistair Anderson and Tom Gilfellon. This is about the point where I came in. Tom Gilfellon talked about meeting Louis Killen and Johnny Handle in London where they had been recording the Topic EPs; my father's copy of the Collier's Rant EP was the first time I'd met any of these names (or any of this music, either: so here's The Blackleg Miner, just because I can).
The second half was all about the singing. It started with the Keelers, in fine voice, and went on to Doreen (Elliott) and Bryan Henderson, Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman (representing, nominally, the American years, and a very engaging performance) and Sandra Kerr (representing, presumably, herself, but also Louisa's time as a tutor on the Folk Degree: I'd have liked some contribution from the next generation, the singers she tutored, but the programme was packed enough already).
The performers were seated along the back of the stage, and by now we'd heard from everyone I could see, and I was thinking that it had been a fine show, but wondering whether putting singers as powerful as the Keelers at the beginning of the set hadn't resulted in something a bit unbalanced, how could they now round off the evening? Which is when the Wilsons emerged from the body of the hall, and sang Alex Glasgow's Close the Coalhouse Door: whoever programmed this show knew what they were doing. Everyone, performers and audience alike, joined in The Miner's Lifeguard, making the roof rattle, and in the hush that followed Louisa's partner, Margaret, spoke briefly. Then one more song, Pleasant and Delightful, to send us out into the night, still singing.
One piece of pure self-indulgence: the song that I associate more than any other with Lou Killen is Shoals of Herring.
ETA: Edited to correct a link (thank you, desperance). And while I'm here, to add a couple of things that got overlooked in my haste to finish this last night:
Also among the first half performers, Ed Pickford, whose songs I've heard other people sing, but not seen in person before, and Chris Hendry, who closed the first half with a rousing version of Hamish Henderson's Freedom Come All Ye defeated even this audience of willing singers (I noticed that the platform party were given a crib sheet - which might, or might not, have helped).