Judy: Still rattling the chandeliers at 80

Judy Collins: Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne (19th January, 2020)

Now this was a strange one. Strange but nice I should point out. The wonderful Judy Collins – 80-years-old and still possessing a voice capable of rattling the chandeliers – acting as her own support act and delivering what was at times close to a stand-up routine.

Of course there was plenty of music too and many classic songs from a career that has spanned 60 wonderful years. But what happened to the advertised support?  Norwegian folk singer Jonas Fjeld – Judy’s collaborator on her latest album, the excellent Winter Stories, was notable by his absence.  The album and indeed Fjeld himself got a couple of honourable mentions in despatches from the stage and two of its numbers, River and Jimmy Webb’s sublime The Highwayman were undoubtedly among the high points of the show. But there was no explanation.

The concert opened with a couple of vintage tracks, Maid of Constant Sorrow and Chelsea Morning, with Judy on guitar accompanied by her longtime musical director Russell Walden on piano. To be honest she took a little while to get into her musical stride but when she did she was extraordinarily good, punctuating the set list, including classics like Both Sides Now, with  anecdotes and some rather whiskery jokes about Keith Richards.

After the interval she was back and wearing a sparkling crimson jacket – an 80th birthday gift from her old friend and fellow sixties survivor Joan Baez. Abandoning the guitar for the piano, she demonstrated a technique that revealed the classical training she received before joining the burgeoning US folk scene of the 1950s. 

Becoming a folkie was a shrewd move that at the time did little to impress either her mother or her piano tutor but ultimately it brought her into contact with everyone from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to Joni Mitchell and Stephen Stills. And do you know what? I think we’ve all benefitted. Certainly audiences at The Tivoli have. Although modest in size the venue has become one of Judy Collins’ favourite UK theatres over the years. It’s a privilege to see her perform there.

Jeremy Miles

Memories, markers and special times

Joan Baez: Fare Thee Well Tour – Brighton Dome (February 2019)

Despite battling a chest infection Joan Baez strode onto the stage of the Brighton Dome on the opening UK night of her extended farewell tour and delivered a performance that was masterful, moving and mesmerising.

The 78-year-old singer was determined that her concert was not going to be diminished by anything as mundane as a pesky illness. True to form she sang beautifully, just occasionally, and I mean occasionally, struggling for a note.

After 60 years on the road Baez knows how to optimise almost any concert  situation. So it was that alongside a wonderful catalogue of songs, starting with her alone on stage singing Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – the first of five perfectly pitched Bob Dylan covers – we also heard her singing the praises of Britain’s National Health Service.

She had arrived in Brighton via a visit to A&E: “Hey the doctors all looked about 15-years-old but they clearly knew what they were doing,” she told us, revealing that blood tests had been made and antibiotics prescribed and all for free. “We don’t get that where I come from,” she sighed.

The medics had done well and more than 20 songs and nearly two hours later Joan Baez finally left the stage to a standing ovation after a series of  encores that had included sure-fire crowd pleasers like Forever Young and a singalong to John Lennon’s Imagine.

For most of the concert Baez had been joined on stage by her son the percussionist Gabe Harris and multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell. There was also some impressive input from singer Grace Stumberg. Age may have taken the top register from Baez’s soaring soprano but she knows exactly how to use her mature voice to maximum effect. Stumberg meanwhile is on hand to add vocal depth and harmonies to songs like Diamond’s and Rust, Donovan’s Catch the Wind and some belting country blues on Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee.

It was a superbly constructed set featuring songs from throughout the long and illustrious Baez career. Early favourites included Phil Och’s There But for Fortune, Dylan’s Farewell Angelina, Woody Guthrie’s Deportee and the traditional Darling Corey.

 It was an evening full of memories and markers of special times. When she sang Joe Hill many members of the audience will have recalled her performance of the same song at the Woodstock Festival 50 years ago this summer. She was six months pregnant at the time. A glance at percussionist Gabe brought recognition that he had been there too. Yup Woodstock in the womb. How cool is that?

But anyone thinking this tour is purely about nostalgia is sorely mistaken. There was also a good showing of high-quality material from her latest album Whistle Down the Wind with some beautifully reflective writing from people like Tom Waits and Antony and the Johnsons.

Like the every song in the set these are the kind of numbers that in the capable hands of Joan Baez can live and breath forever! Judging by the length of this extended farewell tour, there’s a good chance that she can too.

Jeremy Miles

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