How many words perfectly fit the enormous talent that is Long John Baldry, seen by many as the father of contemporary artists Rod Stewart and Elton John? Let's try a few that came to mind at the start of the alphabet as sound circulated, swirling in a cavernous auditorium around the pillars of the former church for an evening's intimate show - abundant, avuncular, alert, articulate, ample. And that is just the As!
About 120 people attended the Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington, Middlesex, UK, on June 14, 2002, for what proved a very special night. Not only were Elton John's producer Gus Dudgeon and wife Sheila present in the audience, but also singer Colin Bluntstone, Elton's co-producer for the historic 17-11-70 album Dave Hentschel, and also the former owner of the Marquis Club in London.
What is more, the audience included many of LJB's family and also his teachers! This was a very private show to which EJW.com reporters had been invited.
Not previously publicised too widely, Long John Baldry took time out of his UK tour with The Manfreds, to return to a venue he's performed at before, the de-consecrated church, about half a mile from where I went to school, to perform a folk set trio.
Two accoustic guitars, featuring LJB on the bass line and Pete Emery on lead, plus harmonica player Butch Coulter from Southern Quebec. Butch, worked has worked with LJB for 26 years.
As LJB's nice minder told me when I asked whether LJB would perform Let The Heartaches Begin - "not in a million years!" That told me.
Before the show, LJB was nervously warming for another big night - and with such an intimate audience for his act, getting it right matters if you can see the whites of their eyes!
As compere Zoe Lovell explained, LJB used to play the Richmond Jazz and Blues Club and Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, made famous by a reference in a George Harrison song in 1979. There was also no mistaking that LJB recalled the local geography well, and it was, as some know, Richmond rail station that he first met a starter Rod Stewart who, like Elton John, was destined to stardom after some tutelage from the great king of R&B.
Wearing first a magenta shirt and Panama hat, and later a tangerine shirt, on stage came the man who made the Mexico Olympic Games of 1968 so aurally memorable....Long John Baldry!
"I think Curt Cobain of Nirvana did this song. But I think I got there first on It Ain't Easy in 1971". He performed the title song off that album.
LJB has a dry and witty sense of humour. He mentioned his new album, Remembering Leadbelly is released next Tuesday in USA, and not in the UK for a while, but copies available here "with the lady over there...I believe in keeping the young employed". The album is in memory of 12 string guitarist Henry Leadbetter.
The Railroad Song song was next - covered by The Notting Hillbillies, featuring Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler in 1989.
Jenny Goodall, a guitar perfomer who inspired his jazz interest, and was in the audience. LJB forgot no one. He dedicated a song to her: Backwater Blues.
The next song LJB said he learned from Peggy Smith ...a song sometimes called West Virginia Blues.
He then switched guitars, to play Van Morrison's Please Don't Go on his 1957 guitar - immaculately kept. "That was the year I left school," he said.
YOU CAN MAKE HISTORY YOUNG AGAIN
Ms Holden, his history teacher, was in the audience "I have always been interested in history, all eras."
Leroy Carr's Midnight Hour Blues was next.
"I realise now - never wear a silk shirt in humid weather". He went on: "I can sign copies of my CD, sorry, no t-shirts. But I can sign cuts of my shirt!"
He then played another song, but before heading into it he demonstrated his knowledge of the local area. It may have impressed me (as a local lad) rather more than some of those in the audience. He was referring to the Richmond Gaumont, a fine film cinema which burned down in 1979:
"What's the difference between the Gaumont cinema down the road burning down and a blues veteran like me? They refer to the Gaumont as a panic in a cinema, and me as a cynic in a panama!"
After a 40-minute interval, LJB came on stage and remarked "I was thinking of having a hair transplant, but I thought it would look stupid to have a kidney on my head!" Like Elton, LJB is also a little light on the Surrey, so to speak.
Later LJB played Hoochie Coochie Man, which inspired the name of his band.
LJB made a joke about British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "I think I said when I was here last time, in this very spot, that the country was being ruled by teeth. It was! The nation's economy was being ruined by large teeth. The nation's railways were being ruined by large teeth." He then ends "But he's got the bigger ears."
Sings Let's Burn Down the Cornfield, from It Ain't Easy.
There's a problem with one amp in the venue...."maybe Gus Dudgeon would like to sort it out. Sound engineer par execellence, a multi-millionnaire with those nimble fingers."
Pete Emery entertains while the amp is fixed by sound engineer Jasper, with an instrumental called Twelve-bar Blues. Then LJB introduces Van Morrison's Moondance by Butch with "it's called Don't pick your nose, you won't find God up there" And that from a man who earlier complained to find alcoholic drinks served in the makeshift bar near stage at a former church!!
Amp fixed, LJB said when back: "When in Rome, do as the Romanians do!" Says Paul Jones and the Manfreds are in Bucharest right now. (see report on LJB and Paul Jones at the London Palladium, June 9, 2002). Said he hopes Paul doesn't meet the same fate "as the Unescu's!!" (Caucescu). He said it would take more than a few pounds to get him there.
"You know, I am not keen on that east Europe. They fry everything in lard".
Butch butted in, said "unlike the fish and chips here!"
"Well ok, fish and chips in Deal. I took a lot of Gaviscon last night, still suffering."
Then decided to perform standing. "The stool is good for short periods, but it plays havoc with the lower back you know!"
Stood to sing Midnight in New Orleans.
Then came one of the highlights of the evening for Blues and Roots infants (like me) when a more pop-influenced song,I'm Flying by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood of The Faces followed. And a superb version to boot!
Sadly, no Elton songs were included in the night.
Then, performed Maggie Bell.
LONG JOHN & THE LONG ARM OF THE LAW
Over an instrumental Blues twang, solo, LJB recalled in the 1950s, he started out on the streets performing with guitars.
It was an offence in those days, an affront to society. An offence of vagrancy. One night a hand descended on me, and this 17-year old youth was dragged, struggling and screaming to the police station. Next morning, in the Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, this police officer who had arrested me gave his evidence.
"I was proceeding in a southerly direction, me lawd, when all of a sudden I hear the sound of this Boojie Woojie (Boogie Woogie) music. On further investigation, I saw the defendant standing there with a guitar in his hand and an old hat on the floor collecting pennies. Well, I decided this constituted a breach of the peace, so I arrested him. I felt his collar, so to speak."
Having done a fabulous 1950s policeman's accent, LJB switches to the posh but irritating drool of the judge: "Er, just one moment officer," said the magsitrate, "er, what is this Booja Wooja music you were talking abite?"
"Well, your honour," said the policeman, getting out his notebook. "It's a form of jazz rhythm music first invented by, er Rod Stewart I believe."
"You mean Rod the Mod?"
"One and the same, your honour"
"And what was our friend (LJB) doing playing riotous Rod the Mod music, nnmmm?"
Well, the policeman could not answer that question, neither could Pete Emery, neither could Butch Coulter. But I shall always remember that police officer and his Boojie Woojie. So don't try to frame the Boogie Woogie on the King of ...where the hell is my plectrum...sorry folks....short delay...the King of Rock And...ha!"
There was no doubting that LJB brought hilarity, not mediocrity, to the performance.
Well, he never did tell us whether he was fined for that incident! Then he sang one last song, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, before quitting the stage.
Then came the encore: Ain't Nobody's Business.
"Thank you for coming, it's been fun, fun, fun! I hope I see you again." And with that, puff! He was gone!
LJB will also perform the same folk set in the next few days in Bridgenorth, and in Farnham, Surrey.
Part of proceeds raised will support the upkeep of this cathedral-sized former place of worship. Tonight, it was a different kind of worship!
More on this concert later this week - exclusively for EJW.com Citizens.