Friday, 19 October 2007

Folk and Bluegrass In Newcastle

I felt depressingly old on my very first trip to Newcastle this past Tuesday: the streets were filled with more teens and 20-somethings than I've seen in any one spot for quite some time. And I didn't just feel old, either; I felt like a real hick. We've been living in this little town in Southwest Scotland for six years now, and with a population of only 2,500 and a high street you can navigate in ten minutes flat even if you're arthritic, this town can't compete with the bright lights and glitz of Newcastle. We had to work hard to keep our mouths shut and our expressions neutral as we picked up our tickets at the Sage Gateshead, then walked across the Millenium Bridge towards the town.

My husband and I were in Newcastle to hear Richard Thompson and Diana Jones. He was pretty much there for Richard Thompson—my husband has been a fan for ages— and I was there for Diana Jones. I heard her for the first time on a cold, rainy night last year while I sat huddled in our car waiting for my daughter to finish a class. I have just about the most eclectic music tastes of anyone I know, and I've always liked country music, but Diana Jones is in a class all by herself. Someone wrote that she was the new Emmy Lou Harris, but that is no more true than saying Emmy Lou Harris is the old Diana Jones. Their music may be largely bluegrass, but their voices and styles are entirely different.

I sat in that car with tears running down my face. My mother was from the backwoods of Kentucky so I grew up hearing gospel songs and plaintive old ballads, and I had the eeriest feeling of being in the here-and-now but back in my own childhood, listening to my mother, magically transformed into someone with a low sweet voice like melted glass. I forgot all about being in a cold, damp car as I listened to that wonderful voice blending with fiddle, guitar and mandolin. When I got home, I told my husband. He's not a fan of country music, but he looked up Diana Jones and listened to a sample of her music. And he went right out and ordered her CD, 'My Remembrance of You.' That's how good she is: even my thrifty husband who loves heavy metal, who retches and groans when he hears Hank Williams and has to be forced to listen to selected songs from even the less hardcore country artists like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, actually went out and ordered the CD.We figured we'd never forgive ourselves if we didn't manage to go to the one concert that featured two singers we love.

The Sage Gateshead is a fantastic building that resembles a large tubular silver Christmas ornament artfully crumpled by a well-mannered giant. Once we got there, I didn’t feel so old all of a sudden: 80% of Richard Thompson’s fans were even older than us. Sitting there in the concert hall surrounded by the big kids -- I pictured them as seniors in high school back before I needed my first bra -- I had flashback after flashback, looking at all that hair, those beards, the tie-dye skirts and Birkenstocks. Then Diana Jones came out and started performing and I might as well have been a kid again. Sadly, she was only the opening act and her performance was over all too quickly.

Richard Thompson and his band were great too. He's a fantastic composer and musician, and his 'Vincent Black Lightning 1952' just has to be heard to be believed -- especially his guitar. He did two great curtain calls and his performance was absolutely first rate. But after the concert, my husband turned to me and said what I'd been thinking: “He was great. But I wish there'd been more of Diana Jones."


Cynthia Closkey said...

Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.

I'm glad you had the chance to see such a marvelous concert.

Carole said...

Sounds like a great concert. I will have to try and listen to some of her music. Sad to say, I hadn't even heard of Diana Jones before this post.

Mary Witzl said...

Cynthia -- Thank you for commenting! You must be a Richard Thompson fan. We are too, obviously, and it was a great concert. His Vincent Black Lightning 52 was the high point of his performance, though I have a lot of respect for him trying out new sounds. I just wish there'd been more of Diana Jones...

Carole -- I've met loads of people who've never heard of her. Bluegrass has a rather hokey image for most people, but all I can say is that hers is different. It's got a little of the blues, a little of country, a little of soul. See if you can find a recording of her 'Pony' on the Internet and tell me what you think of it.