Joe Purdy, support Lydia Ramsey, The Horn, St Albans, 15th June 2017

Does it get better than this – a beautifully warm evening, driving off to see Joe Purdy for the second time in a week, Bob Harris Country on the radio and Bob’s interviewing Jason Isbell. Oh and he closes the show with Waylon’s Luckenbach, Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love). Everything’s looking – and sounding – very promising. Things take a downward trend when arriving at The Horn to find there’s no crowd – and I mean, no crowd: the venue’s deserted. Even when the stage times roll around things haven’t improved all that much – can St. Albans and the surrounding area really only scrape together thirty odd people for Joe Purdy? After the packed out appearance in Cambridge it’s hard to believe there’s not more of a crowd – London St. Pancras to St Albans City railway station (which is literally 2 minutes walk from The Horn) can be done in 17 minutes – no-one would blink at that for a tube journey. True Story.

So, that’s the down side. The plus side is that Lydia Ramsey opened with an excellent set drawing from her new album Bandita. Her finger picked guitar and warm vocals are a perfect vehicle for her thoughtful lyrics. There are common themes such as the rigours of the troubadour’s travelling life, but also songs like Pretending Dreamer which portrays Lydia Ramsey attempting to fit in with an all night crowd, one of several “night-themed” songs in her set. And then there’s Ghosts a multi-layered look at her family tree, musing on the paths that led to her own creation.  Appropriately enough it’s a haunting song, dreamily hypnotic and rather beautiful in its sentiment.

Joe Purdy’s set once again was shaped predominantly around the most recent album Who Will Be Next. The audience at The Horn, perhaps aware of the small numbers, made mighty efforts on the sing-a-long songs such as the opener Banjo Tune – played, naturally enough, on that battered Gibson guitar. It’s a tune with a humerous slant, but even this contains a slight hint on the direction the evening will take “I did not vote for Mr Trump / I do not like his talking much / About the things that he can touch / Without a woman’s say-so”. Even when we’re invited to laugh it’s mostly with a purpose. It bears repeating that songs like Children of Privilege, New year’s Eve and My Country are amongst the finest protest songs of the 21st century, and it also bears repeating that Joe Purdy is as hard on himself as he is on those he’s telling to pull their socks up and do-right by others. Joe Purdy is, though, as capable of a complicated love song as any – Dustbowl intertwines depression-era images and what would seem to be a complicated familial love triangle “if this rain don’t come we will die / and if I don’t see you you will know why / and if my brother calls with you by his side / I will not answer / he’s not my family now / after what he’s done.” Kristine always gets a laugh in the right places, but no song I can think of sounds more like Townes Van Zandt’s take on the talkin’ blues.

The closer of the non-encore was Joe’s dad’s favourite folk song – with another opportunity for communal singing. It’s easy to imagine a young Joe Purdy having his musical direction shaped by repeated singing of 500 Miles – it’s a beautiful song from the sixties folk revival, it’s a clear linear connection to what Joe Purdy does right now and, and this is really important, it is as easy as fudge to sing along to. Is there a better way to end a gig than joyous group singing and a stroll back out into the warm evening air ? I think not. Hurry back Joe, but we’d understand if not to St Albans.

Lydia Ramsey Set

Days on the road
Back to start
Springtime
Shake me
Night after Night
Pretending Dreamer
Ghosts
Show me stars

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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