Live Review: Chris Ronald + Paul Hoad, Twickfolk, Cabbage Patch, Twickenham – 12th March 2023

Having released his third album ‘Light & Dark’, Canadian singer/songwriter Chris Ronald is touring over here at last. His joy at being back out on the road doing what he loves was palpable from the moment he took the stage until his final bow. Such delight was reciprocated by a very appreciative audience at Twickfolk, one of the longest-running regular hosts of acoustic folk and americana in the south-east of England. Ronald’s engaging, friendly style swiftly established a close rapport. Of course, it wasn’t just his charm, Ronald’s wry and observant writing, performed with the obvious feeling he has for his subjects, would fill a venue several times larger.

Genre-wise Ronald’s foundations are in folk, upon which he builds solid americana, or should that be ‘Canadiana’? That mix is hardly surprising as he was born and grew up in England before moving to Canada twenty years ago. His accent immediately reflects that blend as do his songs. Place is significant as Ronald writes eloquently about his old and new homes. His travels, people and experiences on the way also feature.

There was no mistaking where the story begins as Ronald described his opener ‘Ducks in a Row’ as a picture of Hilda Ogden’s living room with the three ducks on the wall. From his first album ‘Timeline’ he examines his struggles keeping his own ducks in a row, “Up down, floating around in a daze, most of my life.” A voice pitched similarly contemplatively, gentle picking and plaintive harmonica created a picture of almost bewilderment at how anyone could manage to organise themselves. Ronald admitted to rambling between songs, calling himself a storyteller as much as a songwriter. As the set progressed his chat clearly segued his songs into context perfectly. Introducing the song ‘Timeline’ he told how he first held a guitar aged 11 then starting writing four years later. Chewing over an idea for a song he picked up three seeds, symbolically each representing a piece of valuable advice he’d been given, “Beware the line of least resistance”, “Follow your star” and “Be the change you wish to be.”  Thus, “I made myself a timeline/ so that everything is clear/ and a seed is where I’m at and where I want to go from here.” Head up, eyes closed, Ronald seemed to renew this vow as he sang this deeply personal sentiment.

From such introspection Ronald then took us to the massive outdoors of his adopted home, or as he amusingly put it, the “CanCon section,” referring to the regulations designed to promote Canadian culture. From the new record, ‘Pacific Time’ relates to his first visit to Canada’s Pacific Northwest where ten days sea kayaking convinced him and his wife to stay permanently in this magnificent country while ‘The Mountaineer’ is about a train that runs through the Rockies. Upping the pace with a lightness of heart Ronald took his audience from the ‘burbs of London to the mountains and lakes of British Columbia. Another massive step westward took us to Uluru in Australia for ‘The Rock’, a salutary tale about what happens to those souvenir-hunters who remove anything from that sacred place, even a mere twig. Ronald is passionate about the environment, after all this is a man who can fashion a wallet out of a used coffee bean bag, so in ‘Still Turning’ he combines a stark warning and a ray of hope about the climate crisis. Its cheery pace brought the first audience participation of the evening as an optimistic chorus of “Oh it’s still turning” follows the damage wrought by consumerism.

Having stuck his flags on the musical map, Ronald filled in with experiences, first going back to life busking in the Granville Island district of Vancouver. Throughout, ‘The Busker’ runs determination that despite persistent disappointment he never loses sight of the “silver that lines the bottom of his case”. From ‘Light & Dark’, ‘City Girl’ is loaded with the weariness of life “Up and down the towers.” As with so much of Ronald’s writing he conjures in a simple phrase a better option, “City girl, before this rat race ruins us/ Let’s turn these wheels into wings.”

Warming to the “chronological part” of the show Ronald swapped guitar for ukulele for the reggae-tinged ‘Sunshine’ about how he met his wife in Slovakia, on the ski slopes. Home life and family mean a great deal to this elementary school teacher, from his own three kids to his grandfather whose wedding ring is another story turned into song. Handed down but due to its size Ronald wore ‘Grandpa’s Wedding Ring’ on a chain round his neck which he lost. While very sad to lose something with such meaning Ronald has a typically positive take. A country ballad, fitting as this happened in Austin, he took solace in being able to put the experience into words, “Oh, but I don’t need a keepsake/ When I can hold a pen”.

Ronald clearly loves life in Canada and feels very much at home there but his final song, written a few days ago on arriving back in the UK, shows he has not pulled up his roots. ‘Derby Days’ is a beautiful piece of timeless English folk, it could have been written a century ago, about the early life of “A lad from the lanes.” After many songs about the past Ronald finished the set by looking ahead. ‘Retirement Plan’ from ‘Fragments’ is a lovely, witty observation with a light melody match that that he may be doing this for some time. But whatever happens Ronald is sure to “Leave the stage a happy man/ This is my retirement plan.”

Before encoring with ‘The Boxer’ Ronald most sincerely spoke of his joy, not to mention relief, at performing again. It showed. Outwardly, and probably inwardly too. All there will have shared the same feeling. Live music is essential as are venues like The Cabbage Patch and presenters like Twickfolk to host such fine artists. And a review of this show would be incomplete without mention of the support, Paul Hoad. A founder member of folk group Suntrap, he now performs solo, his staple being as he put it being, “Songs about love and miserableness.” Certainly ‘Never Be Blue’ would fit that bill and while folk is where he began, his is a more experimental version. With his ethereal vocals and chord progressions Nick Drake came to mind. A very complete evening’s music.

About Lyndon Bolton 136 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between
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