Live Review: Dan Stuart + Tom Heyman, The Betsey Trotwood, London, 22nd March 2024

Photo: J. Aird

This London appearance of the one-time Green On Red frontman and now solo artist and author Dan Stuart was held in the upstairs room at The Betsey Trotwood which was laid out – most appropriately as it transpired – in the traditional “folk club” style of rows of wooden seats not designed for long periods of use.  An unscreened side room acted as the backstage, and the small bar doubled as the merch stand.  It was certainly a cosy space that quickly filled to capacity.

Tom Heyman opened the proceedings with a set which drew heavily from his latest, and very good, release ‘24th Street Blues‘ an album which draws directly on Heyman’s own experiences on songs such as ‘The Mission Is On Fire’ which relates the loss of a San Francisco mixed-use residential and retail block in an “accidental” fire which just happened to open up a prime site for redevelopment.  There’s powerless bitterness in the refrain “The mission is on fire / and there’s some people getting rich.”  But on ‘Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks‘ there’s a happier remembrance of a younger life spent hitchin’ around – and maybe you get lucky and maybe you don’t, it’s just part of the deal waiting around and “you’ve got you overnight bag / there’s no headlights as far as you can see.”  There’s a deprecating confession of having been the world’s worst dealer that introduces the doomed love affair of ‘Hidden History‘, dating a narcotic cop’s daughter not being a smart move.  By turns gruff, a dedicated merch pusher and delicate finger-picker Tom Heyman has a set that is the definition of too short – many fine songs and as many fine songs left unplayed. ‘Sunny Jim‘ for example is a catchy tale of not being able to outrun the accruing of age, with what worked as a young person suddenly not cutting it any more.

Photo: J. Aird

There’d been – half glimpsed, just on the periphery of vision – a fleeting sighting of someone wearing a bright orange windcheater moving into the half-lit side room functioning as a back stage.  In Americana circles that’s an indication that Sid Griffin has turned up and this suspicion was confirmed when he joined Heyman on stage to add mandolin to a Flamin’ Groovies cover.  It was a fleeting visit to the stage, but one that held out the prospect of a further appearance later in the evening.

Photo: J. Aird

After a short interval, Dan Stuart took the stage and prefaced his first song with a long explanation on how he wanted to distance himself from the term Americana – an odd thought with at least three Americana UK writers past and present in the room – and having an even stronger aversion to the Outlaw Country Cruise, with his son under orders to kill him should he ever sign up for such an abomination.  It might seem an odd stance, but at least it’s consistent as a similar aversion to the Americana genre forms part of Stuart’s liner notes to his 2013 release ‘Arizona: 1993-95‘.   These facts having been established, Stuart launched into the music with a beautifully sung and achingly sad ‘It isn’t going to be that way‘ from Steve Forbert’s debut ‘Alive on Arrival.’  Unexpected, but much appreciated.

Dan Stuart is a natural raconteur, and gracefully checked several times that he hadn’t told a particular anecdote at the most recent gigs – the set list also appeared to be a varied selection from the full rehearsed tour list. We were informed directly that no requests would be taken partly because Stuart is too deaf to hear what might be called for but mostly because if it hasn’t been rehearsed, it isn’t getting played.  Fair enough.

Photo: J. Aird

The set that followed on was a happy mixture of Green On Red songs and Stuart’s solo releases – there would be nothing “new” as Stuart joyfully revealed that he no longer feel the need to write songs – when he writes these days it is long form in the shape of novels.  Nevertheless there was no dearth of material to call on. There’s the unromantic ‘Why I Ever Married You‘ which trades attraction with emotional disconnection: “I’ve been dreaming about your eyes so cold and blue / that never could return my gaze” is cutting in its delivery.  And there’s the dusty late 20th century western of ‘Gringo Go Home‘ as a citizen of the USA is told in no uncertain terms that he’s strayed into the wrong part of Mexico.  Green On Red showings included an aggressive ‘Hair of the Dog‘, a partial rowdy sing-a-long on ‘No Free Lunch‘ and the cynical country consolation of ‘That’s what Dreams are for.’  And when the stage was filled to capacity with both Heyman and Sid Griffin (adding mandolin) for an uptempo ‘Time ain’t nothing‘ (“people are sick of me playing it slow” noted Stuart) there was a brief moment of Paisley Underground perfection.  Dan Stuart has a relaxed guitar playing and a voice that is unravaged by time and this was the kind of set that encourages thoughts of following as much as possible of the whole tour in future – something that several audience members had clearly already done this time around.  Sensible.

About Jonathan Aird 2727 Articles
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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keith hargreaves

Nice Jon very nice

Ronnie

He sounded like a badger and walked like a toad.