Dean Owens is not given to exaggeration, so if opening a show with “We’re here, it’s a miracle,” might have raised a few eyebrows pre-pandemic, tonight he was bang on the button. For his first show in front of an audience and the second date on a tour that began on Friday 13th March 2020 this was a complete belter. And that’s no exaggeration either.
Though Owens has kept himself busy during the pandemic with various innovative projects, including several live streams, he warned the Green Note audience he could be a bit out of practice, not helped by the lack of rehearsal time with The Southerners. He needn’t have bothered. Dean Owens, guitarist Jim Maving and Tom Collison on keys and bass picked up from the Leith Dockers Club 18 months ago as if it had been the previous night. This was a show that blended Owens, the perceptive Celtic troubadour, with Owens the rocker steeped in country and blues. Together with two first class musicians and in front of many friends this was a celebration. Owens stood, Maving sat and Collison squeezed himself behind his keyboard at the back.
Camden’s Green Note was the ideal venue. Intimate, yet there is enough space for the quality sound to seep into every pore. But what radiated everywhere was the sheer happiness of the three musicians performing in front of real people.
The first of two sets started with what Owens does so well, telling a story. ‘Dora’ is about his grandmother who was “Born in 1914/ In a gypsy caravan.” Owens’ vocals stretched back through the generations as Maving and Collison got this particular troupe on its way. Owens returned to his family with ‘Evergreen’ in painful memory to the sister he lost several years ago and ‘Dancing On’ is a tribute to his parents, now both 83 but who still like a party. Combine those with ‘Elvis Was My Brother’ about a childhood friend of Owens’ whose dad wasn’t around much and ‘Virginia Street’ and see how Owens transported his rapt audience back to an earlier life in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Throughout, Maving and Collison deftly worked their respective skills around Owens’ vocals that range from almost spoken to soaring choruses.
A highlight came from his ‘Buffalo Blood’ album with ‘Reservations’. A song about the forced removal of native Americans from their homelands that, as Owens said, is equally relevant today, his anger and pain amplified by Maving and Collison who filled every corner of the room.
Owens keeps up his storytelling between songs. Few would dispute his claim to be able to “Talk for Scotland,” as he explored the possibilities of the whistling that punctuated some of his ballads. “Perhaps I could be a session whistler?”
Owens returned after the interval with ‘Sometime’, a lockdown song that stretched into the months of torpor and uncertainty. From the first of his ‘Desert Trilogy’ EPs, recorded with Calexico, he gave ‘New Mexico’ its debut live performance. Owens managed to turn the snug Green Note into the eerie desert vastness. A new single ‘The Hopeless Ghosts’ continued the spectral theme. From his forthcoming album, ‘Sinners Shrine’ Owens showed his grasp of classic country with another solo, ‘After The Rain’.
To the delight of performers and audience alike the second set rocked out to finish. ‘Up On The Hill’ a big favourite from the ‘Into The Sea’ album skipped with the freedom of Dean’s late four-legged pal Alfie as the Southerners blew a blast of fresh Edinburgh breeze. Maving added to the menace of ‘Southern Wind’ with a blistering gale of bottleneck slide around Collison’s ominous keys. ‘The Last Song’ had a celebratory feel. Not just of being glad to be back on stage again but a cleverly adapted version saluting those who had performed their last over the past few months.
The encore may have been ‘Raining in Glasgow’, but Dean Owens & The Southerners’ return to the stage was nothing but sunshine and joy.
Thanks to @allan_mainlygigpics for all photos