In a recent interview with AUK ahead of his UK tour Rod Picott’s enthusiasm for getting back out playing came across loud and clear. Even on the penultimate date of his UK tour, after a day where he had done a radio interview, performed at Maverick then drove for several hours, that energy had not diminished. In this compact venue he connected immediately with his audience, holding them rapt throughout two sets. Batteries recharged after an enforced lockdown absence, Picott was definitely keen to perform songs from his latest release, ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’. Fourteen albums in and with all the rigours of touring over those years have given Picott’s voice a deeper tone that matches his lyrics so perfectly. Like the many cars that pop up in his songs, Picott is one of those models that drives even better at 100,000 miles on the clock than new.
In a musical context Twickenham tends to be associated more with the legend of Eel Pie Island where the Stones, The Who and Pink Floyd played regularly back in the 60s. Tonight’s venue, The Cabbage Patch, is home to the long-standing Sunday night folk and americana club, Twickfolk. A cosy room at the back of the pub was the ideal place for the Twickfolkers’ old friend Picott. Floor spots from regulars Paul Kenny, Martin Woodford and duo Kate and Don Moorcroft (with their command of Crowell, MacGowan and Denny) set the scene perfectly for the man from South Berwick, Maine. We may have been in the leafy ‘burbs but Picott lost no time in taking his audience to the bleak world of ‘Welding Burns’ and ‘Rust Belt Fields’. Picott rasps out every syllable of “Some things you’re born to/ Some things you’ve gotta learn/ Broken homes, wrecked cars, scars, and welding burns” as he relives these experiences.
His chat between songs swings from detail about places or people featuring in the songs to a highly amusing string of anecdotes drawn from miles on the road both in the US and UK. “Nice to see you all good looking people. Already I’ve done the welding and unemployment portions, divorce is coming up”. After those two co-writes with his old pal Slaid Cleaves, Picott went into the new album. Inspired by a novel by Taylor Brown, Picott also tipped his hat to ‘Copperhead Road’ for ‘Revenuer’. He shook with apprehension as the “Federals down from DC” sought out “The old man up on the mountain” and his “Good stuff cooked down in hell”.
Solo, acoustic guitar in hand and with one mic on a platform a few inches high all amplified the album’s spare, stripped back feel, ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Mark Of Your Father’, ‘Dirty T-Shirt’ and ‘Through The Dark’ each spoke of tough lives lived, their few glimmers of hope frequently and brutally extinguished. Picott went back to his Maine home with ‘Washington County’, introducing the song (written with Mark Erreli), he explained that visitors to this state do not wander far from tracts where “They bought up every lot/ Along the coastline/ Turned it all into BnB’s”. But go west a few miles and you find yourself in some of the poorest parts of the US where “Once a month we reach the end/ of the rope we’re clinging onto”.
Boxing was part of Picott’s childhood, his dad and uncle were accomplished boxers. ’Sonny Liston’ is about the famous boxer who rose from poverty but let the money talk so much so that he is thought to have thrown his biggest fight. But who could argue with Picott’s left and right double fisted whammy of a chorus, ”Two big fists/ like pumping pistons/ nobody punched like/ Sonny Liston?” A highlight of the show was Picott’s frequent observations of, and love for, aspects of British life. He adores the BBC, particularly for its range of programmes that would never happen back home from ‘Heartbeat’ to ‘The Archers’ and “some show just about a guy cutting his hedge!” He knows his way round our retailers, “Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and what’s the one with the initials? Oh yeah, WH Smith. I can easily while away at least 45 minutes in there”.
In the second set of the night Picott delved more into his work with Slaid Cleaves, as found on his 2020 double album, ‘Wood, Steel, Dust & Dreams’. The desperate stories of ‘Broke Down’ and ‘Primer Gray’ whose lines, “Cause you don’t need that flash and shine/ You just need to be hard off the line” could be a strap-line for Picott himself. Going further back ‘Angels and Acrobats’ has weathered so well from its more polished original on ‘Stray Dogs’ 20 years ago. ‘Mercury’ was a reminder of that fine album with Amanda Shires, ‘Sew Your Heart With Wires’ before he wound up with ‘Your Father’s Tattoo’ from ‘Welding Burns’. Possibly surprisingly, he encored with ‘Badlands’ but on the other hand he and The Boss share a lot more than the colour of their collars.
Rod Picott is an artist who lives for his music. This show had been rearranged due to an event more widely associated with Twickenham – “Did I get bumped by the rugby?” he noted with a wry smile. His sincere thanks to his audience who, in return, showed theirs with similar gratitude confirmed the tight bond between Picott and his followers. He deserves to play in front of far more but, ever realistic, he closed out by saying, “I play for those who came”. Further big thanks go to him and Twickfolk for finding that alternative date. This is the determination that keeps music going, so vital as small venues face such mounting obstacles.