Small Venue Heroes: Peter Case

In 2006 a triple CD was released called ‘A Case for Case: A Tribute to the Songs of Peter Case’. It was the idea of Jeff Campbell who was raising money for ‘Hungry For Music’ a charity that raised money to buy musical instruments for underprivileged children. Such was the high esteem in which Peter Case was held by fellow musicians and songwriters, Campbell soon found many of them wanted to contribute. The package ended up with 48 artists performing Case’s songs on it, including – takes a  deep breath – John Prine, Dave Alvin, Joe Ely, Hayes Carll, Tom Russell, Chuck Prophet, James McMurtry, Steve Wynn, Victoria Williams, Sam Baker, Kim Richey, Richard Buckner, Chris Smither, Todd Snider, Will Kimbrough, Mark Mulcahy, Amy Rigby and Bill Kirchen. With such a stellar line-up you’d be forgiven for thinking that Peter Case was some huge-selling superstar. Unfortunately, despite his vast talent, that is not the case. In fact, he has for many years been doing the circuit of small venues across the USA and has been a frequent visitor to Europe’s small venues, folk clubs and festivals.

Peter Case first came to attention as a member of the punk band The Nerves, playing with the Ramones, Devo and Pere Ubu amongst others. He then went on to form The Plimsouls in 1979 releasing two excellent albums in the early eighties. His first solo album, simply title ‘Peter Case’ was released in 1986. The album, along with its 1989 follow-up, the splendidly titled ‘The Man with the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar’ both received a high level of critical acclaim which was not matched by sales. After his third Geffen album ‘Six-Pack of Love’ Case released a long series of always good and sometimes outstanding albums, through self-release and smaller labels, including Vanguard and Yep Roc, the most recent being 2021’s ‘The Midnight Broadcast’.  

The first time that I saw Peter Case live was at the 1989 Cambridge Folk Festival, a particularly good year for americana fans (although nobody was using that word at the time) as the line-up also included Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, The Dillards, Otis Grand and the Washington Squares. His records were already in my collection but seeing him live cemented a love of his music that has endured to this day. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to see him live in various small venues over the years. Two that were particularly memorable were a co-tour with Darden Smith around twenty years ago at The Hop & Grape in Manchester and a gig at the Adelphi in Preston where hardly anyone showed up.  The latter gig was probably late 1990s although I could find no exact record of it. When Case got up on stage to look out and see only around half a dozen people in front of him, he relocated to a corner table of the venue and beckoned his audience to join him. He then spent the entire gig sitting at that table, chatting to those in attendance and playing songs and requests on his acoustic guitar. It was one of the most magical gigs that I’ve ever experienced. It’s inevitable, when you are on the small venue circuit, that there will be nights when hardly anyone shows up. Some artists will moan, slag off whichever town they happen to be in and go through the motions in a bad mood (I’ve seen a few of those!). The other alternative, from here on in known as ‘the Case approach’, is to make the very most of it and to give those who have come along a real night to remember.

About Clint West 321 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,
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