Small Venue Heroes: Rory McLeod

rory mcleod image

It must be twenty years since I was introduced to the music of Rory McLeod, and twenty years later, I’m still trying to find the right way to categorise the music he makes. Folk is probably the best way to describe it, that swathing catchall of a genre… Rory himself, if pressed, would probably mutter diffidently about story songs he made up that you can dance to; and to be fair, that’s probably as good a definition as any. 

McLeod has been performing for over 40 years now, and is a doyen of small and large festivals all over Britain. He has played in large venues but can also be heard at small house gigs. It seems extraordinary that someone with the extravagantly rich back catalogue that he has, can still be seen in someone’s living room, but so it is. More benefit to us, the lucky recipients of his muse. 

There are huge, various strands within his world –  swing, dance, world musics, lullabies, angry political rants, madly infectious love songs, and all generally achieved with nothing more than a guitar, and sometimes less than that (he is a virtuoso harmonica player, and has been known to do songs just with percussion or a solitary trombone, too).

Perhaps the most obvious comparison with McLeod is Woody Guthrie. They both traveled a lot, they both stand up to be counted for the dispossessed and against the rich and powerful, and are in no way frightened to be outspoken in their outpourings; but equally they both have a lively sense of fun within their songs, and also are not afraid to explore love and life in all its infinite variety. In McLeod’s case, that includes the less than fashionable idea of singing heartfelt arias to his mother, grandmother, and other family members, as well as capturing the exuberance and poignancy of romantic love and loss. Well, you get the idea. He sings about anything and everything, and with a great sense of melody and musicality, too. 

Anyway, if you want to get a flavour of the man, the ranging double album of ‘Mouth to Mouth’ is as good a place as any to start, or the early peak of ‘Footsteps and Heartbeats’; but as would be suggested by his appearance in this column, to really experience the phenomenon that is Rory McLeod, you need to see him live – a bit of blether, an occasional rant, a whole lot of love for humanity, and a foot stomping riot of tunes.

The six minute youtube mini film below is also a nice introduction, with a bit of a travelogue followed by a song …about his grandmother! 

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Lisa White

I was only thinking about him the other day and wondering what he was up to! The first artist my eldest got into from seeing them live. We used to take them to festivals like Cambridge Folk, Green Man and Wychwood. I just found a photo of Dylan with Rory from 2007’s Wychwood – he’s wearing the red check shirt and t-shirt in your photo, strangely.

Jonathan Smith

Great memories, Lisa! And yes, he does seem to love that shirt, but then, you can’t go wrong with a red check work shirt!