Tom Paxton turned eighty last October, and he has toured the UK for more than fifty of those years. This latest tour see’s him supported by The DonJuans (Don Henry and Jon Vezner) who both warm up the show with a few songs of their own and then play along with Tom throughout two excellent sets, adding a musical depth to the evening with additional guitars and uke’s as well as keyboards and harmonised vocals. They may be dressed like a pair of Steampunk Live Role Players, but The DonJuans’ four song opening set rarely strayed from the wistful and melodic, very much with a Seventies folk-country feel to them – not unlike a quieter Seals & Crofts.
‘Gardens of the Dead’ indulges their love of wandering around cemeteries, with a slightly edgy arrangement which steered halfway towards sounding like a light-hearted Decemberists song. Their sound is a perfect fit alongside Tom Paxton’s, as are the beards and caps.
Of course it’s easy to imagine that a Tom Paxton gig will be just well known and sedate folk revival songs. Not so. Tom opened his contributions with a new, and political song – ‘What if, no matter’. It’s a pretty direct rebuttal of the 2nd amendment and asks some not unreasonable questions: “What if no matter how angry he was / How outraged he was / how furious he was / What if no matter how angry he was / He couldn’t lay hands on a gun?”. And there’s more a few songs later, introduced with a quip “I’ll explain Trump to you if you explain Brexit to me” and after the laugh a more serious point about Trump’s penny-pinching cuts to school meal budgets. ‘If the poor don’t matter’ is challenging and strident, Tom Paxton is still angry.
It’s not all serious though – there’s still room in the set list for singing along to old favourites like ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ and ‘Bottle of Wine’. The evergreen ‘Last thing on my mind’ comes with an anecdote relating how Tom’s eldest daughter thanked a folk singer in St. Andrews one evening for singing a song by her dad only to be told it was an old traditional Scottish song. On learning that her dad was Tom Paxton he reluctantly allowed that “he might have written it”. That’s the folk process in action – a song entering a wider consciousness until it seems to have always have been there – Tom Paxton at eighty is reaching for the eternal attribution “Traditional, Anon”, and really there can be no higher compliment than that.
There’s a great pairing of songs, with stories alongside them, to open the second set. ‘Did you hear John Hurt?’ celebrates the re-discovery of the seminal bluesman in the early sixties, and goes well with ‘Mayor of MacDougal Street’, Tom’s tribute to his old friend Dave Van Ronk. The awe of hearing John Hurt and the admiration for the tireless folk singer enabler both shine through undimmed. It’s an un-saccharine paying of dues to those who’ve gone before.
Political comment rises again on a new song that Tom has co-written with Jon Vezner, ‘Another storm is coming’ rather elegantly encapsulates the coupling of weariness and determination needed to live in Trumpland as, on a daily basis, a political storm breaks and, before it has finally rolled away the next one starts rolling in. The encore revisits the madness with the light hearted ‘What’s so bad about that?’ which is a dead-pan imagining of the Tea Party response to fears of global warming. So, the sea’s rise, well that’ll be nice for the landlocked states!
Tom and the DonJuans have a few dates left on the UK tour – they’re well worth catching to experience the genial company of a living legend of the folk music revival.
Is Love (DonJuans)
Gardens of the Dead (DonJuans)
No Plan B (DonJuans)
Where have you been? (DonJuans)
What if, no matter
How Beautiful upon the mountain
Boat in the water
If the poor don’t matter
Who’s garden was this ?
And if it’s not true
Bottle of Wine
Did you hear John Hurt?
Mayor of Macdougal Street
Dixie’s Summer Clothes (DonJuans)
Another Storm is coming
Suzie Most of all
Last thing on my mind
What’s so bad about that?
Dream on sweet dreamer