Wizz Jones & Ralph McTell, Junction 2, Cambridge, 21st June 2018

In the wake of the passing of John Renbourn in 2015, old friends Ralph McTell and Wizz Jones were prompted to finally get around to recording an album together the title of which – ‘About Time‘ – was a reference to their long standing intention to “do something together” which had now been crystallized into action. It was pretty well received and so has now been followed up with a second album called, with great imagination and a small pun, ‘About Time Too‘. Both albums see the pair recording songs that they like that have also, perhaps, been an influence on their respective musical lives. The obvious thing to do was to take the new material out on tour and see how it goes down. The short tour came to a pretty full Junction 2 on a warm evening, which could also be the summary comment on the gig as a whole – a warm evening, big on friendship and focused on the pleasure of sharing music.

It started with Ralph on stage first to introduce someone who had already been something of a legend in folk circles when he’d first met him in 1966, and who went on to become a lifelong friend. With Wizz on stage the pair settled into the first of several Woody Guthrie songs, the tongue-in-cheek ‘Philadelphia Lawyer‘. Guthrie would reappear across the evening, his songs still relevant today as Ralph McTell noted when introducing ‘Deportees‘, the spirit of which could have been lifted from this week’s headlines. As McTell intones the lyrics there’s a tangible resonance in the verse that starts “Now is this the best way we can grow our big orchards? / And is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?“. Seventy years on from the song’s first penning the fundamental questions remain the same. The other songwriter to make multiple appearances across the evening was Alan Tunbridge. Wizz’s rendition of ‘Shall I Wake you from your sleep‘ was staggeringly good – a combination of beautifully finger picked guitar from the duo and Wizz’s softly emotional vocal – it’s one of those songs that is so absorbing that you eventually realise you’ve caught your breath through it.

The music might be seriously taken – the between song banter somewhat less so. Wizz Jones seems to inspire a certain pleasantly ramshackle element in a gig no matter who he is appearing with. Serious – in the sense of well played and sung but still with room for some fun. ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky‘ and ‘How Happy I am‘ both encouraged audience participation, the latter of the two culled from The Incredible String Band sent the audience out into the interval with a collective grin. ‘Louise‘ showed off Wizz’s percussive guitar style to good effect, whilst the addition of National guitar by Ralph McTell to songs such as ‘I’m so Lonesome I could cry‘ evoked those pre-war blues and country songs that had so inspired both musicians. A particular joy was ‘Hands of Joseph‘ which saw Ralph McTell switch halfway through to a very passable imitation of the style that John Renbourn used on the same song (under the name ‘Great Dreams from Heaven‘). It was a nice
touch.

The second of the two 45 minute sets closed out with the encore of ‘Do Re Mi‘ – another Guthrie song and another sing-a-long, and also another song that could have been written yesterday as dustbowl migrants discover that success is possible in the land of the free – but it’s best to start with some money in your pocket: “now the police at the port of entry say / you’re number fourteen thousand for today“.

And if it was strange to be at a McTell gig and not hear “Streets” – or for that matter a Wizz gig and not hear ‘Mountain Rain‘ – it didn’t really matter; there are few opportunities to see a duo with 153 years between them, and well over 100 years of that spent playing guitar and singing.  Stories, great songs, laughs and a genuinely great time.

Set List

Philadelphia Lawyer
When You’re Gone
Stealin’
Weeping Willow Blues
Long Black Veil
When You Got A Good Friend
Shall I Wake You From Your Sleep?
The Ghost of Robert Johnson
From Clare to Here
How Happy I Am

<interval>

Honey Baby Blues
I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry
Louise
Any Old Time
Little And Low Blues
Deportees (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)
Touch Has A Memory
Abandoned Love
Hands of Joseph / Great Dreams from Heaven
Ghost riders in the sky

Encore

Do Re Mi

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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