Ripon Cathedral - Saturday, 8th July 2000
by Judith Watson - (some Bits and Pieces contributed by Martyn Gaunt)
We weren't originally intending to go to this concert, as I had organised one the previous night in Middlesbrough as a fund-raising event for the school where I teach. Unfortunately this had to be postponed at short notice and as I was interested to see how I felt at the first concert after Marty's departure, I had to go to Ripon to test the water. How do I feel now? Not too sure, actually!
We were wondering if there would be a replacement for Marty for this concert, but could only see 4 mikes when we went in, so it seemed not. When the band came on stage they were in a similar position to normal, with Ian slightly more to the front of the stage. They started off with No Time to Lose, going straight on to Alan in The River with Flowers - a very nice version which seemed quite true to the original. Billy then started chatting, saying that he was expecting lightning to strike at any time, and that he was sure that it was a first for many of the audience as well (being in a cathedral). I had been curious as to who would end up singing Marty's songs if there wasn't a replacement for him, and had been pretty convinced most of them would be taken over by Dave, but I was wrong, in the main - the next song was Working My Way Back Home, where Rod took the lead vocals. Dave produced a harmonica on a neck support and played this at the same time as his guitar. Then there followed a short selection from Pipedream, with Dave singing Money Game, which sounded as great as ever, followed by Billy singing United States of Mind.
By this time I think it was apparent to everybody that the acoustics in the cathedral left a lot to be desired. We were sitting at the side, about ten rows back, and the music didn't sound too bad, but Billy was difficult to understand when he was talking. Our friends from Colchester who think we speak funny anyway wondered if he was speaking in Swahili for a change, and we only really picked out one word in three and had to guess the general gist of what he was saying. A bit frustrating, as he had much more to say than in recent concerts - extremely chatty, with several jokes. He suggested that people at the back where the sound was much worse might like to come and sit on the aisle at the front - some did and even more people came to stand at the sides behind us.
Rod then introduced Refugees by explaining what a bothy is, and he, Dave and Billy sang a verse each. Whilst it was lovely to hear this song after a long absence, it was very disappointing without a flute accompaniment - in fact Liz, my friend from the deep south, said she would rather never hear it again than hear this version - strong words about one of her favourite songs. Billy then got out a harmonica, which he used in Walk a Crooked Mile - another very welcome return for a wonderful typical Hully number.
Billy continued in the lead for 2 more recent songs, Can't do Right For Doing Wrong, with Dave playing slide on a new black Strat, and One Day, then launched into a very long explanation before Marshall Riley's Army, on which Dave sang lead. This was the first song to get a cheer from the audience before they started the vocals. Rod played a seemingly long-forgotten and sorely missed instrument - the fiddle - in the parts where Marty traditionally played the whistle. Yes, it was necessary and the song would have sounded strange without it, but it wasn't strong enough - it could have done with being more pronounced in my opinion. The biggest cheer so far came as a result of the intro to Meet Me on the Corner, in which Billy sang and played the harp, and an extra chorus was sung at the end, as it used to be until recent years. It still sounded good, although it will probably take a while to get used to Billy's voice, just as it took a while to get used to Marty singing it after Jacka's departure! Billy finished with Born at the Right Time before going off for the interval.
It felt strange enough listening to Lindisfarne in a cathedral, but even stranger drinking a pint of Festival Ale during the interval, sitting on the pews in front of the organ pipes. Mind you, it brought back memories of seeing the band in Stockton Parish Church many years ago as part of a Radio 2 broadcast with Derek Jameson - does anyone else remember going to that concert? It was the very first time I saw them unplugged, in about 1992, I think. Happy days. During the interval Billy came back on stage and spoke very slowly and clearly so that we could all tell what he was saying (and we could!) He explained that there really was nothing that could be done about the sound quality, but no-one would mind if people came to put their arses on the floor and never mind the dry cleaning bills for the second half. Many people did, or came to stand at the sides, and the back pews were almost empty during the second half.
The second half started with Dave singing Unmarked Car with Billy playing the harmonica. Next came Billy singing Jubilee Corner, and they then swapped over - Dave on the harmonica and Billy on vocals - for Lady Eleanor, after which he made the traditional toast to James Alan Hull. Although he sang it very well, I think this was probably the song where I missed Marty the most, as will many others. (Not surprisingly, this was also the song where I had missed Alan the most, but back then I was so glad that it had been Marty that had taken over his part) [Martyn had a slightly different view of Lady El. " with Billy on vocal, most committed and emotional I have ever heard! "]. Dave then returned with Winter Song - surprisingly appropriate for July this year! Norman felt this was spoilt by the poor acoustics as he can normally hear every note of Ian's bass accompaniment, but tonight it was very muffled.
Then came Train in G Major, sung by Rod, who gave a very different version of the song, with quite a different melody in places - I suppose as he wrote it he is entitled to change it as he wishes! - with Billy playing mandolin to accompany. Next came Uncle Henry, followed by another blast from the past, Log on Your Fire, with Dave on slide again and Rod playing the fiddle where the accordion would normally have been. Back to the present, with Ghost in Blue Suede Shoes, - Dave on harp - then back to the past with Dave singing January Song. Billy took over the lead in Any Way the Wind Blows, followed by Call of the Wild, which was brilliant as ever. Next was Run For Home, with Billy changing the words where Alan did in the past, but to ….."and I've seen all the girls, with their cassocks and curls….", and Dave singing the verse that was recently sung by Marty. Billy, however, was the one who took over Marty's position in encouraging the audience to join in.
This was theoretically the last song, but the audience gave a standing ovation, which brought the band back on to sing Fog on the Tyne. Now it was Dave's turn to take over Marty's role, asking the audience to stay standing. Rod again brought out his fiddle - this was where I had missed it, in the instrumental bit before the last verse, and as usual it made me want to get up and dance. (Not practical between the pews). And no, we didn't get struck down for singing the last verse in a cathedral!
After this song, Billy had another chat - he said that tonight was an important night for the band - we all wondered if he was going to mention that it was the first time without Marty - but he didn't and said (I think!) about it being the first time they'd played for Him (looking up). The final song was, as usual, Clear White Light, which, to my surprise - and delight - was sung by Dave. I guess he had been worried about it, because when he'd finished the introduction, Billy came over and gave him a big smacker of a kiss on the top of his head! Hopefully this did reassure him, because he did sing it very well, and it was a good end to the concert.
So, what about Lindisfarne without Marty? Well, the audience as a whole certainly appreciated the concert and I'm sure this gave positive vibes to the band, but I wonder how many of them had actually seen them recently and were aware of the change? It was definitely an audience who especially appreciated the old songs, whilst enjoying all of them, and probably found it a very enjoyable, nostalgic evening, with no real concern about the individual group members. Those of us who knew - well, we missed Marty deeply, I have to say. Not only were his instrumental talents missed - as has been the sax for several years - but so was his personality and warmth. Some songs may never be the same without his contribution, just as they have never been the same since the sax was "banished." It was really nice to hear the fiddle again, but has it only been brought back because the lack of Marty's instruments have left a big hole in the sound?
Similarly, it was lovely to hear the old songs that have been brought back into the set, but it was as if the band were hoping we wouldn't notice Marty's absence by bringing in songs that we hadn't been used to him playing recently. At least all the songs which were traditionally Marty's were not simply left out - that would have been disastrous - but I missed Driftin' Through. There seemed to be far less emphasis on the songs from Here Comes The Neighbourhood than in recent concerts, but on checking the only ones left out were Devil of the North, Wejibileng (which I don't recall ever hearing live) and - guess what - Driftin' Through. Maybe the set was far longer than I have recently seen, as there were also 11 songs that had not been recently aired.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I'm not sure how I feel at the moment. I'm sure that Lindisfarne will continue to be an excellent band, and continue to find or retrieve other instruments as necessary - maybe even the banjo?! They may decide to replace Marty, but it's probably not necessary - they will certainly survive without him. And yes, I'll be going to concerts in the future, but will I continue to enjoy them in the same way? Will they become another excellent band, but with the missing undefinable "magic"? Only time will tell. As Tom Cunningham said in his review of the Walker concert, Alan may be the soul of Lindisfarne, but Marty became the heart - how I agree with that statement.
Go and see what you think.
Judith Watson July, 2000