Lindisfarne Concert, 18/11/98
A concert review by Tom Cunningham - Stirling, Scotland
On Wednesday, the 18th of November, I drove down from my home in Central Scotland to Berwick on Tweed, just over the border into Northumbria, the most northerly part of England, for the Lindisfarne concert at the Maltings arts centre.
Bypassing Berwick, my first port of call was the island of Lindisfarne, from which the band take their name. Unfortunately, though, the tide was out, so the causeway was impassible. In the fog -temporarily displaced from the Tyne- I couldnt even make out the castle.
A few hours later, and the band take the stage. Its amazing how much older and middle-class the audiences look these days - of all those legions of hippies from twenty-mumble years ago, am I the only one left alive? Maybe "Born at the Right Time", a touching and comfortable ode to growing old gracefully, penned by Billy Mitchell, and the opening track on the new album, "Here Comes the Neighbourhood", is an anthem for these people. Perhaps so, because it was the opening number. Next came "All Fall Down", the first time I have ever heard this performed live. Almost quarter of a century has gone by since I almost cried, when this early piece of eco-consciousness failed to make the charts.
So, the rest of the track list - the band played all the songs from the new album, and also quite a few of the old numbers. "Meet Me on the Corner", and several other songs from Fog on the Tyne - "Uncle Sam", "Train in G Major", "January Song" - with Dave Denholm on lead vocals for the last of these - "Passing Ghosts", and of course "Fog on the Tyne", with which the band concluded the first half of the show. There was the inevitable "Lady Eleanor", and also "We Can Swing Together" near the end. One surprise was "Wake Up Little Sister", from Dingley Dell. There was nothing at all from Back & Fourth, and an unlikely final encore was "Call of the Wild". This threw me for a second or two, the a cappella intro left me assuming that I was listening to 'Clear White Light', and they were several bars into the song before I realised my mistake
In fact, 'Clear White Light' was one of several notable omissions. The 1978 hit single, 'Run For Home', and 'Winter Song' were the others.
Presumably these have had to be sacrificed to make way for the new, post-Alan Hull material. As well as the songs from the new album, the band also played "Refugees", and the instrumental "Ardnamuchan", both from the 'Blues from the Bothy' e.p.
When I saw the band 18 months ago, they ran through a large part of the bands highly impressive back catalogue, and to be honest, the whole approach seemed to be dominated by the question, "what on earth do we do now without Alan?", but life, as they say, goes on, and the band has forged a strong new post-Hull identity and repertoire for themselves.
Billy takes most of the lead vocals, the other "front man" being Marty Craggs. Marty has turned out to be something of a revelation. Originally drafted in as a saxophone player, to add an extra dimension to the sound, he has turned out to be a talented multi-instrumentalist, a great singer, and not a bad song-writer either. He always seems so cheerful both on and off stage - I wonder if he is always like that? The concluding track on the new album, "Driftin Thru" is a real favourite of mine, Marty wrote it, and it typifies his upbeat approach to life. His main instruments these days are harmonica and accordion, he fits in so well with the band's fine tradition, I doubt if they could have carried on without him.
This time, too, the format of the "Untapped and Acoustic" tour is gone, when the band sat in a row, and played 'unplugged'. Just the same, despite the presence of an electric bass, and electric guitars, the trademark acoustic feel that has typified the band through the years is still fully intact, and provides and important thread of continuity with the 'old days'.
Rod Clements was on form, he spoke to the audience a lot, and one time even sang. In the past, I have thought of him as being shy and self-effacing, far from being a natural performer, and easily the most enigmatic of Lindisfarne members, past or present. But tonight, he seemed to be enjoying himself. One of his most interesting pronouncements was when he introduced the song "Uncle Sam", saying that it was by Simon Cowe, "who used to tread the boards with us".
Also on offer was a version of the solo Alan Hull song, "United States of Mind". Billy dedicated it to the man himself, referring to him in the following terms - Our old mate James Alan Hull, who is sadly no longer with us, maybe he is with us somewhere..
So there you have the new Lindisfarne, a band still boldly looking to the future, whatever it might bring, but with one foot still firmly in its highly illustrious past.
In fact, the only ghost of Lindisfarne past not to receive a mention was the Mandolin king himself, Jacka, who is sorely missed, at least by me. Marty turned out to be the natural replacement for him, insofar as he can ever be replaced, and like I say, I doubt if the band would still have existed otherwise. Most of the songs that Jacka sang in the old days, Marty does the lead vocal for those now, and acquits himself beautifully too.
After the show, I got to chat with Marty, Ray, Rod & Billy. All very different personalities, but they are all of theme such nice, unassuming guys. Nothing like the superstars they so richly deserve to be. As a greater man than me would have said, "I've never met such fine and friendly folk, you know". A couple of things that Rod said, which I think are worth passing on. I asked him if, when he wrote 'Meet Me On the Corner', did he know straight off that he had written something really special? His answer was an emphatic "yes". He also made mention of a forthcoming American tour.
The show was over, and I sped off back north. This was never the Newcastle City Hall, but there was 'magic in the air' just the same. As ever with Lindisfarne, it was something more than just entertainment, and looking back, I have a strong desire to jump back into the car, and head off for wherever the lads are keeping those beacons burning tonight.