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Cam Penner and Jon Wood

Venue: The Atkinson
Town: Southport
Date: 06/01/16

Finally, the Festive Season Musical Drought was over, thanks to the first Grateful Fred's Session @The Atkinson Session of 2016. And what a session it was, as it featured an extraordinary performance by Cam Penner and Jon Wood, all the way from the forests of British Columbia ,Canada . More [much more] of this later.

The evening began with a sparkling performance by Paul Dunbar, an excellent singer-songwriter with a remarkably soulful voice. Paul was joined by Liam, a fine guitarist, and they gave us a most enjoyable set.

As is now the norm, the second slot on the bill gave us our genial house band, The Grateful Fred's Ukulele Trio, who gave us a taste of their forthcoming debut album. Whether it's Country Blues from the Deep South [of Liverpool] or Country from the Wild West [ West Lancashire,that is], the GFUT deliver it in their inimitable style. Look out for the album, it should be a cracker [and not just for Christmas].

And so to tonight's special guests, Canadians Cam Penner and Jon Wood.

The Atkinson's stage was covered with instruments; multiple guitars, ukulele, drums, lap steel, electronic gizmos -surely this was for a full band? But no, it was "just" the two of them who took to stage for an entrancing performance.

Cam Penner is a remarkable human being. He was brought up in a Mennonite community in Southern Manitoba. The Mennonites are associated with peace and social justice and Cam has clearly followed these tenets in his life. At the age of nineteen he moved to Chicago ,where he ran a soup kitchen. He then returned to Canada to work with the homeless. He now lives in a cabin in the woods where he has built a recording studio. His latest album "Sex & Politics" was created there by Cam and Jon Wood , a musician and producer from Vancouver, who accompanied Cam on stage tonight ,providing ambient electronic sounds, plangent lap steel and electric guitar.

Pinning Cam's music down is a little difficult. Sometimes it's abstract electric blues [think Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits], other times it is stripped-down storytelling folk music with added electronica, loops and discordant electric guitars from Jon. You really have to hear it for yourself.

The first part of the show contained the same suite of songs as "Sex & Politics", where one song glides seamlessly into the next , beginning with "I'm Calling Out" ,then "I Believe" , followed by "Broke Down" and "Hey You !".

Perhaps Cam's best-known song ,in this country, is "House of Liars",which featured in the BBC TV series "Stonemouth", by the late Iain Banks. Tonight's performance by Cam and Jon was typically intense and gritty.

One of my favourite songs of Cam's is "Once A Soldier" a truly heartfelt song which featured some gorgeous lap steel by Jon Wood.

And so the show went on, fragments of abstract songs flowing into a place where folk meets electronica, or,if you like, a meeting of Woody Guthrie and Brian Eno. In between songs we had a series of monologues by Cam about going to the gas station, his early musical influences [Public Enemy on cassette] and hearing one of his own songs on the radio.

I can think of several adjectives to sum up tonight's performance: magical, charming, ethereal and unique but even those do not do it justice.

Peter Cowley

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