Reg Meuross is a troubadour, constantly touring or taking part in workshops and projects. Normally his live shows are just him, with a guitar or Appalachian dulcimer and harmonica. His studio albums were more complex, with backing musicians and vocals, and people were asking why that was the case so he came up with a "concept", although he looks slightly abashed at using the word, of producing a trilogy of albums that reflect his live performances. 'RAW' is the final part of that trilogy and it was launched with great success in London recently. It isn't a live album, but is live recorded with 15 of the 16 tracks needing only one take. The 16th had to be re-recorded to avoid an International incident but I'll come on to that later.
For the launch Reg chose a theatre, rather than a musical venue, and that enabled him to really back up the concept. With excellent acoustics The Cockpit allowed him to play completely unplugged; as he said in this case PA means "proximity to artist". Reg is a very understated performer, he lets his words and music do the talking so there was no MC, no big intro. He came on to the floor of the theatre, looking as dapper as ever, and completely entranced the audience from first to last. I've been in quiet audiences before but on this occasion there wasn't even a rustling, everybody sat absolutely still. Entranced or enraptured? Probably both.
One unusual addition to the stage set was a music stand. Talking to him in the interval he said that this performance was quite scary. He can normally talk about the songs but a lot of these were being played live for the first time so it was a comfort to have the lyrics just in case, although I don't think he ever looked at them. There are, of course, stories behind a lot of his songs and some of them show how the mind of a writer works; they see things we would miss. You would also miss the stories if you don't get to a live show because Reg will tell you things you can't get from sleeve notes and that's all part of the evening.
'Gene Vincent Jnr & Billy the Kid' is one such song. It came about following two chance meeting when touring some of the backwaters of Texas but it was his enquiring mind that meant he met - allegedly - Gene Vincent's son and Billy the Kid's granddaughter. Were they telling the truth, and does it matter? As the song says there aren't enough dreams. It's a beautifully touching song and that can be said of every track on the album.
As mentioned there are 16 songs and every one is there on merit. The launch was, apparently, the only time they will all be played together. They cover everything Reg does so well. There are the songs of social justice such as 'The Chainmakers', who were a group of women who struck for a minimum wage and won. There's a sting in the tale behind the song and also a very funny story about researching it. The bathos and pathos, as so often in life, go hand in hand.
Reg is a folk artist, he writes about ordinary people that history often ignores. 'Our Street' is one of those songs; it's about the people who live in his street going about their every day lives and was the one that needed to be rerecorded. He first sung about Serbian Sam, but Sam comes from Slovakia and wasn't too happy at being re-badged. That's the kind of attention to detail that marks a true professional.
There are even some love songs, of sorts. 'From Now On' is a song about trying to be a better person, which did lead to a comment "Lovely song but I don't believe you" whilst 'Our Love Has Turned To Hate' needs no more explanation. Even this one, one the night, got a laugh as Reg played guess the harmonica because he couldn't find one in the right key. Then he realised he had the capo on the wrong fret.
This isn't a review of the album, suffice to say it will get a lot of nominations when the awards come around and they will be thoroughly deserved. This is a review of an evening and it was one that was was spent with a master of his craft who is absolutely at the top of his game. The rapport between performer and audience is so important and Reg has the ability to close that gap, to be the friend playing you his latest songs in your living room rather than the celebrity on the stage. During the interval he was in the bar chatting, there were friends in the audience and probably people who will become friends in the future.
Something else you won't get from sleeve notes or even the website are the stories behind his instruments. His main guitar is a 1944 Martin, which has had to be loving restored to full glory and is now joined by a tenor guitar he's had hand built to match it. The dulcimer has been around since he was 15, when he fell in love with the instrument after hitch-hiking to London to see Joni Mitchell. That's the joy of live music.
The album is available on the website, but this is one you should buy from a show as a memory of an evening with the best of the best.
Tony Birch words and pics
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