"Once in a blue moon" is, of course, an expression that is used to describe a rare event. Tonight at Grateful Fred's @The Atkinson, we experienced such an event. Goodness knows, we have experienced some great evenings at Grateful Fred's in its various guises but tonight it seemed as if the stars were in alignment and everything came together to create something really special.
Actually, the reference to a "blue moon" is somewhat apposite as tonight's special guests, The Kennedys, are long time members of The Blue Moon Orchestra, Nanci Griffith's band.
Not only that, but tonight was a significant occasion for Pete and Maura Kennedy as it was here in Southport that they played their first ever gig together as a duo. Pete Kennedy and Maura Boudreau [as she was then] were both members of Nanci's band on her "Other Voices, Other Rooms" tour, which kicked off here in Southport [of all places] on 11th May 1993. Just before the tour commenced, Nanci thought that Pete and Maura would make a great opening act for her and the rest, as they say, is history. I was at that gig but who would have thought that twenty two years later they would be back here in Southport headlining a sold out show?
Opening the evening was Alun Parry, who is undoubtedly one of Liverpool's best singer-songwriters. Alun is a genial, affable chap, with an engaging manner both on and off stage but when he starts to sing it is clear that he is a songwriter of considerable passion and depth. His songs cover topical subjects, such as the hardships suffered by the travelling community ["Where Did All The Good Times Go ?"]; immigration and deportation ["I Want Rosa To Stay"]; injustice in the workplace ["Harry Constable"] and overcoming adversity ["Climb"]. Alun is a polished performer and I would certainly go and see him again.
Continuing the high standard set by Alun was The Grateful Fred's Ukulele Trio [or GFUT for short] who take the ukulele to places where it has never been before with their eclectic mix of original and cover songs. Tonight they put on what must rank as their best performance to date.
In particularly fine form was Peter McPartland whose vocals on soul classics "Lean On Me", "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man" and "Dark End Of The Street" were outstanding.
Other highlights of this excellent set included the flamenco-flavoured "Say You Will Remember Me" and the jaunty "Let's Enjoy The Ride" which featured some particularly nifty uke-picking from Vinnie. On a more sombre note, the band dedicated "Here Comes My Baby" to longtime Fredhead Graham Campbell, who sadly passed away recently.
As I mentioned above, The Kennedys started their career here in Southport twenty two years ago. They released their first album "River Of Fallen Stars" twenty years ago and to celebrate this anniversary, they are releasing three new albums between them this year.
The first of these is the stunning new duo album called "West" which I had the pleasure of reviewing for this magazine [ see Reviews section for March 2015].
Naturally, songs from "West" featured heavily in their two sets tonight. These included the title track ["West"]; their charming and affectionate homage to Buddy Holly ["Locket"]; the Doc Watson-inspired "Bodhisattva Blues"; "Queen of Hollywood High" [written by the great John Stewart]; the gorgeous folk-rock of "Elegy"; their ode to a big, old Gibson guitar ["Southern Jumbo"]; Maura's superb songwriting class assignment "Signs"; Pete's uplifting and encouraging "Jubilee Time" and, finally, the rockabilly "Travel Day Blues".
The second of the three new albums for 2015 is Maura's "solo" album, "Villanelle: The Songs Of Maura Kennedy and B.D. Love" [B.D. Love is a poet from California and Maura has set his work to music but without using conventional song forms, so as to retain the poems' original structures].
Maura and Pete performed several pieces from "Villanelle", including the beautiful "Fireflies";
"I Cried To Dream Again"[ based on the character of Caliban from The Tempest]; "She Worked Her Magic On Me"[full of magic-based double entendres] and "Borrowed Dress", which is about a seamstress from Mexico [fashion note- in order to get into character, Maura actually made a dress and was wearing it tonight! ].
Ever prolific, The Kennedys released a "mere" two albums last year. One of these was a marvellous solo instrumental album by Pete called "Tone, Twang and Taste". Amongst many superb tracks is a stunning version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" played on a ukulele. In view of Grateful Fred's predilection for that instrument, Pete was prevailed upon to play this complicated piece of music live tonight and he played it brilliantly well, leaving the audience completely awe-struck but delighted.
After such a superb performance, the audience demanded an encore and, generously, The Kennedys invited Alun Parry and the GF Ukulele Trio to join them for a Rolling Thunder Revue-style ensemble rendition of Bob Dylan's "You An't Goin' Nowhere", which worked really well and sent the audience home muttering about what a great evening it had been and how it was one of the greatest Grateful Fred's nights ever, and so on. And they were right.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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