Saturday, March 21, 2009

Helstock – The Cover Years

As is traditional at this time of the year, heralds were despatched, proclamations issued and gold-embossed invitations circulated for the annual Helstock Festival, a bijou assembly convened each March to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Songs from The Blue House chanteuse La Mulley. An occasion to gather, play songs, celebrate, and generally drink as much Brewers Gold as humanly possible while still being able to tell one end of an acoustic guitar from the other. Joining us this year were a stellar assembly of friends and relations who, to be fair, we usually refer to as ‘the usual suspects’ - my part-time combo Shagger, consisting of me and the wife, The Canyons, Helen’s brother and sister duo Giff and Moj (named in a moment of compering inspiration The Arctic Mulleys), wild card Paul Mosley, and raggle taggle bluegrass genii The Ragged String Band were assembled, given instructions on their duty to perform a prescribed cover version and handed over to the tender ministrations of perma-harassed sound man du jour James, who in another life is Our Glorious Leader. We were denied the company of both Fiddly Richard and Turny Winn for various reasons and hence also denied the opportunity to air our well-rehearsed “Can you hear the banjo?” routine, but we did have the reassuring presence of Tony ‘TT’ Turrell which enabled us to include a couple of his recent co-writes in the brief set, and the mildly surprised percussionista Reado, who thought he’d just come out for a quiet drink, but who pursued his role with his characteristic taste and aplomb.
As with any bill that contains so many turns in a limited amount of time there was a fair bit of apologetic set trimming, the news being delivered by me in my de facto role as MC for the evening, but everyone took the cutting in good grace before delivering their sets in fine style. The Canyons, especially, were on fine form during their nominated covers – a country honk reworking of Moses’ “But Anyway” rather nervously played out before it’s author and a frankly astonishing raga-inspired take on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” being early highlights of their performance before they mustered a selection of originals from their new (and free giveaway CD – you don’t even have to buy a Sunday newspaper) and quite, quite brilliant self-titled album. The necessarily truncated Arctic Mulleys were measured and touching – an inspired “May You Never” being a highlight before Paul Mosley delivered half a dozen superb numbers of his own from behind the electric piano he’d lugged all the way up from Walthamstow on the train, and the evening was closed with a rip-roaring rollicking performance from The Ragged String Band, all close harmonies around a single mic, stand up bass, dobro and twin banjos. The entranced look on our host landlady Val’s face was a treat and a treasure, as was the impressive speed with which she conjured up a birthday cake, a baked potato and a Tupperware box of chilli for those who hadn’t had time, or had forgotten, to eat during the course of the evening’s festivities. There are no real funny stories about this night, no great truths revealed, no alarming behaviour, no dramatic incidence of idiocy to relate. Just a few girls and guys with acoustic guitars, telling stories.

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