Sunday, 17 April 2011

Robin Williamson and John Renbourn in Sheffield

Robin Williamson and John Renbourne, Friday 15th April, The Greystones pub, Sheffield.

The first time I saw Robin Williamson play was with the Incredible String Band, in Cardiff, in 1970, on an all-day bill which also included the Four Tops. For me, the String Band were the archetypal British Acid Folk band, and that had a lot to do with Williamson's strange, fey songs and his skill with numerous instruments, many no-one in this country had heard of until then.

Between then and this gig I've seen him twice more, and both performances were different again - jug band style with Clive Palmer, bardic storyteller with harp. This performance was a bit of all of those, salted with amusing anecdotes from his long and interesting life.

The gig was sold out and, in fact, heavily over-sold - there wasn't even any standing room by the time the players were on stage, and this made for a rather spiky, irritable crowd. All that changed, as people consumed their sacraments of bitter beer, and the music got under way. Williamson played guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and Irish Harp, with real attack; his hair was long and grey but his voice as good as ever, still sinuous and quirky, and sensitive to the other singer, weaving notes around John Renbourn's. After the first two numbers Renbourn stayed very much in the background, the unobtrusive, excellent accompanist, around whose notes Williamson wove his meticulous ornamentation.

Before long, all irritation was forgotten, as we all surrendered to the power of one of the best and most civilizing things in the world - live music. Surely only Robin Williamson could get away with playing Howlin' Wolf's 'Goin'down slow' on an Irish harp...

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