Jumpin’ Hot Club
26th July 2022
After more or less missing the last couple of support acts at The Cluny, we arrived bright and early ready for some unknown entity to entertain us at 8pm; only to find that tonight the doors didn’t ‘open’ until 8 and the support act was actually Bill Kirchen himself and he would do the first of two sets starting at 8.30.
This caused the dilemma of ‘should we buy a beer in Hall 1 and carry it into the venue next door, or be patient and buy it in situ?’
We took the latter option and took the opportunity of catching up with some friends we hadn’t seen in a long time (pre-covid if you must know).
Once inside, Hall 2 filled up nicely and was about 90% full when Bill and friends made their way onto the stage.
By way of introduction The Titan of the Telecaster thanked us for coming out on a Tuesday night; especially as there was a ‘big football game on TV*’ … then tell us that his wife was in the audience and this was the first time she’d ever been to the UK.
For some reason this elicited a huge round of applause.
Then with a minimum of fuss and barely a nod from Bill; the gig got started with the first of several songs that I didn’t recognise …. but that’s the joy of ‘live music’ isn’t it? At least it is for me; and my brother who was seeing Kirchen for the very first time.
This, though was followed by his ‘love song to his guitar’ …. Hammer of the Honky Tonk Hero; which was received like a long lost relative by the knowledgable fan club filling the intimate basement.
For the first time in the five times I’ve seen Kirchen play; the introductions to songs were generally kept to a bare minimum; which obviously wasn’t a real problem as his songs generally ‘speak for themselves’.
This first 45 minute set was balanced very nearly perfectly, with Kirchen/Commander Cody Classics like Semi-Truck and Truck-Stop At The End of the World neatly sandwiched between The Man at the Bottom of the Well and Word To The Wide from his DUETS album and Skid Row on My Mind (which has 3* and ‘beautiful’ in my notes); and eventually closing with a truncated rendition of Hot Rod Lincoln; if you can call 6 minutes ‘truncated’ ….. but fans will know what I mean.
The second half started with a Doug Sahm song I didn’t recognise and missed the title but I didn’t need an introduction to Tombstone Every Mile which followed and featured some of his finest fretwork of the evening; meriting 2* in my notes.
Another song from the DUETS album was next on the agenda and, while originally sung alongside Maria Muldaur, Bill went solo; and slowing I Ain’t Got Time For The Blues down to a midnight stroll it became slow and sultry which was a rare treat after all these years.
Someone to my left shouted out an inaudible request; which Bill queried and then with a mere nod to Paul on bass, went into something even slower ….. which turned out to be It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry! The applause at the end was the loudest so far!
The pace then picked up for The Arkansas Diamond, before Kirchen handed over vocal duties to bass player Paul Riley; allowing Bill to go ‘all out’ on guitar duties (again; in my notes I wrote ‘does anyone play a guitar as sweetly?’)
I was again in uncharted territory, not recognising the next couple of songs and Bill didn’t seem to introduce them …. but it didn’t alter my enjoyment by one iota!
Then we were treated to another Dylan song, before which Kirchen told us he first saw His Bobness at Newport Folk Festival in ’64 when he was 16 and then “as we live in complicated times’ …… the trio gave us a punchy, powerful and 3* rendition of The Times They Are a Changin’ which again got a louder ovation than his own songs … odd that?
As it ended he gulped down more water before telling us that “what followed would be their final song ….. then they would pretend to leave the stage, we would cheer and demand more …. they would look surprised … and return to their original positions for the obligatory encore song.”
When the laughter died down the band gave us a cracking version of Down To Seeds and Stems; which included a rather impressive whistling solo from the singer himself.
Then as promised, the band pretended to leave the stage/we shouted for more …. they obliged, with one of not just my Favourite Bill Kirchen songs, but all time songs …. Too Much Fun, which is and was a real showstopper in more ways than one.
The applause at the end was not just as loud as I’ve heard in years but absolutely genuine; which visibly appealed to bass player and album producer Paul Riley, who convinced Kirchen to put his guitar back on.
The flaw here was that Bill looked tired and didn’t seem to have anything prepared for such an eventuality … but after a brief conference the trio went into a Hawaiian/Surf instrumental that gave Bill the opportunity to regale us with his whistling abilities again …. but this really was the end; as he and Paul had to ‘sell us stuff’ from the merch desk.
As expected I enjoyed every minute of the gig; but more importantly my brother (who saw Dylan on the ’65 UK Tour) felt the need to buy a CD, although I’d offered to send him some downloads …. but, as he told me, “he just needed to buy a memory.”
The Rocking Magpie.
*The big football match was England Ladies playing in the semi-finals of the 2022 Euros!
Photo-set courtesy Harrisonaphotos