‘They tell me it’s been seventeen years since I last performed solo here’ said Butch Hancock as he opened the evening in front of a capacity crowd. Hancock as a musician has always preferred to tread the independent route and as such hasn’t received the commercial recognition he truly deserves but to many in tonight’s audience, this man is up there with the best. Often drawing comparisons with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan for his ability to write literate, poetic and thought-provoking songs, Hancock said that he was looking forward to the day when record stores had a category ‘Hard Listening’ for that’s the genre he’s most likely to be associated with! He writes songs that he himself has previously described as being ‘a hundred miles long’ and there’s no doubt that he is a wordsmith of the first order. Not only songs, poems too, as he recited one he’d written about a dead owl he’d found on his land in Terlingua, TX.
For Hancock who has written extensively, it must be difficult to choose what to play on any given night - remember he’s twice played a run of nights at the legendary Cactus Café, Austin, TX. where he did not repeat a single song! His selection tonight not only drew from his existing catalogue but included some new material which will feature on his next album SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD as well as a couple of cover songs. One was a particularly delightful surprise, Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning the other less so, as he paid tribute to Townes Van Zandt with Buckskin Stallion Blues. Talking about the latter he mentioned the annual tribute show he hosts in memory of his late friend and how these shows have a running time in excess of four hours – reader I can testify to that having been fortunate enough to attend one a few years ago. It was in the days when the venue only sold tickets on the door – friends said ‘get there early’ so we joined them at the Cactus Café at the front of the queue at 4pm and nine hours later we made our way home – what a night!
Back to this evening though – Hancock punctuated the songs with stories about his beloved Texan landscape, incidents on the road, characters he’s drawn to and inspiration for his writing holding the audience in thrall throughout. Those of us who are long time fans and recall the London shows he’s played in the past were thrilled when he introduced a special guest – Slim. Playing his accordion, Slim, Britain’s best-known exponent of the Tex-Mex sound, accompanied Hancock for the final six songs of the two hours plus show. The pair go back a long way, have toured together in the US and Europe and it was wonderful to see them on stage revelling in each other’s company. Of course they played West Texas Waltz and drew the night to a close with the classic Boxcars.
I know I speak on behalf of many when I say that I hope Hancock doesn’t leave it another seventeen years before making a return visit - I could just about live with a seventeen-month gap! Jela Webb
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