Diana Jones – Pacific Road Arts centre Birkenhead,
June 21st 2009.
How can a place name be quite so misleading ? Pacific Road surely makes you think of Ocean vistas, sea breezes, and warm white sand. When what you get is the Birkenhead water treatment plant, and a large sandstone barn like venue. Diana Jones obviously felt the same when she arrived, commenting with some understatement to the audience that ‘its kinda unprepossessing outside, isn’t it ?’. And it was disappointing also that the audience were also a little sparse, but from inauspicious beginnings a beautiful evening ensued.
Diana Jones is one of the East Nashville singer songwriters currently breaking through in the UK, and she is touring most of the summer culminating in a slot at the Cambridge Folk Festival. She may be most familiar from appearing on the Americana festival on Channel 4 introduced by Seasick Steve. Tonight, accompanying herself, she played a number of songs from her two albums plus new material. Her songs draw strongly on a folk, and Appalachian tradition, which she rightly identifies as coming from the U.K. in the first place, including a number of unaccompanied songs which worked well in the spare echoing setting of Pacific Road, such as ‘Cold Grey Ground’. Many of her songs, in traditional style ,deal with the big life events -death, betrayal and murder, and she commented cheerfully that she appreciated the audiences enthusiasm for her death songs. Some harked back for centuries in their setting such as Appalachia, played beautifully on a vintage Martin tenor guitar. Others gave old themes a more modern twist, such as ‘If I had a gun’. She also gave us fair warning that there was only one love song in the set; ‘Cracked and Broken’, but an beautiful and unusual love song at that, inspired by William Blake. And although not billed as a love song, the stand out song for me, and looking at the tears affecting much of the audience has to be ‘Henry Russell’s last words’ . This is based on a last letter from a dying miner to his wife, knowing he will never see her or his children again as the air runs out as he is trapped underground. Unbearably poignant, but a true love song of devotion conveying the sense that love is stronger than death.
Songs for those on the margins of life, looking for work, making a living for a family, coping with the things life deals us, songs for those of us who are ‘bare of thread’ as Diana put it . Her spare haunting vocal delivery, supported by beautiful tunes make her well worth a trip out. Even if there is a sewage plant next door.