I’m thinking of starting a sub series of blogs: “Glorious artists in incongruous settings”. Until Tuesday night Steve Earle in the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester ( more suited to Manchester ‘s Symphony orchestra ) would have been high up that list, possibly top, closely followed by Chatham County Line playing at St Bede’s in Chorley, which looks to be a typical working men’s club, and more suited to - well, anyone who might play a WMC. But last Tuesday I saw Tom Russell, in Fleetwood and Hesketh Social Club, Southport. Now the image that conjures for you is probably entirely accurate. Hold that thought. And factor in all your prejudices about the average age of Southport residents. That was true too. And ‘between set’ music which was nearly all from the Sixties, because, the compere said, ‘that was the last time country music was great’……..
But perplexing as this all was, it was still a fantastic gig, and Tom took it all in his stride, even makingsome gentle fun of the audience , and offering to run a bingo session .
So what did he play? He started with ‘East of Woodstock, West of Vietnam’ and ranged right through his repertoire, particularly concentrating on tracks from ‘Blood and Candlesmoke’, but with a welcome cover of Townes Van Zant’s ‘Snow on Raton’. At this point the audience took a little revenge for his banter, and he was informed that Townes had actually played at Southport sometime ago – but at a far bigger, and more auspicious venue. Tom observed in response ‘that must be why the liquor stores had run dry.’
Tom wasn’t accompanied by Michel Martin as he had been in 2008, but by Thad Beckman, whose guitar skills added a huge depth to the acoustic performance. On occasions he seemed to be struggling to keep up on some of his harmonies, but the impression was that Tom was fairly ‘loose’ with his set list, and had added some songs in on the spur of the moment, in which case it was a pretty impressive performance. Thad’s spotlight in the second set showcasing his guitar skills was beautifully observed.
So overall if you’ve seen Tom Russell you’ll know what an accomplished performer, raconteur and entertainer he is – and I don’t need to tell you to go and see him. But if you haven’t – well, if he can win over that audience in that venue – he can do pretty much any gig - get yourself to see him.