Chris Wood, The Basement (Brighton, UK. 26th May 2013)
Chris Wood’s previous album HANDMADE LIFE won accolades for his intelligent portraits focusing on the personal musings of a happily married man (My Darling’s Downsized, Asparagus) but extending the topic matter to provide hard hitting political commentary none more damming than Hollow Point which tells the story of Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de-Menezes, mistaken for a terrorist involved in the 7/7 London bombings and shot dead by the Metropolitan police. Wood’s evocation of events is all the more powerful for wrapping uncompromising subject matter in gorgeously tender delivery – his storytelling draws you in and then brings you to a point where you are in no doubt as to the underlying significance of his message.
His new album NONE THE WISER is even more politically overt and in a hundred years time, social historians researching the (current) recession would do well to listen to Wood’s take on ‘Britain, in all her elegant despair’. Many of the songs were written as he travelled the length and breadth of the country during a 50-date tour supporting Joan Armatrading in 2012. His observations, of people struggling to cope with the aftermath of the financial crash, the government’s austerity drive and just the day-to-day effort involved in trying to make sense of life against this backdrop, is quite simply, the work of a folksinger at the top of his game.
The final night of the current tour ‘feels like we’re just getting going’ started off with John Barleycorn a song learnt from Martin Carthy, the elder statesman of British folk and finished with ‘the f*****g pantomime’ of the encore – Summerfield Avenue. In between, Wood’s two-sets showcased all nine tracks from the latest album, copies of which were on sale during the evening.
Playing his recently purchased vintage Epiphone guitar, Wood was accompanied by Neil Harland on string bass and Justin Mitchell on keyboards. The acquisition of the Epiphone was Wood’s own ‘mid-life crisis’ a topic he considers in Thou Shalt. The electric guitar featured throughout the evening and gave Wood scope to re-arrange some of his older material notably Ceasar which was re-worked as a ‘funky’ number, in homage to Hamish Stuart (Average White Band). Not so long ago Stuart moved to the Kent countryside, home to Wood, and invited him to play with a 10-piece soul band. Wood clearly enjoyed the experience as he spoke with much delight about it.
A guest appearance by Martin Butler (keyboards) was a bonus; he wrote the piano arrangement for I Am John Clare’s simple, yet complex, poem. The poem explores the meaning and value of life during an isolated existence and was written when Clare was committed to a mental asylum.
Wood himself is an eloquent chronicler of rural life, urban life and doesn’t pull any punches whether that be in his writing or during his between song commentaries – he ‘tells it like it is’ but is not averse to showing that he has a sentimental side too. His rendition of The Sweetness Game is offered up as a love song for grown-ups. He is one of the best folk singers on the circuit and thankfully, we won’t have to wait for too long for him to take to the road again as new tour dates have been announced for the autumn. Jela Webb