Danny Schmidt at the Bluebell Inn, Essex, England
I guess he has become increasingly popular since the particularly widespread and enthusiastic reception for his penultimate album “Instead the Forest Rose to Sing” , but by now Danny Schmidt should be a megastar in the folk firmament. In front of a small but rapt audience of aficionados in this 16th century inn, in the quaint old village of Hempstead, in the east of England county of Essex, he last night gave a masterclass of the songwriting art.
A guitarist of great technique and subtlety he entertained the audience for around two hours with songs taken extensively but by no means exclusively from the aforementioned album and his latest “Man of Many Moons”, embroidering each song with an anecdote of how it came into being., his pleasingly melodic and versatile voice embellishing each tale with just the right amount of nuance and emotion. He had even had time to write a new song two days ago, that he premiered on the night (probably called “Love wins again” – he didn’t introduce any of the songs by name), a simpler song than many in his repertoire but just as affecting and with Danny’s usual elegance with words and tune.
The anecdotes were enlightening (how his partner Carrie Elkin talking about the grandfather she worshiped inspired ‘Grandpa Built Bridges’, how the move by the two of them into a new home last year shaped ‘Houses Sing’, and how a conversation he overheard in a diner between two girls provided the stimulus for ‘Know thy Place’). He made mention of his health problems with cancer which produced ‘This too Shall Pass’ and his moodiness a backdrop for ‘Firestorm’
Some temperamental newly-fitted guitar strings meant a lot of tuning (caused apparently by the extremes of temperature in South East England between Monday and Tuesday night) and even caused the cancellation of ‘Southland Street’ (after the obligatory anecdotal introduction) because he couldn’t get one string to tune properly – so he instead went into ‘Two Timing Bank Robber’s Lament’, and promptly forgot some of the words. He asked the door to be shut, to drown out revellers at the bar next door.
But none of this seemed to matter – the people who witnessed this tour-de-force knew they were is the grip of a master craftsman, possibly the best poet lyricist since Leonard Cohen and even to be spoken of in the same breath as Dylan. On record his deep meaningful lyrics repay repeated listening, and the instrumental embellishments provide grace and context for his guitar. On stage, in the immediacy of a little pub back room with just his guitar and that beautiful voice (and a very nice little sound system) he is awesome.
Highlights – a word perfect reading of ‘Stained Glass’; an emotional ‘Two Guitars’ (written in response to a letter in song sent to him by friend and housemate Paul Curreri after they had both given up their day jobs to write and sing for a living); and “Company of Friends’, a re-evaluation of what is important in life, written after the death of a friend.