Roger McGuinn at Sage Gateshead. Nov 2011
Sage Gateshead 2nd November 2011
A few seconds after the house lights went down and just as the spotlight lit up the stool and mic in the centre of the stage, the sweet jingle jangle opening notes of the Byrds’ My Back Pages filtered from the speakers and a smiling and resplendently dressed, Roger McGuinn made his entrance from behind a curtain strumming a 12 string Rickenbacker.
Part of me could have got up and walked out as he finished the song and soaked up the adulation; life just doesn’t get any better than that previous two minutes.
McGuinn’s voice has hardly changed in 50 odd years and he was hitting notes that a man his age and with his background has no rights to hit and his guitar playing was….well……staggeringly good; bordering on genius at times.
For the record he played most of the ‘hits’ from his time in the Byrds – Mr. Spaceman, All I really Wanna Do (with the story that Dylan didn’t realise that he’d written it!), Wasn’t Born to Follow, Mr. Tambourine Man (a song Dylan threw away), 8 Miles High and Chestnut Mare; but it was Rogers’ other song choices that sent the shivers up the back of my neck and had the audience chattering 20 to the dozen during the intermission and as they eventually left the building at the end of the concert.
I ask you; even baring in mind Roger’s impressive back catalogue who’d have expected to hear versions of You ain’t going nowhere, Pretty Boy Floyd, Drugstore Truck Driving Man, (which made at least three men feel that they can now die happy after hearing Roger sing it ‘for them’!), St James Infirmary and even Rock Island Line (the Leadbelly version)? Not many I’d guess, I was there when he did sing them and I don’t think I’ll ever forget a second.
At one stage Roger even chatted about the guitars he had with him – a 12 string Rickenbacker and a 7 string Martin HD7 and the history behind them; before giving us a Masterclass in guitar playing. Just like the rest of the evening Roger made it look effortless as his fingers were a blur floating across the strings. As I said earlier; his guitar playing is bordering on genius.
Roger’s reputation as a raconteur goes before him and the stories he tells makes you felt like he is letting you into a special secret; and when he mentioned Dylan or Gram or the little fat guy who wanted to join the Byrds; you knew that he wasn’t name dropping for the sake of it because at some stage in their lives Dylan, Gram and Crosby were in just as much awe of McGuinn as tonight’s audience were.
As well as the ‘oldies’ Roger also slid in King of the Hill, that he co-wrote with Tom Petty, Parade of Lost Dreams, a pretty damn passionate version of Your Love is a Goldmine and just the one song from his new album CCD – What shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor which evoked childhood memories of sitting around the school radio listening to the BBC music programmes in the 1960’s!
The time flew by and before you knew it Roger went off stage then suddenly appeared like a magician from the other side, strumming the opening chords of A Whole Lot Better on that beautiful Rickenbacker. That song should have capped a wonderful evening but Roger than introduced a beautiful song he wrote with his wife Camilla; May The Road Rise to Meet You and with that, a perfect evening really did get a whole lot better.
For a man that has been making music for over 50 years Roger never stopped smiling all evening and looked as if he was enjoying every single moment that he was on stage, and there’s not many artists out there that you can say that about.