Tom Paxton at Sage II Gateshead, England
On the stroke of 8pm Tom Paxton walked out onto the stage and surprised the audience by joking that he’d ‘mislaid his guitar’ and until he found it, ‘could we listen to his friend from Ireland…Kieran Goss!’
A diminutive shaven headed man carrying an acoustic guitar and sporting a smile from ear to ear passed Tom as he left the stage.
While Goss set his guitar up there was a little shuffling of feet and mumbling as the sold out crowd had paid for and were expecting a full evening of Tom Paxton; but 30 minutes later the singer-songwriter received huge applause when his short set came to an end and Tom Paxton joined him on stage.
Kieran has a soft voice that’s full of character but he possibly spent too long telling stories instead of singing; but he’s Irish so what else could you expect.
The songs we did hear were strong enough to make me want to see him again; especially Just Around the Corner which was a hit for Mary Black and the accompanying story had the audience in fits of laughter.
As you’d expect; with someone who has been treading the boards as long as Tom Paxton, the gap between Kieran Goss ending his set and Tom Paxton starting his was seamless. Tom and guitarist extraordinaire Robin Bullock joined the Northern Irish singer for a beautiful rendition of How Beautiful Upon the Mountain which is already a modern day folk classic and quite rightly so.
As the applause died down Tom introduced the next song with his first short story of the evening, about Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks before delighting us with Your Shoes/My Shoes.
Next up was a song, possibly called Hello Respect that Tom had only recently written about the ‘Phone Hacking Scandal’ that rocked the UK across the Summer. As he read from a crib sheet you could tell that he’s still got a fire burning brightly in his belly when something pricks his Social conscience.
It was a rare pleasure sitting in a hall that’s not unlike the original Ryman Theatre (but with better acoustics) and listening to a bona-fide Folk Legend singing ‘protest’ songs about strip mining, ecology and getting old, but it was the ‘hits’ that we had come to hear and no one left disappointed.
Bottle of Wine had the audience singing along as he closed the first set and the second half was littered with Did You See John Hurt, Come Away With Me, Last Thing on My Mind and two of my favourite songs of all time – Jennifer’s Rabbit and Kate which were both written by a doting father 40 years ago and have stood the test of time better than many songs from that era. Tom followed these with the ‘follow up’ song Jennifer and Kate which was written much more recently but is full of just as much love as the originals.
As the applause died away Tom introduced Marry Me Again by explaining he met and married Midge within six months of meeting her 48 years ago and they are still just as much in love today. The song was an absolute delight.
Even as a young man Tom Paxton was never full of fire and brimstone like some of his contemporaries – perhaps that’s why he has lasted so well; and tonight’s concert was still a lot gentler than I’d expected with superlatives like ‘lovely’, ‘sweet’, ‘joyful’ and ‘happy’ being the best way to describe the two and a half hours we spent in his company.
The evening closed with another well told story of his friendship with Pete Seeger and how Tom felt when he heard the great man sing Ramblin Boy at Carnegie Hall; then he delighted us with his own version of his classic song.
Tom and Robin left the stage to a standing ovation and returned to sing one of the most heartfelt songs I’ve heard in years; For the Bravest. Obviously I’d heard the song many times previously, but hearing the story behind it and then listening to the man who actually penned the words, was slightly ethereal and confirmed that the best way to listen to music is always in a live setting; especially one as wonderful as Sage II.