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Praise Bob!

Orange Room Music presents  Kit Ashton & friends

Brighton Festival Fringe May 9th May 2007

Komedia Studio

Like Mamma Mia, this was another of those shows where the crowd arrives humming the songs. What a class idea: to stage a showcase for local talent build around the familiar/obscure  eclectic catalogue of music legend Bob Dylan.

Impressario, vocalist, guitarist & host Kit Ashton did a fine job in managing the event, inviting the performers, almost organising the songlist and encouraging the upbeat mood of the crowd, bouncing onto the stage with his clipboard and vague announcements. He started off well, with a hilarious invitation for the baying mob to slaughter him afterwards ‘if I’m found garrotted by a guitar string and bludgeoned to death with an Bb harmonica, then, fair enough.’

This was supposed to warn us that some of the songs we know and have loved for decades were about to be ‘re-interpreted’, a word which usually strikes fear into the hearts of music-lovers. However, with Dylan, a man famous for reinventing himself, starting over, the infamous ‘going electric’ concerts and rarely producing consecutive albums from similar musical stables, some adaptation/chordal development/tuning/clarity could be rather an improvement.

Happily, only one artist chose to do the ‘looky-likey/soundalike’ thing, (trouble was, he was more looky-likey Worzel Gummidge) and since he was accompanied by the lovechild from the marriage of Buster Bloodvessel and the thug from the St Bruno advert playing his bass in Chris Squiers style, this was suitably distracting. The singer seemed to have understood the ‘protest song’ genre to be one which is perfectly suitable for getting the crowd on their feet and dancing, which struck me as a mistake. Surely the story of the Hurricaine is a song to be glumly admired for its artistic merit, and broodingly considered for its political aggression and sadness. I’m not sure I wanted to dance to the beat of a folk philippic about racist miscarriages of justice.

And equally happily, only one artist chose to impersonate Dave out of Chas ‘n’ Dave, with a pork pie hat and cheeky grin. I’m not sure why he did this.

Best vocal of the evening prize goes to the gorgeous Virginia Van Kan; the energy and passion she brought to her performance was certainly enhanced by the house band, which featured reliable bass and keyboards, outstanding drumming and the blurring fingers and expensive guitars of Alan Rose, who had a very good night.

The volunteer who stepped up to throw the idiot boards away almost in time with the Subterranean Homesick Blues does indeed, as predicted, get a mention in at least one review.

I was pleased the show wasn’t just a string of hits, but strongly included album tracks unknown to me. This gave the evening a didactic element, and allowed the artists to be judged on their merits, rather than just creating toe-tapping opportunities. Slight niggle with some of the crowd; while they were good-natured enough, there was one punter boringly repetitive in his request for Blue Door. Others were also sufficiently rude to chat loudly through many of the quieter songs, (particularly during Mark Edward’s sensitive piano playing) which seems to me to be a waste of their entrance fee and a devaluing of ours.

And it was a relief that the version of All Along the Watchtower (a somewhat Jehovah’s Witnesses resonance for Paul Oakley, I feel), wasn’t an attempt to out-Hendrix anyone; I think Alan Rose could have had a go, but it wasn’t that sort of a crowd, so good decision.

The best aspect of the show is that there are so many Dylan songs out there that they couldn’t possibly cover them all. This leaves great scope for a follow-up show with the songs left untouched last night. I suggest Another Side of Praise Bob or Freewheelin’ with Dylan could focus on The Songs With Punctuation In Their Titles: The Times They are a Changin’, Blowin’ in the Wind, Slow Train Comin’, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, I’ll Be your Baby Tonight, It Ain’t me Babe, Talkin’ World War III Blues, Mr. Tambourine Man, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go...

 

As the press release and the host promised, the finale was a LiveAid-esquely shambolic Like a Rollin’ Stone, with singers who had clearly never met each other before competing for the microphone, and then hiding behind the lyric sheets giggling attractively but feebly. It was the karaoke-est part of the show, which was a shame.

But high-octane power to the elbow of Mr Ashton; don’t miss the sequel!