Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
13th April 2018
Reviewed by Joe Coventry
The auditorium was a healthy two thirds full when the Don Juans came on stage to warm up proceedings. Such is the pulling power of their liaison with Tom Paxton on this 2018 British tour that the £37.95 price of the ticket was no disincentive to the ‘grey pound’ octobots who turned out to see the Grammy Award winning trio tonight. A new CD is doing the rounds with them.
The Don Juans are comprised of Don Henry and John Vezner, both multifaceted musicians and vocalists in their own right, proficient between them in keys, guitar, ukes, banjo, ‘grins’ (various) and ‘kitchen sink’ ephemera. They started with a paean to love popping up it’s pretty head, then followed that with the poetry infused in an old graveyard … ‘when the land of the living is so unforgiving it’s where I go to clear my head’.
John Vesner got a Grammy for Where’ve You Been. For 60 years a salesman’s wife waited in for him to come home every night, content to hear him snore in bed, then her dementia set in. In his hospital bed suffering from brain trauma he’s allowed into her ward on another floor and gets to hold her hand; ‘WHERE’VE YOU BEEN!’ she starts up ‘I’m just not the same when your’re away’. Wonderful and true.
Enter then the man himself, now 80, with tales to tell but still railing against the iniquities of a society stacked in favour of the rich and privileged. He does not like the gun lobby in America and everything it represents. How Beautiful Upon The Mountain was a ripost to that anathema. The trio followed with more in the same vein, in protest with He Couldn’t Lay His Hands On A Gun and more than a pop at American leaders, current and past.
In Boat in The Water, co-written by Pat Alger it’s the simple things in life that count, you just need to row downstream to find them. If The Poor Don’t Matter is about a US senator taking food out of starving kids mouths. The same is happening with free school meals over here now.
Wearing hats matter with this lot as a badge of their commitment to taking on the callousness of the political elite. They wanted to make songs that changed society with a cohort of like minded folk singers of the Vietnam and Civil Rights Movement generation, Dylan, Baez, et al, but it was not all doom and gloom.
Bottle Of Wine goes back as far as Paxton’s first visit to Jacqui and Bridie’s Folk Club here in 1966. Did you Know (Mississippi) John Hurt, he of the famous Candyman tune; then a nod to Cole Porter, Star Struck (on the new CD). A careering climax ensued with A Lesson For The Learning, Rambling Boy and the ukeleles bringing up the rear on Dream On Sweet Dreamer.
Dream on indeed.