Pete MORTON, Chris PARKINSON & Maggie BOYLE in De Fagot (Ingelmunster; org. JP and Carine Deven) Monday April 6th and in CC Den Tap (Lendelede; org. www.oorzaak.be ) Friday April 10th 2009.
Pete Morton is a singer-songwriter from Leicester, whom we learned to know thanks to the pieces written by, amongst others, Piet Chielens in the second half of the eighties in Gandalf, when we even didn’t realise we would later on be writing articles for that nearly mythical magazine concerning folk music. We gathered from these pieces that Morton was a must see, but that only became totally clear to us when we heard his magnificent Courage, Love And Grace album in 1997 and shortly after that, One Big Joke already from 1988 that contained the live still immensely popular Another Train, in the original version, that is, because Peter would re-record it in the course of his career.
As the man constantly tours and often performs in or country, we had no doubt whatsoever we’d seen him at work very quickly. Meanwhile, a few songs from his repertoire became personal favourites: Courage, Love And Grace, The Harrowing Of Pride and especially Love Me In Eden, a song that ,,tells it all”. Sentences like ,,The beginning is the end, the only place we can begin” and ,,I don’t wanna hear about the battles you’ve won; every battle’s lost ‘neath the moon and the sun” became stop phrases. Many artists who would have written something like Love Me In Eden, would cherish this their whole life and keep on playing the tune by lack of sbetter one. Not so Pete Morton: he’s such a prolific writer that the earlier songs already belong to his past, a couple songs excepted like Another Train and Shepherd’s Song. He simply keeps moving, hurling where the ways of the world force him to go and raising his voice to wake the dozing masses. It’s the inexorable fate he shares with colleagues like Robb Johnson and Martyn Joseph. With them he also shares the ,,curse” of being pushed in a folk corner, a prejudice which limits his appeal to the audiences and is ridiculous by any standard anyway.
It seems something called ,,the jinx” was in play: while Pete kept on cruising through our country on a regular basis, either solo or with all kinds of cooperations, we kept on missing his concerts. And eventually half forgot about it. Until this tour: we swore we’d see at least two concerts of this one and, incredibly so, we kept our oath. And we don’t regret our stubbornness either. It’s quite the opposite: Pete proved to be all…and more than we ever expected. And this goes also for the musical friends he brought along.
Chris Parkinson is nothing less than an icon in the realm of the Anglo-Saxon accordeon. He played with outstanding musicians the likes of Martin Carthy & Norma Waterson, Ralph McTell and Martin Simpson. At this moment he shares the stage with Steve Phillips of Notting Hillbillies fame. He’s to be heard playing on dozens of CD’s, exactly two solo records (Parky and Out Of His Tree), in duo, with bands or on many compilations (in all some 84 records…) Chris’ bio reads like a compendium of British folk. No wonder: he’s performing since 52 years! For this concert he had his big piano-accordeon and the melodeon, which he only used in his solo bits.
Maggie Boyle has had quite a career up ‘til now. Born in Londen and living in Yorkshire, but of Irish descent, she very early on learned to sing in the pubs the Irish way, thanks to her father Paddy Boyle, who came from Co. Donegal. Her voice and play on the traverso proved to be a versatile combination. She recorded quite a number of picture soundtracks and ballet music. She worked together with none less than The Chieftains, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Steve Tilston (another brilliant songwriter with who she performed long time ago) and many other greats of British roots music. Nowadays you can see her at work with jazz guitarist Gary Boyle (no family) and Chris Parkinson.
As well the gig at De Fagot in Ingelmunster on Monday April 6th as the one in CC Den Tap in Lendelede on Friday April 10th can be classified as two of the better ones in this concert season. Not surprisingly they were parallel experiences, with this difference that atmosphere in De Fagot was jolly and even a bit noisy, while in Lendelede the audience was listening in almost absolute silence, only to show enthusiasm in between songs. But it makes no difference to Pete: he always wraps them up with his powerful and self assured voice that inspires confidence, with his broad smile, the tinteling lights in his eyes and his aura, not even to mention his masterly song repertoire. In both instances the song choice was comparable, which was of course dictated by the circumstances. Both concerts nevertheless had their own accents. In Ingelmunster Pete tried out some not yet recorded material (Sock On The Line), in Lendelede he did requests.
Jusqt a pick of the litter: the trio began with the a cappella Roving On A Winter’s Night, song from the Appalachian tradition, popularised by Doc Watson. It was such a strong opening move that the lady and the gentlemen immediately got carte blanche with the enchanted listeners. An older tune that Pete likes to perform, is Shepherd’s Song. He is quite rightly proud of this impression of the London trip by rural poet John Clare (1793-1864) As so often this song turns out the be food for introspection. Present themes also offer stuff to chew on: in The Shores Of Italy African boat people thrive for a new life, but never get ashore in Italy, in contrast to the wonderful refrain. The tune is one of the highlights of his most recent ,,formal” CD (which also features Chris Parkinson and also Pete’s old brother in arms Roger Wilson who was going to be on this tour but had to be replaced by Maggie), Flying An Unknown Flag (2005) The CD title is a line from this compelling The Shores Of Italy. One can guess Pete wrote The Shores Of Italy after hearing about one of these sad events.
Pete got other gems out of the jewel box called Flying An Unknown Flag: Great Gold Sun (description of a long scene from a very early picture 1905), Further, remembering the past and by doing so actively and positively intervene in one’s own future and that of others, absurd fun in The Post Office Queue, where he mocks and ridiculises the economies of Auntie Mail, which only lead to chaos, alienation and surreal scenes in crowded post offices. But his frivolous resistance only meets indifference and even fear from the bystanders whose case he actually serves. So who’s the crazy one here?! The CD also has a reprise of Another Train, as if Pete is afraid that the message would get lost… That the original One Big Joke actgually is sold out, is maybe another reason.
More recently Pete has made a truely remarkable CD. The addition ,,Volume One” suggests that more is to come. Casa Abierta (Spanish for Open House) is its title with the subtitle Ten Songs in Different Tongues, recorded in support of the Gambian Schools Trust (with every CD sold two pounds go to that organisation) Pete took on the challenge to sing songs almost all of them written by other people (Trên Arall is a translation in Welsh of his… But surely you can guess!) in ten different languages, a daring exploit for an Englishman whichs by any standard is crowned with success (minus the sounds an Englishman can’t manage to produce, for instance the Dutch ,,ui” or ,,eu”) About the Dari language (East Persian) of Dilbar, the Swahili of Malaika or the Kurdish of Karwan we cannot judge, but we can about the French of La Corrida, great song by Francis Cabrel, the bull fight seen through the eyes of the bull, not so flattering for mankind, and a powerful statement by Pete as well on CD as live.
As last encore we twice heard… Avond by Lennaert Nijgh and Boudewijn De Groot. It obviously also stems from Casa Abierta, as can be guessed. This song also works as good on stage as on CD (Avond surprisingly was # 1 in the Top 2000 of Dutch 2 in 2005!) It might sound improbable, but Pete not only knows and admires the tandem Nijgh-De Groot, he’s also a self-declared fan and connoisseur of Lieven Tavernier and his oeuvre. For this reason also he shared the stage with Lieven in folkclub ’t Ey in Belsele!
In 2003 Morton released Swarthmoor. He of course cited also from this record, like the impassioned The Luckiest Man that he had to bring on his parents’ wedding jubilee, at his own dismay. In The Two Brothers the quarelling brothers ,,Israel” and ,,Palestine” are summoned to make peace. ,,I don’t care who started it”, but it finally has to stop. Pete clearly is devoted to the plea for common sense in a region where blind passion and rage, ,,justified” or not, are in power. Also from Swarthmoor: Listening To My Boots, a tribute to nature, though, as was to be expected, so much more is to be found in this song, and the hilarious Six Billion Eccentrics, which deals with all of us. ,,Normality” doesn’t exist. We’re all weird in more than one respect: ,,You’re one slice short of a loaf, you’re a biscuit short of a packet”.
It goes without saying that Pete gave his comrades a free hand. Amongst others Chris Parkinson played New Day Of Sunshine, a by fiery flamenco inspired virtuoso piece, written by Jon Brindley (who by the way plays guitar on Casa Abierta) On both occasions Chris played two tunes. The first one who announced in Ingelmunster as ,,coming from Watou in France”. But he got so much opposition to this claim (,,Watou lies inside Belgium, although next to the border!!!”) that he left out that comment the second time. The misunderstanding is easily explained: he learned the tune from French Canadians in Quebec. They probably do not know that Watou in 1793 finally joined Flanders. Anyway, it doesn’t matter that much, Chris: until 1793 you were absolutely right! The second tune left no room for discussion, though: Willow Creek points at the Ohio River. A most typical sea shanty, Shallow Brown, a gorgeous singalong, showcased Chris as a singer. Although Chris had discovered the heavenly nectar with the devellish name ,,Duvel”, his accordeon playing was simply stunning. Our moral is extremely low after this concert but for those who wish to climb the Hamalaya, Chris has produced the DVD Piano Accordion For Absolute Beginners.
Maggie Boyle sings the stars down from heaven (,,…A voice the angels would kill for”, she was once qualified), though she was limited by a cold at the gig at De Fagot. Because of this she sang Lough Erne Shore, one of her and our preferred Irish songs, it only at Lendelende, where her voice had already recovered sufficiently. Lough Erne Shore is to be found on the CD Sketch, made by the trio with the name Sketch. On this record Maggie teams up with Gary Boyle (still no family) and bass player Dave Bowie, a mix of traditionals and songs by Tilston, Jansch and even Billie ‘Lady Day’ Holiday.
Pete ostendibly enjoyed the performances of his colleagues and friends. But he himself kept on surprising us. We remember Bigger Than Life, a philosophical pondering conjured up by the thought that he might never meet an old friend again (old in all respects) concluding that ,,love is the reason that we live”. A double meeting with a primate, in Leicester zoo and in the news (about teh female ape Washwa who could talk with gestures) made him write the punny Gorilla. ,,You’re related to me!” both parties agree. Flemish protest singer Vuile Mong already said it: life is an ape’s cage.
Request time! In Lendelede we got The First Day from The Big Joke, a request by one of the organisers. He had chosen that song as the first marriage dance, along time ago already. Pete played Love Me In Eden, which he had to quickly learn again before the show and he sang it perefectly…or almost. We still wonder who made thàt request. As he introduces the first encore with ,,You GOT to sing this with me… I’d look really silly if I sang it alone…” and then begins When We Sing Together, one imagines why you leave a Pete Morton concert with a large smile. That in the meantime he shells you, a whole concert long, with songs that hit you right in your very soul, songs that keep on haunting you for days, or even years, is a well thought-over collateral effect. The entertainer is also chroniquer, philosopher and starry-eyed idealist, but one with vista and who damn well knows his place in the world. That he was joined by such wonderful musicians and gave these people their own forum, is an extra for which we are extremely grateful.
Although the venues are not too big (our luck!), Pete draws a full house everywhere he performs in Flanders (his luck!), proof that he enchants his audiences, so that next time they are present again. Taken into account that the man travels all over the planet and performs in big parts of Europe, the States, Japan, he comes over relatively often (see introduction), probably because he likes to. That’s why you don’t have to wait twenty years to go and see him, like we did. A quick glance at his concert calendar should suffice..
Antoine Légat (Dutch version April 19th 2009; translation: September 8th 2009)