Music Columnist Ian Worpole chronicles his return to the Big Apple
Having spent a rowdy ten years in a cheap loft in Tribeca, New York City (Cheap! It wasn’t quite yet an oxymoron twenty years ago), with two small children and an irate landlord, it was time to move north to Woodstock, a quaint hamlet known for its arts colony and a certain concert that took place in 1964.
We had, in fact, missed the glory days, when Bob Dylan holed up with The Band and produced The Basement Tapes and three or four of the greatest albums ever recorded, and Van the Man [Morrison] ambled irritably down the street, along with John Martyn, Paul Butterfield, Nico, well, you get the picture. But it was still pretty easy living, and at the local Tinker Street Café, Rick Danko of The Band would still show up, sometimes with Garth Hudson and Levon Helm sitting in, and we couldn’t believe our luck.
Rick passed away a few years ago, but Levon still holds the fort with regular “Midnight Ramble” concerts at his house/studio that attract the likes of Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello and whoever else is in town.
So there was, and is, plenty of good music to be had out in what can only be described as the country. Just a couple of hours away by car, The Iron Horse and Calvin Theatre in Northampton are great venues, hosting Richard Thompson, Paul Brady, Norah Jones in her disguise as a member of The Willies, and even closer to home, the Egg in Albany, is another great spot to see performers of the caliber of Nanci Griffith and all manner of touring Irish bands. But my daughters grew up. The cats, dogs, guinea pigs and various reptiles came and mostly went, and with the empty nest syndrome creeping up on me, New York City once again beckoned. This time, a small apartment on 94th Street of a size that would fit into my Tribeca kitchen, at a mere four times the price. So after hauling mattresses, pots, pans and a toothbrush up six flights of stairs, it was time to check out what had lured me back – the music scene.
I’d received an invite from the folks at Compass Records to a multi-band concert celebrating Folklore Productions’ 50th year in business, so I ambled, albeit a little stiffly, down to the Metropolitan Room on W. 22nd St., and happened upon a night of sparkling talent, which, along with a few pints of Guinness, banished the mattress hauling to a distant memory.
As I took my seat The Battlefield Band, was having a blast on stage. This band, with the bagpipes as its signature sound, is to Scottish traditional music as John Mayall is to the blues. After 20 years of nurturing the best Scottish players – John McCusker and Karine Polwart amongst others – and with Alan Reid, the sole founding member remaining, the band is still a driving force whose latest album, The Road of Tears, is a thematic rumination on emigration and displacement.
With pipes echoing, blues man Eric Bibb was up next, and as he and pals The Campbell Brothers launched into a searing set that had the entire audience literally jumping in place (I WANT YOU TO JUMP FOR JOY!!! and we did). I patted myself on the back – it was great to be back. After we’d gathered our breath, Dervish took the stage, and my joy was complete. Cathy Jordan is the consummate front-woman. An impish figure with a Sligo lilt and a driving bodhrán style, Jordan holds the audience rapt with her introductions to tunes and songs, both traditional and contemporary. A current favorite is her rendition of Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” which, in fact, she debuted in 2001 at a 60th birthday party held in Dylan’s honor in Dublin . With the distinctive sounds of mandola and bouzouki in tandem, whistles, flutes, a fiddle and concertina that create a true wall of sound, Dervish should wow the viewers of 2007’s Eurovision Song Contest, for indeed they have been chosen to represent Ireland in this venerable annual institution. Good luck in Helsinki, Dervish!
The last act of the evening was a young cajun band, the Pine Leaf Boys, a raucous quintet fronted by two virtuoso multi-instrumentalists, Wilson Savoy (fiddle, concertina, piano, vocals) and Cedric Watson (the same). All smiles and enthusiasm, one would never have guessed, as I found out later, their trip from Louisiana by van had been fraught with difficulties, culminating in a NYC parking ticket, which, at my last count, runs about $115. Okay, so it’s not quite perfect here but don’t be put off, guys, you were sensational, and we want you back!
Sometime around midnight, the night’s music ringing in my ears, I hop a cab over to Avenue B, to a bar called Mona’s (such is its self-assuredness there isn’t even a hint of a sign outside). Now remember, this is Monday night – up in dear old Woodstock everyone is long tucked away in their beds – but Mona’s is hopping, some of Dervish are here, a couple of Lúnasa guys and the regular session players are whooping it up in the back; the night seems barely begun. I manage to hang in there until about three a.m., wave farewell to some pals hunched over their instruments and head up Second Avenue to my new home. At seven a.m. the sunshine and sirens come blasting through the curtainless windows; my head pounding, I ponder the world as it appears after four hours’ sleep. Nothing a cup of tea won’t fix – boy, its good to be back.
For more information on Folklore Productions, which is dedicated to promoting and nurturing folk and blues music, and whose artists include John Renbourn, Lúnasa, Flook, Dervish, Martin Hayes, Alison Brown, Doc Watson, to name a few, check out (www.folkloreproductions.com) ♦