This one was less an actual “gig” from my perspective, but more an opportunity to catch up with an old friend. Phil Hurley, former Gigolo Aunts guitarist extraordinaire, friend of 20 years standing and an absolutely lovely bloke whom I’d not seen since he kindly took a day out of his schedule to show two slightly swamped and flailing Brits around his then hometown of LA, on our California honeymoon trip in 2005, announced he was dirtying the shores of the UK for probably the first time since his mid-90’s visits with Tracy Bonham. This time however, having since relocated to Austin , Texas , he was riding shotgun with Texan folk/ country singer Jimmy LaFave on a short UK tour. OK then! However, of the 3 dates, Nottingham was out of reach, and I didn’t fancy Central London on a Thursday night. Thus it was that I faced a journey to what all my research indicated was a tiny wooden scout hut in a village in the middle of Nowheresville, Buckinghamshire!
So I leapt into the Friday night commuter traffic queues after work, sitting frustratingly in traffic north of Oxford but finding Tingewick Village Hall easily – there’s only one road through this quintessential sleepy old English village! Phil was hanging out by the van, chatting to his driver, so I unrolled my window and shouted, “Hurley!” That surprised him! “Hey David! What are you doing here? What am I doing here??!” was the incredulous response. Parked the car, then hung out with Phil and tonight’s promoters, chatting about music and children (mine and his brother’s, Phil not being a dad – yet…), the years falling away.
Got in – on the list. Nice! – then took a seat near the front, catching another chat about Boston Rock with Phil before stage time. Jimmy LaFave then took the stage just after 8.15, leading his 4-piece on to a fine reception from the c.100-strong audience of evident Country/folk aficionados. The set kicked off with some stark, parched and bare country balladry, topped by LaFave’s plaintive, yearning and slightly high-pitched voice, the material also giving ample opportunity for Phil’s stellar guitar licks. This was some detailed and intricate picking, as if born to the genre, from my friend, the virtuoso guitarist.
I’d not done any pre-gig listening research on LaFave’s music itself, which he apparently terms “Red Dirt” music after the colour of the soil around his native Stillwater , Oklahoma . Fittingly, it sounds as rootsy and dusty as the image evoked by that description, and was delivered in an easy, laid back and comfortable style from the seated LaFave, chatting “stream of consciousness” style between songs as if to old friends. Phil happily acted as his foil, particularly for old stories of drunken misdemeanours on previous UK visits (“don’t eat Mexican food in Camden !”). Tales of last night’s visit to London ’s legendary 100 Club were recounted (“punk rock lives on in the bathrooms!” was Phil’s summation) and LaFave challenged Phil’s lack of tuning up between songs with, “because some people don’t give a damn!” A lengthy story about LaFave’s ex-wife preceded, “something really angry,” which was a bilious reading of Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman”, a set highlight. Another cover, a smooth, soulful rendition of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” also shone, Phil once again embellishing the mood perfectly with some stellar chops, ringing and resonant.
A singalong “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”, capped a 1 hour 45 performance, eliciting a raucous shout for an encore, which saw a heart-tugging cover of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”, and a second encore of Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” saw Phil indulge in some wig-out raucous riffery (“a bit of MBV!” was his verdict afterwards), adding drama and gravitas to tonight’s best number and the climax of the performance.
Brief chat and compliments with a besieged Phil afterwards, before I headed off into the inky night, thanking LaFave on my way out for bringing my friend over to the UK and mentioning to him that although his music is not my normal thing, my ears are sensible enough to recognise class and excellent musicianship when they hear it. Good stuff indeed, but all the better for catching up with an old friend along the way. Mission accomplished!