Earlier this year I realized I still had money left on the gift card to City Winery, that had graciously been given to me back in 2014 when I was going through a rough year, and I decided it was time to use it up. So I checked out the calendar and saw that Graham Parker would be there in April. I hadn’t seen GP since 2007 when I saw him at one of Michael Dorf’s other venues, the Knitting Factory, when it was in downtown Manhattan. GP had given a rocking show with his then-band The Latest Clowns (GP has had used different bands as his back-up bands) but this time around he is traveling as a duo with guitarist Brinsley Schwarz. Schwarz was, of course, the guitarist of the band Brinsley Schwarz that included Nick Lowe on bass and had a record produced by Dave Edmunds. Brinsley Schwarz (the band) was part of the pub rock scene, which was a reaction against arena rock progressive and glam bands – a move back to playing in small pubs – that lead into British punk rock. The pub rock bands played different types of music – Brinsley Schwarz was a country rock band. GP has lately been traveling with his most well-known back-up band, The Rumour, which was co-formed by Schwarz.
My Graham Parker and the Rumour albums are part of my desert island disc collection. (And I’d want it to be lps – Stick to Me came with a set of stickers. How much do I love holding lps and all the surprises inside?) Also in that collection are albums by Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. When GP first broke out it was at the same time as Costello and Jackson and he was grouped with them as the angry young men of new wave rock but GP did not have the same success that they did. Early albums by these artists (GP, Costello, Jackson, Lowe, Edmunds) hit me in some sweet spot where I could listen to them over and over and never get bored. Despite my interest in them, I’ve never really listened to The Rumour’s albums and I should. They’ve been compared to The Band and the Rolling Stones.
When I got to City Winery I had just enough time to order some food before the show began. I was at a table just behind and to the left of the sound booth. The show was sold out and the seat I usually take next to or in front of the booth were already taken. The guy seating me did say I was sitting at the best place in the club acoustically. I was at a table for six. There was a couple at the table and another solo woman later sat next to them. The two seats in front of me remained empty the entire show, which was great for me because it left me with a great view. The couple was nice enough to move the table back towards them because the woman behind me was pushed away from her table and I was having a difficult time getting into my seat. The tables at City Winery are jammed pretty close together. The tables in front of me were filled with white-haired men. I was going to say old men but I’m probably as old as them.
My Darling Clementine is a British country music husband/wife duo. Michael Weston King (acoustic guitar/vocals) is the former leader of British alt-country band The Good Sons (named after a Nick Cave album). He’s worked with Townes Van Zandt and has recorded songs by Van Zandt and Phil Ochs. Lou Dalgleish (vocals) has worked with Costello, Bryan Ferry, and the Brodsky Quartet. She wrote a play based on Costello’s songs. There is a full touring band, whose members have links to different pub rock and new wave bands and Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Chris Hillman. (Guitarist Martin Belmont is in their touring band and was a founding member of The Rumour so there’s a connection with GP.) So the two of them have a good pedigree and have surrounded themselves with first-rate players. But for their opening slot in this American tour they are traveling as a duo. Both seem to have a preference for vintage clothing. Dalgleish was wearing a black cap, pink polyester coat with a black shirt and black pants underneath, and white vinyl boots. She was carrying a bouquet of roses (which seems to be some kind of trademark) that she kept in her hand for the first few songs. King was wearing all black including a black wide brimmed hat.
Dalgleish and King made references to George Jones and Tammy Wynette by playing original songs like “Our Race is Run” and “No Matter What Tammy Said (I Won’t Stand by Him).” Most of the songs were about heartbreak and breaking up like “There’s No Heart in this Heartache” with the line “there’s only good in goodbye.” They laughed when they introduced themselves as husband and wife after the first song, which was about disliking each other. The songs aren’t downers though. They twang happily and can be funny. All the songs were performed together except for another song about heartbreak that King sang solo, there was applause, and then Dalgleish stepped up to her mic and continued the song with her ‘answer.’ They joked that it was a two applause song since the audience clapped after King’s part and thought the song was over. There was a new song, “Tear-Stained Smile,” about a wife murdering her husband. “100,000 Words” was their first single and, I think, the last song in their set. Dalgleish has a powerful voice and she sings with a country lilt and vibrato. And King and Dalgleish sing with that cute British/Southern mix accent.
Graham Parker came out carrying an acoustic guitar and wearing his trademark sunglasses. He did lift them up once to take a look at the crowd but otherwise they stayed on the entire time. For the opening song, “Watch the Moon Come Down,” GP also played harmonica. Brinsley Schwarz played electric guitar dynamically and added the occasional backing vocal. They had played the Piermont the night before, which was the first night of their American tour and is a much smaller room. They are returning to City Winery at the end of April.
GP spent a lot of time telling stories to introduce the songs and giving his opinions. For instance, he thanked god that he was British because even though they elect douchebags they do not allow the clinically insane to run for the top office. He has a wicked sense of humor and has left the angry young man far behind. “Turned Up Too Late” was covered by the Pointer Sisters. Unfortunately, as GP told us, this was when the Pointer Sisters were past their prime so no swimming pools for GP.
The setlist was about half Graham Parker and the Rumour songs and, though his songs were never hyper rockers, they were played at slower speeds – “Fools’ Gold,” which isn’t a fast rocker, felt like a waltz and “New York Shuffle” was a slow shuffle. “Hey Lord Don’t Ask Me Questions” always had a slight reggae feel but you could really feel it when the song was played quietly and slowed down. The audience sang along for the final chorus with an a cappella GP.
“When the Lights Go Down” was introduced as a song from a Rick Springfield/Patti Hansen movie (Hard to Hold). GP has a French superfan, who follows him around the UK and the United States. The superfan was a passenger in a car in Italy when a GP song he had never heard was playing on the sound system. He was performing some kind of spoken word/reciting stories act and asked GP to play guitar for him. The superfan would speak in French, which GP didn’t understand, and every so often GP would get up and perform a song. GP would laugh along with the audience even though he had no idea what was going on. The superfan asked for “When the Lights Go Down” as one of the songs and GP had to go to YouTube to learn it because he’d played it once for the movie soundtrack and never played it again. In fact, he’d forgotten all about the song.
At the encore break the solo woman (sitting kitty corner from me), who had been drinking heavily and didn’t applaud some of the songs, leaned over to the couple across from me and told them things. She had opinions. I’m assuming she was talking about the show but I couldn’t hear her. She was still talking when GP came out to sing the first encore song solo. Then Schwarz joined him for the last two songs – ending with “Passion is No Ordinary Word,” which kept us GP fans very satisfied.
Schwarz is such a wonderful guitarist; I loved listening to his solos. And GP is a great songwriter and I love the way he interprets his own songs with a slightly older man’s tempo.
Watch the Moon Come Down
Stop Cryin’ About the Rain
Turned Up Too Late
You’re Not Who You Think You Are
When the Lights Go Down
Stick to Me
Flying Into London
Under the Mask of Happiness
The New York Shuffle
Don’t Ask Me Questions
You Can’t Be Too Strong
Passion is No Ordinary Word
By Carene Lydia Lopez