Roger Sharman – The Garage January 2019

From the moment we stepped into the venue on a cold London night in late January it was apparent that something special was happening. There was a buzz in the air and everyone was fully expecting to see great show.

These people were not disappointed. The atmosphere before Willie arrived on stage was so dense it could be cut like a knife. The Garage in Highbury and Islington had been transformed as it was an all seater for the first time for me. 

One thing I garnered from my interview with Willie back in December is that he is a very charismatic and bubbly man and not lacking in a sense of humour or a story to tell. Which, obviously is a neces’sity for a singer\songwriter. 

From the opening bars of the first number of the night ‘Take This Hammer’ it’s apparent that Willie is a very accomplished guitarist, as a singer he has a beautiful tone & range to his voice.

After briefly introducing himself Willie proceeded to demonstrate another skill; the Banjo, breaking into ‘Mexican Cowboy’ from the folk singer Vol 1 album. 

There was a small filing cabinet on stage behind Willie and I was wondering what this was for, well now I was about to find out. Willie reached round and pulled out the Brace for his Harmonica for the first time in the evening for ‘James Alley Blues’. Whilst he was preparing himself for this, he told a very witty story about an Australian lady who had attended a show a few years back, voicing her discontent at Willie’s performances of this song when he was touring in Australia a couple of years back. 

In my opinion, what really showcases his musical talent is demonstrated in the next couple of songs, the amazing harmony in Samson and Delilah, then really getting the crowd going with his banjo picking and keeping rhythm by tapping the banjo during the bluegrass number ‘Dry Bones’.

Now I don’t know about you as a reader but for me these old songs evoke memories of simpler, happier times when technology wasn’t controlling our lives, and children played outside in pastures and mum and dad were free to enjoy life with us kids. Willie’s music although not always upbeat certainly leaves you with a smile on your face.

‘Keep it Clean’ is followed by ‘Stewball’, before which Willie invites the audience to participate by singing uh-huh for 3 lines and then repeating the last line of the verse. This proved to be great fun and very well received by this captive audience. 

‘Slim Greer in Hell’ proceeded the haunting ‘Gallows Pole’ which is even more spectacular live than it is on Vinyl or CD. Like the proverbial calm before the storm (if there ever is a storm in Folk Music) ‘Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him down’ drifts beautifully into the highlight of the night for me, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Midnight Special’ which had every man, woman, dog, cat and barman singing along. 

Mr Watson exited the arena to rapturous applause and yells for an encore were duly met with ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings’, from the Oscar-nominated movie ‘The ballad of Buster Scruggs’ & ‘John Henry’. 

People may gripe that there were only 13 songs, people may moan that only one of the songs was a Willie original, but I did not hear a single murmur of dissatisfaction from the audience, it was a night of quality, from an artist who is certainly at the top of his game.

Roger Sharman

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