Updated: 29 Oct 2008
I Turned My Face Into The Wind
Ringing Down The Years
I'll Show You Where To Sleep
Song Of A Sad Little Girl
Beat The Retreat
Never Take Sweets From A Stranger
Skip To My Lou
The Shepherd's Song
Lonely Days, Lonely Nights
Orange Blossom Special
Falling In Love Again
BAO Setlist scan from Dietmar Nogai
BLUE ANGEL ORCHESTRA AND DAVE COUSINS/MELVIN DUFFY
HALF MOON PUTNEY, 22 OCT 2008
Sadly, a fairly low turn out last night for the Blue Angel Orchestra. Only around thirty people were there, which meant that the Half Moon had set out tables. Think that the last time that the BAO were at Putney the place was heaving, so I guess it's a worrying sign that recession is beginning to bite.
Last time we saw the Strawbs at Putney, there were some fairly serious gremlins with the sound. Happy to report that there was no re-occurrence of any of that, and the sound was brilliant. In the second set, Chas's bass was turned up beautifully loud, which meant that you could feel each note.
Like an episode from a soap opera Anderson (Miller not Pamela) was replaced by Duffy (Melvin not Patrick) and everyone was interested to know how the BAO would sound with such a major change. This was not just a guitarist being replaced by a different guitarist, (which itself could be quite radical), it was a rock guitarist replaced with a steel guitarist. There was quite a danger that this would not work.
To prolonge the anticipation, the first set comprised a duo with Melvin and Dave. They played six songs all from Secret Paths. This was the first time that the two had played live on stage together, and the sound was as good as on record, despite the engineering, mastering, mixing etc that goes on in the studio. Really fabulous to hear so many rarer Strawbs songs. Made it quite difficult to keep a set list, as I'd heard so few of the songs live before. (This was the first time that "Canada" had been played live in the UK).
The steel guitar was really relaxing. If we'd got any more laid back we'd have fallen off our chairs. At the end of the first set, I don't think anyone would have complained if it had been announced that the second set would be more of the same.
Clearly, the steel guitar fitted well with these slower, gentler songs, but it was hard to imagine how it was going to work with the bluesier, rockier BAO numbers. Happy to report it worked really well. Normally, I'm not a fan of the steel guitar, but must confess, I'm warming to it.
Sadly, I didn't get a chance to talk to Melvin, but I really enjoyed watching him play. You could read his expressions like a book. The Blue Angel songs were all very new to him, and you could tell he was nervous. Before playing anything he looked terrified that he was going to get it wrong, then he was wrapt in concentration looking for a cue from Dave or Ian, then his expression switched to pure pleasure as the notes poured from his guitar, followed by a naughty school-boy grin afterwards as if he was thinking, "Got away with it this time", followed by more terror as the realisation that there was another verse hit him. Not only did he "get away with it", he stormed it. Have to say that the version of "The Shepherd's Song" was way better than any previous version I'd heard before.
The steel guitar played as a rock instrument is a bit like a violin, so the Blue Angel Orchestra was even more orchestrated than normal. Momentarily I thought that Melvin might even take the lead during "Orange Blossom Special", or that they'd play it as a duel. Maybe one day.
A real shame that there weren't more people there to enjoy it. Hopefully not the last time we see Melvin, so maybe next time they won't be playing under quite such a crowd-less sky.
Photos from Pete Bradley - more photos from Pete
Last night's show at the Half Moon was an absolute treat, a unique opportunity to watch ace steel guitarist Melvin Duffy join with the Blue Angel Orchestra to fill in for Miller Anderson, and, best of all, a duo support set from Dave and Melvin recreating some of the gentle wistful sounds from Dave's superb album earlier in the year, Secret Paths.
A haunting version of "Canada" was possibly my favourite, but I loved every single thing they did in the opening set, so it's hard to pick and choose. It was great to see Dave play the interesting tuning on "I'll Show You Where To Sleep", where he plays some chords over the top of the neck, and which we saw on the very first date of the US duo tour with Ian, but was dropped on later gigs.
I really could have listened all night to the two of them .....
The BAO set was shorter than usual, but as powerful as ever. Melvin's steel guitar (an on a couple of occasions a Hawiaan guitar) fitted very well indeed with the BAO material too, adding a different texture. Particuarly fine on "Mellow Moon", but tasty and appropriate throughout, even in the louder songs.
"Skip To My Lou", earlier in the set I think than hitherto, seems to have been given even more oomph, and, the loud closing numbers "Lonely Days, Lonely Nights" and "Hellfire Blues" are an opportunity for DC to really let rip on the vocal front. As ever Ian's fiddle playing excels (particularly of course on crowd pleaser "Orange Blossom Special"), and Chris (he makes it look SO easy) Hunt and Chas provide a rock solid rhythm section, gentle when it needs to be, but capable of cranking the whole thing up to 11 as required.
It's obvious that DC loves playing with this bunch of musicians - he was quite emotional as he bade us all farewell for the statutory 25 years - but the feeling is defintely reciprocated by the small but enthusiastic audience who were treated to a splendid if different BAO experence.
The show was recorded both in video format and off the desk, so it may be possible in due course for those who weren't able to make it to get a taster of just how magical it was.