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GIG REVIEWS

On this page you can read reviews of Jonathan’s gig’s since his return to the stage in 2004. if you attended any of the concerts and would like to contribute a review then please drop me a line. gsables@hotmail.com

The Rock Folk Club Maltby 2007

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When Rob Shaw, organiser of the prestigious Rockingham Arms Folk Club in Wentworth, tapped me on the shoulder sometime early in 2004 and said 'guess who we had here last week doing a one off unannounced appearance?' I could've named literally dozens of artists who had fallen off the gig guide lists in recent years, but I would never have dreamed it would have been a certain Jonathan Kelly. It was one of those 'guess what you missed' moments that tend to cause severe chest pains that really hurt. My first thought was 'how on earth did I miss that? swiftly followed by 'so when's he playing again?' I had to wait fifteen months for that answer.

For most of my generation of music fans, Jonathan Kelly was playing clubs up and down the country when we were too young to even be in pubs. We all had the 'Twice Around the Houses' album, with it's enigmatic glossy sleeve depicting a heavily bearded hippie, complete with plaid scarf, black overcoat and Daily Telegraph stuffed in it's pocket, which resided in any self respecting bed-sit, normally in a cardboard box next to the Dansette, but actually seeing him play live was not on the cards just yet. Four years later, when we had managed to grow our hair and could plausibly pass for adults, we were finally ready for upstairs pub rooms and hippie troubadours but of course by then we'd missed the boat. Jonathan had inexplicably fallen off the edge of the planet and was nowhere to be seen.

Still, ever present in the record collection, both 'Twice Around The Houses' and the follow up 'Wait Till They Change the Backdrop' frequently leapt off the shelf for an airing over the ensuing years, and any thought of ever seeing Jonathan Kelly live was well off the radar. That was until April 2005 when Bob Chiswick and Gerald Sables put together a charity concert featuring Jonathan at the Sprotbrough Country Club in Doncaster, and this time, I was present.

Jonathan can be forgiven for not having the same vocal delivery he once had in youth. These songs were written for a younger voice. I do however feel it is important that Jonathan make every attempt to sing them in the same manner, despite the occasional quaver. It would be a shame to hear a Jonathan Kelly song performed by an ageing rocker who has deliberately changed his vocal style to suit an older voice, Dylan springs to mind, or worse, Leonard Cohen's inclination to talk a song. This is fine for them, but not for Jonathan Kelly.

The one thing that remains precisely the same now as back then is Jonathan's warmth and self depreciating wit, which is quite endearing. He seems to be completely bewildered that anyone would want to come out to listen to him. Those who have been touched by Jonathan and his songs know different.

By his own admission, Jonathan still writes prolifically even after all this time. He is of the opinion that 'songs come to visit, and if I'm quick and copy them down before they leave, then I can play them to someone else.' It's almost as if he claims no ownership of the songs that come to visit him, 'many times they just come and slip out of the back door never to be heard of again. It doesn't worry me; it was just nice to have them around for a while.'

Although Jonathan is keen to get some of these newer songs out before they slip out of the back door ("Eileen" being a good example), he is under no illusion that his hardcore fans come to hear familiar songs from their (and his) youth, and on this score Jonathan never disappoints. 'Twice Around The Houses' is always well represented at his gigs and if every song from that album is not played, then it's surely only the omission of a couple. Tonight was no exception as Jonathan kicked off the concert at The Rock with the anthemic "We Are the People", insisting from the get go that the audience become his backing band. Bang things, tap glasses, stamp your feet but most importantly sing. "Rainy Town", "Madeleine", "We're Alright Till Then", "Leave Them Go" and the timeless "Sligo Fair" followed to an enthusiastic response from the packed house.

'Wait Till They Change the Backdrop' however, was less well represented with only "Down on Me" being performed. "Mother Moon", one of the songs from the 'Backdrop' sessions, which didn't quite make the album, was played to a delighted response. I'm sure the imbalance all comes down to time really, for had it been up to Jonathan, who had a request list a mile long at his feet, he would've been only too pleased to play until dawn.

During the second half, Jonathan invited a couple of friends on stage to help him out on a few new songs. Slide guitarist Mike Miller told me they had only just worked out the arrangements prior to the gig, which confirms Jonathan's 'instant' approach to music making. Jonathan and Mike assisted Alexis in a country-tinged song called "Come and Rescue Me", before they performed the quickly rehearsed new songs including "The Loneliness of John South."

As Rob glanced at his watch, reluctantly having to draw the night to a close, Jonathan performed a stunning "Ballad of Cursed Anna" and the beautiful "I Used To Know You", bringing the night almost to an end. I say almost because it's difficult to bring a Jonathan Kelly night to an end. With a bit of an off-the-cuff rock n roll number presumably entitled "Rocking at the Rockingham Arms", even the normally stoic figure of Rob Shaw was moved to get on his feet to dance, jiving with two women no less.

Jonathan Kelly remains an approachable, affable, pleasant sort of character, whose ability to excite an audience even after such a long period of time 'off the scene' seems to come naturally. Although he is still considered to have cult status on the British music scene, he really should be a household name.

Review By Kind Permission Of ALAN WILKINSON

Irish Music On Tour Salisbury. March 22nd 2006

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Pictures Courtesy of John Palmer

Wednesday march 22nd was an evening with a difference in Salisbury. The Chapel Night Club was the venue for TWO special occasions. One was the first public performance by new band Head to Head; the other was a rare public performance by the legendary cult singer Jonathan Kelly. Head to Head were supporting a rare appearance by Jonathan Kelly, the folk-rock singer-songwriter who was acclaimed in the early seventies. Jonathan left the music scene for thirty years but is now making a return to performing – and one that was very welcome to the numerous fans who were at The Chapel to hear their favourite of yesteryear. They were not disappointed, as Jonathan sang familiar numbers such as Madeline and Sligo Fair: he has a wide repertoire of pieces which are highly effective in a subdued, understated way. What most impressed me was Jonathan's knack of writing quietly moving songs where the personal is delicately placed within a wider context – as in his recent composition Eileen. Most songs were prefaced with anecdotes which added to their effect and a short rendition of Johnny Be Good gave just a hint of what else Jonathan can play . This listener would have liked to hear more of such numbers – but for the most part, Jonathan captivated the audience with his songs of loss and change, performed in a style reminiscent of Bob Dylan. Last Wednesday, Irish Music on Tour added another winner to their range of highly distinctive promotions.

Eileen Horner

Rockingham Arms Wentworth 10th March 2006

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In front of another full-house Jonathan Kelly emerged from the shadows of the Rockingham Arms stage and into the bright lights of adoration once again. His audience may have aged a little over the years and so has he of course but the quality of his performance was exemplary . Having seen him three times now in just under twelve months, I am left in no doubt that he is on the up. His voice is stronger these days and he has rekindled all that Irish charm and wit of old. He began the evening with a song from the Twice Around The Houses album called, We're All Right Till Then, followed shortly afterwards by Rainy Town from the same successful album. Both songs were greeted with rapturous applause and when he spoke there was a concentrated silence that was only broken by sporadic bursts of laughter as his humorous anecdotal utterances had his followers roaring hysterically at times.
I noticed that on this occasion JK drank only water. It seemed to work. There was a much greater cohesion in most of his of what he did and the rather apologetic tendency to blame his word forgetfulness on senile dementia was the only thing that did not hold water after this outstanding performance. He seemed completely at peace with himself and his music throughout and this was personified; not just by the impeccable timing of his humorous outbursts but also by the remarkable efficiency and meter of his songs. The diversity was immense. This time Jonathan choose not only a wide collection from his own personal repertoire but he also nose-dived into other peoples material too from musicians as far a field as Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, John Sabastian and Tim Hardin. There was something in there for every musical taste and when at the interval I told him I was not overly fond of Country and Western he put this to the ultimate test by transforming my all-time favorite JK song namely; We Are The People, into something that Johnny Cash would have been proud of !

I have seen Jonathan Kelly on at least ten times since I was eighteen but this must rank as the nearest thing to absolute perfection. His choice of songs, the audience, his voice, his guitar playing, his humour and his eternal wisdom made this a night not too forget. He sang so many gems throughout from his recently penned material such as: Peels Of Thunder, Eileen, ( The Orange & The Green ) Madeleine Revisited, Hummingbird and of course Its What I Am to the old favorites like:
Sligo Fair, Down On Me, Mrs. Gilbert and Don't You Believe It. As if all this was not enough he also added a few more that we had never heard before - or at least not in the last thirty years! The song I wish I could can be found on WTTCTB but this was the first time I had seen him do it live and it was extraordinarily good.
So too was another one that had been quietly collecting cobwebs and that was Leave Them Go. A friend of mine at the gig told me it was his favorite JK song and he looked horrified when I put the request to him. With his head in his hands he told me that although he liked this song, he had not attempted it in donkey's years and to our amazement and delight, he went to the back of the stage and desperately tried to remember the chords before coming back to play a note- for- note- perfect rendition of a song that has been neglected for far too long. What a magnificent night this was and his followers were treated to a performance that defied the years and will remain in my memory eternally I think. There was something in the air this night. I felt it in my bones. This man is an almighty talent and anyone who was privileged enough to see him this evening will know that we bore witness to a living legend. Long live the king!

Frank Weston

Celtic Festival Of Wales 2006

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Well - what a fantastic evening last Friday in Porthcawl was. Heavy snow in North Wales - would Jonathan be able to make the journey? You bet - and those who were privileged enough to be there are so glad that he made it down to South Wales. As Dave Wheeler correctly points out - we have missed out for 30 years - but the wait has certainly been worth it.

Jonathan who, far from appearing nervous, seemed to really enjoy the evening treated the small, but perfectly formed audience to a consummate performance. He was relaxed and informal - encouraging audience participation and sharing his experiences with everyone hanging on his every word.

From the opening bars of "We're Alright Till Then" Jonathan enchanted everyone. To be honest he could have read his shopping list and we still would have applauded - it just seemed so right to be there. Jonathan played "Rainy Town" and then a new song "Down that Road" (not sure of the title - sorry) which was very well received by the attentive audience.

Just Jonathan and an acoustic guitar - it took me back to St George's Hall in Liverpool in 1973 - and yes - I did get the shivers down the back of my neck - so much has happened in the intervening years but here was the same Jonathan Kelly playing the songs just as I remember them back then.

The set also included "Orange and Green" - another beautiful song before returning to some of his more familiar songs with "We are the People" and "Train Song". Jonathan encouraged audience participation throughout and, not thwarted by the acoustically dead (carpeted) flooring he implored us to find other ways to join in.

After "Hummingbird" (brilliant) Jonathan played "Madeleine" (with the audience singing along) and then "Down on Me". By this time he had us all spellbound and we were treated to a perfect performance of Sligo Fair - and then, at the request of a member of the audience, one verse of "Mother Moon" followed by "Ballad of Cursed Anna".

It was clear that Jonathan was really enjoying the event - and whilst we were not a huge audience he could have been performing to 500 people. Yes - he missed the occasional line - but hey - who is going to criticise - he was amongst friends and we were keen for him to enjoy the evening as much as we were.

The night was brought to an unnecessarily early close by the MC who did, however, allow Jonathan to perform 2 encores (the first time ever that a performer has been called back twice at the festival) and Jonathan did not disappoint - managing to accommodate "I used to know you" (beautifully accompanied by a young soprano (Christian) from the audience who held a perfect C with Jonathan's encouragement and accompaniment on the guitar, followed by "Rock you to Sleep" and then, finally, "Godas".

It was a great evening - and although we did not have two and half hours we had no complaints. We were certainly keen for more - but delighted to have shared the experience. On this form - and clearly enjoying himself so much, it is difficult to see how Jonathan cannot keep performing. The new material was warmly received and, hopefully, augurs well for the future.

For me it was the culmination of a 30 odd year search to find out whatever happened to the man whose music has meant so much to me. What a joy that he is prepared to sing and play again - and what a personal thrill to have the opportunity to become one of the privileged few to share his stage as a bandit during the encore. A great night - a great man - and fantastic music. A big thank you to all who made the evening possible.

Can't wait for Salisbury!

Kind regards to all fellow JK fans

Mike

Astor Theatre Deal Kent Saturday 11/02/06

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Photos courtesy of Brian

The Astor Theatre has a small cabaret style atmosphere in a modest theatre setting on the Kentish coast at Deal. As an eager fan of JK I made no secret of my intention to get there early and grab a front row seat. After waiting so long hoping to catch Jonathan playing live I wasn't going to settle for anything less than the best seats in the house! By 8:30 when Jonathan came on stage to about 25 candle-lit tables, there were no seats remaining, latecomers standing at the bar.

Jonathan arrived with his personal entourage – his family in force to see him play. With no airs or graces, a thoroughly down to earth man from first till last, he made his entrance via the front door like everyone else and simply climbed onto the stage, showing himself to be as nimble of body as indeed was his playing and his quick wit. For indeed we were treated not just to the recreation of those magical songs, but to an entire performance; Jonathan Kelly, musician, raconteur and well rounded entertainer.

He began his set by discarding his pre-planned set list as, he confided in his audience, "there are none of the songs I really want to play on here anyway"! So he opened with "We are the People" and I was immediately struck with the powerful resonance that song has today;

  • "But I hear the prison walls are growing without relief,
  • for locking up people without a trial, jailed for their belief."
  • Almost 35 years after it was written, and the jolt of truth is there, and more shocking and more relevant than ever. But this wasn't an evening of preaching – it was far too joyful for that.
  • By turns JK was mischievous, philosophical, and engagingly anecdotal. Sometimes prolonging an intro to break off into stories or reflections surrounding the song and how it came to be. Lyrically the set was peppered with old favourites and some which are new - to me at least. A deliciously upbeat version of 'Madeline' gave way later to 'Rainy Town' (so right for Deal that wet February weekend!) and a fabulously acapella rendition of 'The Train Song' with brilliantly improvised percussion and vocal effects. Then the extraordinary tenderness of 'Sligo Fair' sitting somehow so easily against the anger and cynicism of 'We're Alright Till Then' – just as it did on "Twice Around the Houses". What a potent enchantment those songs remain.

    At the halfway point Jonathan took a break. This was spent entirely in talking to fans, signing autographs and posing for photographs. I noticed his unhurried manner. He gave freely of his time to those who, doubtless like myself, had travelled far to see him. His interest in them was plainly genuine like the man himself. It was very moving to see a man of character and integrity greeting his fans with such simple and wonderful humanity. For my part I decided to wait to the end of the set to accost him for my own mementos.

    Part two was even more varied, with a couple of songs played on Grand Piano, and an invitation to a group of his acquaintances to join him onstage as backing for one song. I noticed he 'dedicated' various songs throughout the evening to members of the audience who had plainly pre-selected them. I was both jealous and baffled to know how this had been mediated in advance: one of life's minor mysteries I suppose I shall never know the answer to.

    At the end of the night, and checking with the sound-desk it was confirmed there was time for one more song only. I was horrified. Management told me they were open till 2:00a.m. but in fact the bar was closed by 11:00 and we were plainly heading for a midnight end. JK went into his final song. Horror. It wasn't "The Ballad of Cursed Anna"! I couldn't believe it? Would heaven fall? But no, he was playing with us, for the song he struck up suddenly transformed itself into what is undoubtedly his most famous and best loved (in my humble opinion) composition. The thrill and the pleasure was so immense, I can only tell you that I found myself singing along through tear filled eyes. I had noted that the song of course deals with a young man who is transformed into an old man. I, like JK, was the young man when he first played it and I first heard it. Now we have both reached the end of the song. Old men. For me the gig ended as powerfully as it began, with songs whose potency and beauty quietly blew you away.

    I managed to get a couple of minutes with Jonathan at the end of the evening. Up close he was as charming and decent a person as ever you could hope to meet. He graciously signed my original vinyl copy of 'Twice Around the Houses', and allowed me a photograph with him. I was very taken by his dedication on the album he signed for me "Thank you for Caring".

    Now how did he know that?

    Frank Rickett.

    Acoustic Sussex

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    This was indeed an auspicious occasion. It was not like any other Acoustic Sussex gig to date; it was something very special, a rare event which we thought we would never see again. It was a platform for a great performer of old; making a comeback, who was very popular in the late 60s and early '70s and still is today. Old friends and fans had travelled from far and wide to mark the occasion (Richard Digance and Jonathan's old manager, Dave Stringer among them).

    The stage was impressive, being set in the Baronial Hall of The Ravenswood, Sharpthorne, Sussex with shields, swords and tapestries adorning the walls, an enormous stone-built inglenook fireplace, compete with a roaring log fire emitting a slight gorgeous perfumed smell of wood-smoke. Even the name Ravenswood seems to conjure up of something mysterious and mythical. I wouldn't be surprised if Cursed Anna hangs out here.

    Jonathan Kelly took to the stage, perhaps apprehensive and nervous - but who wouldn't have been; after all it has been the better part of 30 years since he had been performing, apart from a couple of gigs last year. There was a lot of emotion in his delivery and after a few mistakes (to be expected), he finished the first song - the popular Madeleine - with a lump in his throat and declared "The first one is the hardest" But he soon regained his composure and carried on. He said "If you're here tonight to get chilled out, forget it! We're here to have a party" and that was something all of us did.

    He had made out a set list while he was nervously waiting in the wings, but didn't follow it strictly and treated us to a range of songs, some old, some new compositions and some great Bob Dylan covers, including Tomorrow is a Long Time, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and Like a Rolling Stone.

    As the set progressed the guitar playing became more confident and all the old qualities came flooding back, occasionally fading in and out like the signal of Radio Luxembourg used to in the old days. I couldn't help thinking of Jonathan in his heyday, with long dark hair and beard absolutely brimming with original talent. Boy! the girls must have loved him and gave him little peace. The epitome of Hippydom, perhaps a bit like I was except for the hair colour and the flocking girls of course. All the old qualities were there in abundance, slightly tarnished by lack of practice, but nothing a little tightening up wouldn't correct. Anyway, back to the performance. Jonathan wanted the audience to provide the percussion and they did so with enthusiasm and pretty good timing. After that, it was not just a Jonathan Kelly revival concert but one with the audience supplying vocals and percussion as well.

    By now Jonathan was clearly enjoying himself and so was the audience. As a result of the good reception, Jonathan's confidence visibly grew by the second and the guitar playing and the singing became more bold. At the very end of the performance he did "The Ballad of Cursed Anna" and it was brilliant - just like old days only with the absence of a little practice. He was enjoying himself so much, we couldn't get him off stage and the concert finished very, very late.

    Other songs performed were (forgive me if I have omitted some, but there were fortunately so many); Madeleine, Best Of Times, I'm Working, Eileen, Julia, Hummingbird, Sligo Fair, Lonely for You, We Are the People, Thank You Mrs Gilbert, I Used to Know You, Hold On (segued with Stephen Stills' Love The One You're With!) All Over Town, Train Song, It's What I Do, Rainy Town and, for a well-past closing time encore, the lovely Rock You to Sleep. Whew!

    Jonathan was an all-round nice guy, an archetypal, slightly ageing hippy and it will be a long time before we forget him. To quote one appreciative audience member, "Fantastic evening - and short of Nick Drake or Jeff or Tim Buckley dropping in, one of the most unexpected. To those of us who warmed to 'Madeleine' and 'The Cursed Anna's Stare' in the 1970s, the idea that we would ever hear them live done by the man himself seemed extremely improbable."

    There will always be a special place for him in our hearts at Acoustic Sussex and we eagerly look forward to his future exploits. We hope to be so honoured as to be part of them as we were at the Ravenswood on the evening of the 6th February 2006. Jonathan, as you used to say…… Love and Peace…. You've got the first; let's hope you get the second, if you haven't already got it.

    The unenviable role of playing support for Jonathan Kelly's phoenix-like return was Roger Davies, a highly personable Yorkshire lad who now lives in Brighton and teaches songwriting. Sensitive to the occasion and keen not to outstay his welcome in Jonathan's presence, he treated us to a short but most enjoyable set of songs about things in his life which were important to him. Songs describing the origins of his cultural background; where he had come from, the nearest big town of Huddersfield and the football team he supported and owed his allegiance to. At the other end of the spectrum, a song about the idol of his earliest years, James Dean. His performance was confident, his guitar playing was accomplished and his songs were interesting, very often striking a familiar chord with the audience. His voice was clearly projected and added a lot to his songs. Songs performed were; Northern Trash, Old Fashioned Man, Beer Belly Blues, Huddersfield Town, James Dean, You're The One I've Been Waiting For and Little Town.

    Review courtesy of Bob Preece

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