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Peter Bruntnell and James Walbourne, Grey Horse, Kingston, May 30th 2010

June 11, 2010

I was still feeling a wee bit knackered as I wandered into the Grey Horse barely twelve hours after leaving it, but the sun was out, the air was fresh and Young’s Gold was on tap. I settled down with the newspaper until Al the Manc appeared, followed shortly by Peter and James, who looked considerably more knackered than either of us.

This afternoon gig was just a simple set-up in the front bar and the punters were similarly relaxed, sitting at tables and nursing pints. It was clear from the duo’s shell-shocked demeanour that they’d probably been up most of the night. Indeed we eventually heard the back-story, but more of that later… Peter was sporting a little Uncle Tupelo badge and fittingly they started with a cover of that band’s New Madrid, with James on electric guitar, Peter on acoustic and both of them on vocals.

Peter then treated us to another new song about aliens (see last night’s review) which sounded a bit like Femme Fatale. I’m beginning to think he’s serious about the alien abduction dreams. Mind you, this is a man who had a fabulous song on his last album called Hash Dream Craving. Next up was a bleary-eyed version of the old song Moonshiner, as recorded by Bob Dylan:
   Let me eat when I am hungry,
   Let me drink when I am dry,
   A dollar when I am hard up,
   Religion when I die.
   The whole world’s a bottle
   And life’s but a dram,
   When the bottle gets empty,
   It sure ain’t worth a damn.

This was followed by another drinking song – Tom Waits’s Heart Of Saturday Night – and then a bluesy Miss The Mississippi And You, the old country song first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers and subsequently by Doc Watson, Emmylou, Dylan and others.

At this point, the two of them ‘fessed up to some of the previous night’s misdemeanours. They’d been staying at Peter’s mum’s house nearby and, at whatever point they emerged in the morning, Peter shouted to James to put the kettle on. James assumed the cordless electric kettle was a cooker-top one, so he put on the gas and watched as the base of the kettle caught fire. The two of them decided to throw it into the back garden and legged it out of the house. All this time, Peter’s mum had been at church, so by the time the gig started, they were apprehensive at the prospect of Mrs Bruntnell arriving home, finding them gone and then discovering the charred remains of her kettle in the garden.

Some of us in the audience reassured them that a replacement shouldn’t cost more than fifteen quid – and even helpfully pointed out that Argos nearby was open until four o’clock. How about that for pampering the stars? After an aborted attempt at Rumble, they instead played the Allman Brothers’ Melissa. James rolled his eyes when Peter suggested it, but they played it nicely regardless. The onstage relationship between them is good, but on occasion James, who is by far the more proficient player of the two, has a wry smile at Peter’s occasional flubs, missed chord changes and misremembered lyrics. Not that it matters, as he clearly appreciates the feeling and soul that Peter puts into the music.

The next bizarre suggestion from Peter, Fairport’s Crazy Man Michael, was swiftly binned, to be replaced by fine covers of two Tim Hardin songs, Reason To Believe and Misty Roses, before which Peter went into an amusing and profane riff about what would have happened if Tim Hardin had entered Britain’s Got Talent… We were now in tragic singer-songwriter mode, as they then played Nick Drake’s Pink Moon and Clothes Of Sand – very sensitively too.

After a truncated version of Sugar Mountain, the mood brightened considerably as friend Rebecca helped the boys out with stirring renditions of Lucinda Williams’ Jackson, and Annabelle, the traditional song recorded by Gillian Welch. Lots more covers and originals followed, punctuated by requests for the England score – the two of them were far from impressed by England beating Japan only thanks to two own goals. I’d be a bit more ‘philosophical’, as football pundits say: all major tournaments should be preceded by injury crises, poor friendly performances, management upheavals, tabloid tittle-tattle and the rest. It’s tradition, innit?

Peter and James eventually ran out of ideas for songs to play, so asked the audience what they wanted. After a couple of wayward suggestions from others, I piped up, “Albuquerque!” (which, believe me, is easier than spelling it) and they duly obliged – just the sort of slow, soulful Neil Young song to round off a laidback afternoon. As it turned out, though, the afternoon hadn’t finished. Al and I had another pint and realised that Peter and James had joined the blues band on the stage in the back of the venue and so we wandered into the back and enjoyed ‘bonus tracks’ Ohio, Fulsom Prison Blues, Happy Birthday Blues and Proud Mary. Very nice.

I’ve been keen to list the afternoon’s songs at some length to emphasise just what a great selection of music you can hear in a pub for free – well, you’re expected to put a fiver in the jug as it’s passed round, but no-one twists your arm. These are the sorts of venues and the kinds of artists that all music-lovers should be seeking out and frequenting. They keep music alive and such occasions can rightfully be regarded as a strand of folk music, regardless of the instruments and the songs’ provenance. I shudder when I think of some of the dull evenings I’ve spent in expensive venues with overpaid stars going through the motions. As Neil Young once sang:
   See the losers in the best bars,
   Meet the winners in the dives,
   Where the people are the real stars,
   All the rest of their lives.

Here’s Peter singing Black Mountain UFO from a few months ago:

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