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Wizz at 65 tour

Wizz Jones' 65th Birthday Concert
Friday 23rd April 2004, The Half Moon, Putney

A review by Colin Harper  
Photos by Dave Peabody

Unassuming, under-rated, self-deprecating, hugely experienced, quietly influential, monumentally talented. The list of Wizz Jones' qualities could go on and on - and everyone involved in or interested in British folk and blues knows exactly what a towering figure in that world he is.

Wizz's name is so often second on the bill to other people - the likes of Bert Jansch or John Renbourn - and so rarely in the limelight, that the prospect of a whole evening built around his music, with these kind of people as his guests, was not to be missed. Such was the nature of Wizz's 65th birthday bash on April 23rd 2004 at Putney's Half Moon pub.

Time traveller No. 1

To pay one's respects to one of the founding fathers of British acoustic music is, of course, an honour - but likewise, what a privilege it was to hear the man still performing as well as he ever has, still mesmerising in his combination of lyrical poignancy, sweet, clear-diction vocals and that incomparably edgy, swinging guitar picking - as singular and signature in its own way as the universally recognised styles of, say BB King, The Edge or Jeff Beck.

Time traveller No. 2

Wizz may not be in that league - but the stadium's loss is the folk world's gain, and that world was out in force that night at the Half Moon!

Wizz and Ralph McTell

I'd left my reviewer's hat - and, more to the point, my reviewer's notebook and pen -at home, so anyone looking for a detailed breakdown of events here will be disappointed. But what do I remember about it? Firstly, the great buzz and atmosphere in the place - not a buzz like the slightly manufactured ones to be found in a larger concert context, with an audience manipulated into fever pitch by house lights going down, intro music being piped out and so forth, but a more subtle sense of expecting not necessarily Wizz's greatest ever performance, but a gathering of friends, a raise of the glass and a wonderfully warm vibe.

Wizz & Pete Stanley

Wizz seemed thoroughly relaxed throughout, even if the changeovers of guests (and consequent fiddling around with mic stands and DI boxes) were endearingly shambolic. Indeed, Wizz revelled in this slickness-free aspect of his personality by revealing an hilarious amateur video clip during the interval which comprised a whole series of Laurel & Hardy-esque faux pas with collapsing microphones and furniture during his arrival onstage at a show in Germany. There was a glimpse of the youthfull Wizz being interviewed by Alan Whicker and this use of audio visual material including a slide-show of vintage Wizz pics as a backdrop during the show proper and a lovely film clip compilation of Wizz and his heroes (Alex Campbell, Derroll Adams, Django Reinhardt et al) during the interval - was a nice touch, clearly appreciated by the audience.

Steve Tilston

Of the guests, Yorkshire man Steve Tilston was first on, playing superb harmony guitar and lead licks to a song from Wizz's most recent studio masterpiece, Lucky The Man, which John Renbourn (absent on the night) had played on record. Steve took the pressure off Wizz with a brief solo set before Jacqui McShee came on to perform, in duet with Wizz, the two songs to which she had contributed vocals on 'Lucky The Man': the traditional 'Omie Wise' and the old-time novelty song 'Would You Like To Take A Walk?' - the latter, a vocal call-and-response with some odd twists, appearing somewhat challenging to play and sing live! But, hell, it was enough to see these two legendary talents onstage together.

Jacqui McShee

While the first half may have been a tad 'bitty', yet still great fun, things moved into fifth gear during the second half, with Simeon Jones' driving harmonica and sinuous sax going down a storm. Wizz himself seemed more sure of the material and more comfortable with his playing partners - Simeon, banjo man Pete Stanley and blues guitarist Gary Rickard - during this set.

Gary Rickard

By the end of the night there could be no doubt that Wizz Jones is a man still very much on top of his game - and who had laid on a great night for all concerned. That the venue was a sell-out from an early stage is testament to the regard in which he's held, in spite of a career which has inexplicably remained just below the parapets of real fame. Still, cult hero or household name, long may the live performances and recorded works of this admirable, congenial and gifted fellow continue to be available for those who seek true quality and experience in this most fickle of industries.

Happy birthday Wizz!

Colin Harper


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