Wizz Jones' 65th Birthday
Friday 23rd April 2004, The Half Moon, Putney
A review by Colin Harper
Photos by Dave
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.
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.
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.
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!