Live Review | The Salutation, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson
The first time I sat up and listened to Dick Gaughan with any measure of interest was upon the release of A Handful of Earth way back in 1981. My first thought upon hearing the album was how the devil did he get his guitar to sound so good? My second thought was that I should go out and see this man at the earliest opportunity. To this day I’ve still not come across such a clear crisp acoustic guitar sound on any other folk record. Production credits go to Dick himself with the help of engineer Robin Morton and with more than a little help from his friends Brian O’Neill, Stuart Isbister and Phil Cunningham, and a classic was born. After another great album, this time a collaborative effort with Andy Irvine, the archetypal Scots meets the archetypal Irish, we discover another classic. Weaving through a wealth of beautiful traditional and contemporary folk songs, Dick found a perfect niche into which his large frame fitted perfectly. But the effect of Thatcher was beginning to take its toll on Dick Gaughan and he embarked on his own personal crusade, to stand up against the ongoing nonsense of Thatcherism and traditional song took a back seat on the road to socialism. Protest songs became important in that crusade and the ever-present influence of Woody Guthrie began to shine through, which still does to this day. Tonight, Dick Gaughan started his first set at the Sal with the perfect opener, not so much a protest song but a song of hope, a song that makes you look at yourself and your place in the world. Si Khan’s “What You do with What You’ve Got” is a song that should open every single folk night from now on, I insist! Dick has the remarkable ability to hold his audience spellbound with a handful of songs, each one telling its own unique story. That’s what you get with Dick Gaughan, story songs of such power and intensity that they cannot fail to capture your imagination. From “The Devil and Pastor Jack”, “Redwood Cathedral” and Pete Seeger’s anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” through to songs that are now known throughout the world of contemporary folk music as definitive versions by the master story teller, “Song for Ireland”, “Now Westlin’ Winds” and “Both Sides the Tweed”, Dick Gaughan delivered in five star fashion. Dick Gaughan makes no apologies for his nationalism, a proud Scot who insists he has the right – not to claim that he and his fellow Scots are better or bigger or wiser or anything than anyone else – but that they are ‘different’ and proud of it. He quite charmingly announces to his Yorkshire audience, with tongue firmly in cheek, “I have always been a fervent campaigner for England’s independence” and goes on to sing the beautiful “Both Sides the Tweed”, which says it all. “Let the love of our land’s sacred rights, to the love of our people succeed, let friendship and honour unite and flourish on both sides the Tweed”. A common complaint that we, south of the border that is, have about Dick Gaughan’s delivery, and I’ve heard it time and time again, is that we don’t understand his strong Leith accent. I beg to differ; I understand every single word, and with the strength of delivery he adopts, I’m under no illusion that he means it one hundred and ten percent. Ruth and Gary Wells provided support for the evening, with a half hour set which simply flew by. It’s always great to hear Ruth’s own songs and their eclectic pick of the best songs on the block. Natalie Merchant’s “Motherland” is a firm favourite and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was a great choice; you don’t often hear that in a folk club! It’s also always good to hear “Fairy Tale of New York” at anytime of the year, but particularly in December; the song is just as good, but with that added flutter of seasonal cheer. Finally, the shocker of the night, tonight was the last ever Live at the Sal night. The club is to move to the nearby Regent Hotel, famously the hotel that The Beatles stayed in during Beatlemania and home of the trendy bar Abbey Road. The acoustic nights will begin in January. So for now, its goodbye to The Sal.