Guy Clark

Live Review | Memorial Hall, Sheffield | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Whenever you get the chance to see someone of the stature of Guy Clark in one of our towns or cities, you approach that city thinking to yourself, Guy Clark’s in town. There’s a presence. When you get to the bar of the venue you become increasingly aware that you are surrounded by a bunch of people who have one thing in common, they share an insatiable appetite for good songs and you know instinctively, they are just about to have a feast. Sheffield’s Memorial Hall is sneakily tucked away behind the imposing City Hall, which provides a smaller intimate three hundred seater venue, a much more conducive setting for a Guy Clark gig. Guy was joined by long time sideman Verlon Thompson on guitar who has been with Guy more or less since the Old Friends album back in 1988. Guy Clark is a writer of songs, or to put it in his own words, a ‘songbuilder’. Many songbuilders are fortunate to have one or two gems in their repertoire, songs that just make you go weak at the knees. In some rare cases, the more prolific writers amongst us manage to come up with probably more than their fair share of classics, indeed you have to take your socks off to count them. Guy Clark on the other hand, appears to have shed-loads, and one after the other they came out tonight. Opening with “The Cape”, Guy exposed an uncommonly frail voice, which may just be down to tour exhaustion, but fortunately it did strengthen during the course of the set. The Texan doesn’t come over as someone who visits the gym all too frequently and therefore a weaker than normal voice fits well into the overall laid back approach to life that we have all come to love about Guy Clark. He doesn’t seem to struggle with nerves, in fact it’s almost as if he’s playing in his own front room. The informality of a Guy Clark gig can be summed up in his tongue-in-cheek introductory statement ‘we have no set list, we have no clue, we have no fear’. Classics such as “LA Freeway”, “Texas 1947” and “Home Grown Tomatoes” (a love song, according to Guy) were instant crowd pleasers, as was the only new song “Magdalene” from Clark’s most recent album Workbench Songs. Predictably, having seen Guy Clark personally a handful of times previously, he allowed his set to be something of a request show, and as long as he could remember the song, he would sing it. The requests poured in and were immediately answered with no argument. “Dublin Blues”, “Stuff That Works”, “Desperados Waiting for a Train”, “Ramblin’ Jack and Mahan” and “Boats to Build” were all water off a duck’s back. Guy also peppered his set with anecdotal memoirs of how some of his songs came to be written, most notably “LA Freeway” where we learn exactly what kind of man the infamous landlord was, before bidding him farewell and hitting the road. One of the most poignant moments during the evening was when Guy performed “The Randall Knife”, a moving tribute to his late father, which he unexpectedly abandoned the PA for, in favour of singing acoustically to a room that wouldn’t really qualify for borderline acoustic status. I think Guy wanted us to pay attention, and so we did. Guy left the stage temporarily to allow Verlon Thompson the space to showcase one or two of his own songs “Joe Walker’s Mare”, “Everywhere Yet” and a song that pulled at the heart strings “He Left the Road”, a song that initially sounded like a tribute to John Fogerty with its familiar opening lick, but transpired to be a story of a young man’s fatal drive whilst listening to “Proud Mary” just before leaving the road for the last time. After Verlon’s short set of solo songs, Guy returned to the stage to round off the evening with Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is to Fly”, a fitting tribute to his old friend and a final encore of “Let it Roll” which prompted an unexpected yet thoroughly deserved standing ovation.