Johnny Dickinson & John Renbourn

Live Review | The Rock, Maltby | Review by Allan Wilkinson

The new Rock at Maltby was full to the rafters tonight as people came from far and wide to see a true legend of the British folk scene.  Along with Davy Graham and Bert Jansch in the Sixties, John Renbourn was one of the true pioneers of the acoustic guitar in this country and helped to formulate the template for what is now considered the standard for finger picking style guitar.  If Graham and Jansch sparred over whose was the best version of “Anji”, Renbourn was just to the side, busy creating a hybrid of American blues with early English classical music, dabbling nonchalantly with Medieval era styles to boot.  Not to mention coming up with something called The Pentangle along the way.  A young man who would no doubt have come into contact with Renbourn during the ensuing years, or certainly some of the same American influences, would be Northumbrian musician Johnny Dickinson, who by his own admission, listened to virtually nothing post 1950 throughout his apprenticeship as a major league bottleneck guitar player.  Steeped in the country blues tradition, Dickinson plays the blues with an assured confidence and yet is never showy.  Tonight Johnny played steel guitar exclusively, utilising both standard finger picking and bottleneck styles. “Beach Road” from his debut album Castles and Old Kings brought the room to an absolute silence, no mean feat for a concert hall with a bar.  There is no question that Dickinson is a great guitar player, but one should not overlook his clear and engaging vocal delivery reminiscent, in my opinion, of a young Paul Rogers.  If the spirit of Davy Graham was present at the Rock tonight, it probably manifested itself most clearly in the way each of these guitar players tackled complex guitar styles from unlikely sources.  Dickinson borrowing from Hawaiian and even Japanese rhythms, applying the same intensity to those styles as he does to his familiar twelve bar fare.  Adapting “Courting is a Pleasure” as a Peggy Lee jazz standard is nothing short of inspired.  Renbourn was just as eclectic in his choice of songs and tunes covering the Archie Fisher inspired “The Snows They Melt the Soonest”, Joseph Spence’s strange Bahaman rhythms in “Great Dreams of Heaven” and Mose Allison’s sardonic humour in “Getting There”.  Renbourn invited Johnny to join him back on the stage towards the end of the night for the last few songs.  Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Blues” was given some of that now familiar Renbourn blues picking treatment, whilst Dickinson’s finger slide imitated McDowell’s trademark bottleneck style, finally bringing together two of this countries’ best players.  It’s not all American music though by any means and Dickinson treats traditional Irish folk songs as fairly as his apparent first love, the Blues.  His treatment of “She Moved Through the Fair” was beautifully rendered with tastefully underplayed guitar accompaniment.  ‘Atmospheric’ is the word I’m looking for.  So irresistible is Fred McDowell to these two guitarists that they chose to close with another one of his songs, a pretty faithful reading of “I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down” with each guitarist weaving his own particular magic through this blues foot tapper with ease.  It doesn’t get more laid back than this in the Rotherham Delta.  With a full house reminiscent of the old Rock days – I think it’s probably time to refer to the Wesley Centre in Maltby as ‘The Rock’, without the ‘New’ and any reference to the barn in Wentworth as the ‘Old Rock’ – one year on, the venue has come of age and with an encore of “Summertime” incorporating some exceptionally gorgeous bottleneck guitar playing, Renbourn and Dickinson brought the evening, if not quite the Winter, to a close.