Live Review | The Fishpond, Matlock Bath | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Traditionally, the village of Matlock Bath is adorned with colourful lights during the month of October making the already pretty Derwent Gardens and surrounding area even more pretty than usual. Standing in the shadow of the Heights of Abraham, it’s almost Jimmy Stewart’s Bedford Falls in Frank Capra’s seasonal It’s a Wonderful Life movie, but without the snow. It’s Lapland but without the foreboding chill and it’s Blackpool without the obligatory hen party. It seemed the perfect setting for the first try-out night for the Nottingham-based Cosmic American promotion team, who are currently rippling out towards the suburbs from their city epicentre in order to bring this brilliant music to the masses. Although the night was disastrous in terms of numbers, it was positively triumphant in terms of quality, with two outstanding acts to kick-start a new season of live music events under the Cosmic American banner. We could sit down and talk for hours about the reasons why people choose to avoid venturing out to live gigs these days and our arguments will no doubt venture down familiar roads, such as Credit Crunch Crescent, Spotify Street and the old favourite Apathy Avenue, but it seems that the potential local audience was either unaware or not remotely bothered. Even the telly addicts amongst us must have caught Jools Holland’s live Later show earlier in the week, where appetites would surely have been whetted as Diana Jones hurried into the spotlight to perform “All God’s Children” in one of the show’s quality, yet all too short, acoustic moments. Nashville based Diana Jones was a great choice to get things started at the Fishpond, already a thriving music venue, albeit in the process of getting off to a new start after some months of closure. With some exposure this week on Later as well as her unforgettable concert appearance at the Barbican in January, televised as part of the Folk America season under the title Hollerers, Stompers and Old Time Ramblers along with The Wiyos, CW Stoneking, Cedric Watson and Bijoux Creole and Allison Williams and Chance McCoy and hosted by Seasick Steve, Diana is now getting the recognition in this country that she deserves. I spoke to Diana this summer about the importance of radio and television exposure and she confessed that her reputation in this country is largely due to Bob Harris. “He’s the reason that I have a job here” she told me backstage at the Cambridge Festival in August. Whispering Bob’s role in championing this music is pretty much incalculable as are the endeavours of promoters who jump through hoops to bring these artists to our doorsteps. Equipped with an acoustic guitar affectionately named Roger and an as yet un-named vintage Gibson tenor, Diana started with “My Beloved”, a song from her My Remembrance of You album of 2006, Diana performed a selection of songs from both this and her subsequent release Better Times Will Come (2009) including the title song and the now very familiar “If I Had A Gun”, co-written by herself together with Rebecca Folsom, Celeste Krenz and Elizabeth Barnez, a line from which forms the title of the new Gretchen Peters/Tom Russell collaborative album One to the Heart, One to the Head. “It scares the guys a little” Diana informed me in Cambridge, going on to say “it resonates with so many people, men and women, for different reasons”. The song has subsequently become Diana’s signature song. Drawing on such distinctive styles of American music including old time, country blues and the mountain music of Tennessee, Diana Jones carries an air of authenticity not unlike Gillian Welch and Iris DeMent, both of whom she is frequently compared to, and nowhere more convincingly than on the unaccompanied “Cold Grey Ground” and “Satan”, which was tonight preceded by the ambiguous admission, “I had a little run in with the Devil last year.” Anaïs Nin’s suggestion that Blake was cracked and ‘that’s where the light shone through’, was the inspiration behind “Cracked and Broken”, one of Diana’s most beautiful songs, which tonight measured up equally to her performance of the song on the Better Times album. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song isn’t whisked away to recording studios across the globe to be cut by many a discerning artist sometime soon. One or two of Diana’s songs have already found such ‘legs’ and have been recorded by other artists such as Joan Baez, who popped “Henry Russell’s Last Words” on her Day After Tomorrow album. Diana pointed out to me her admiration for the folk troubadour explaining “I’m such a huge fan of hers from so long ago, I’m inspired by her, she got me through lonely nights, she’s just such a staple in my world”. The heart breaking “Pony”, with its Native American chant coda, provided tonight’s overall performance with probably its defining moment. It almost made me feel slightly sorry for the aforementioned telly addicts and couch potatoes who missed it all, well almost. “After The Sparrow”, a new song to finish the night, Diana returned to sing a further three songs for the encore, the requested “Ballad of the Poor Child”, the timely “Better Times Will Come”, which Diana introduced with hopeful optimism, explaining that better times are definitely coming in America, now that they have a President who can speak “more than four words in a row and that can all be found in a dictionary” and finally a brand new song called “The Little Song”, which by all accounts was the song’s public debut, that no one up until now had heard, not even the dog. Lucky us.