- Miles Hedley
CHRIS WOOD at Mycenae House
Singer-songwriter Chris Wood is not only a great musician, he’s also one of our greatest ever lyricists. His ear for the sort of minutiae that fills even our darkest days is as sublime as his ear for the music he creates. He is, in short, the minstrel of the mundane – and I mean that as the highest of honours.
The full range of his matchless skills were on show in a wonderful gig organised by Global Fusion Music and Arts at Mycenae House when for two hours he gave us a tour of his extraordinary back catalogue that is often as funny and angry as it is wise and beautiful.
Take his song So Much To Defend. In eight short verses dripping with irony and affection he brings to life eight struggling individuals by referencing, among other things, cook-in sauces, choir practice, yoga, Skype, the Union Jack, “ever so slightly charred” tuna steaks, gyms, surfing, pepper-spray, camper vans, zero hours contracts, football, fishing, keeping chickens, Woody Guthrie, credit cards, charity runs, household bills, joblessness, mobile discos, bunk-beds and even lizards that eat their own skin. Brilliant!
He opened this memorable gig with Sofa, a tribute to a piece of furniture that has seen as much joy and unhappiness as any human family member, and followed it with his own stunning take on William Blake’s great poem Jerusalem.
He then launched into Brexiteers with a song about a neighbour on his allotment – “like a great many people who voted Leave he’s now dead”. It brought the house down.
Wood followed with a magnificent and witty hymn to lower-league football, Only A Friendly, before showing us how he got to work with hiphop artist Dizraeli and then won a huge laugh by telling the audience: “It’s the pension system that keeps the entire folk scene alive.”
He ended the first half on a more serious note with This Love Won’t Let You Fail, a simply gorgeous paean to his daughter.
The second half opened with a lovely midsummer version of the midwinter carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night followed by the haunting Strange Cadence, a powerful jeremiad about global warming.
Wood lightened the mood next with the Jake Thackeray song To Do With You, although he admitted singing other people’s songs made him feel inauthentic “like a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest”. So he immediately did another cover – Ronnie Lane’s Debris.
The next song was about winning the lottery – “would you leave the life you’d made?” – before Wood gave us the peerless So Much To Defend and continued with an elegy to Superman and a scathing assault on Cotswold second-homers called The Cottager’s Reply.
Wood then played The Fable Of The Wings as a tribute to his friend and mentor Martin Carthy – no stranger to Mycenae House himself – before doing another Ronnie Lane classic, The Poacher, and rounding off the gig with Dock Boggs’ US civil war song Bright And Sunny South.
It was an astonishing evening of words, music and the sheer force of Wood’s personality. And it’s hard to imagine many better concerts happening anywhere else this year.