In each of our lives there are landmark moments; some joyful such as births and birthdays, and others tragic, such as deaths and funerals.
American songwriters Darrell Scott and Amy Helm have something in common apart from their obvious talents; they have both recently traversed sad landmark moments in their lives – the loss of their respective fathers to illness and injury.
Country singer and songwriter Wayne Scott was killed in a tragic car accident on November 18, 2011. On his website his son Darrell Scott gave his late father a touching bittersweet epitaph written the day after his death. ‘I feel certain he was listening to music’ he wrote.
Levon Helm, the acclaimed drummer, party man and inimitable singer of the Band, finally lost his defiant fight against throat cancer on April, 19, 2012. He fought to the last, releasing two CD’s – Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt - after being diagnosed with the disease. What the two men really have in common, apart from the obvious musical ties, is that they are both obviously dearly missed by family, and fans alike.
So, at the O2 ABC last night I found it impossible to listen to Scott and Helm without thinking of their loss, and their parents, those wonderful musicians who came before them. What made that OK was that it was evident that I wasn’t the only one to do so, as both Scott and Helm brought their late fathers out on stage with them by singing their songs, and telling their stories to an appreciative Glasgow audience.
Darrell Scott is often described as a ‘musicians’ musician’. He is a Grammy-nominated artist, an award-winning songwriter and the session musician that you really, really want to be playing on your record, and his recent projects include Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, a brand new /old CD with bluegrass legend and long-time friend Tim O’Brien, and yet another year at Celtic Connections – a festival that he describes as one of his favourite festivals in one of his favourite cities.
It is a waste of time to try and pigeon-hole Darrell Scott – county, rock, bluegrass, blues, folk – genres just don’t seem to apply his music; but what can definitely be said is that he possesses those most elusive of talents - the ability to sing a song like he has lived it, play an instrument like he invented it, and take you along with him on his travels – and he possesses them in abundance. A husky bearded bear of a man, he is a virtuoso performer with a warm and powerful singing voice, slyly humorous and heartbreakingly honest, and no matter how many times you listen to him there is always new beauty and meaning to be found in the music he makes. He really is a performer not to be missed.
Following Scott on stage the diminutive Amy Helm seemed tiny, as in Stevie Nicks tiny – a petite blonde in high-heeled leather boots armed with a dark honey voice and a sweet mandolin, radiating humor and authentic rock and roll sexiness as she and her band made their debut at Celtic Connections. She laughed at loud wolf whistles from the crowd, and danced across the stage as she introduced her band Byron Isaacs, Justin Guip and Dan Littleton. Stripped down elegant percussion, tight harmonies, an intimate torch-singer approach to her songs whether original or covers, and sincere joyfulness defined her performance, as did a certain psychedelic approach to old time tunes that would have made her dad proud.
A highlight of the performance was their rendition of Calvary, a song written by Isaacs that Amy’s father Levon Helm covered on his album Dirt Farmer.
“You should listen to the real thing by Levon,’ said Isaac. ‘I feel like I am just covering it. That voice.”
At the end of the show, the grinning cheering audience filed out underneath that huge glitter ball hanging from the ceiling of the ABC and back out into the freezing Glasgow night. I had brought my dad to the show with me, and he was quite simply in love with Amy. It was a night for dads, it seemed, present and absent.
Some cultures think that a thing or person only truly dies when they are forgotten by the living, if this is so then it was good to think that both Wayne Scott and Levon Helm will never be truly lost - they are remembered with love and their songs are remembered too, and not just by their family. And that maybe somewhere in the shadows of the stage, they were enjoying listening to their songs being sung by their children every bit as much as the crowd had. They might have moved on, but their music remains in good hands.