TELL IT LIKE IT WAS: A PETER BELLAMY MEMORIAL CONCERT - Musical Traditions Club via Zoom - 17 November 2021

Tue, 02/01/2022 - 11:29
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Instigated by London’s Musical Traditions Club and compèred by Mossy Christian, with tech assistance from Matt Quinn, this Zoom-based evening was certainly ambitious and attracted nearly 150 subscribers from right around the globe, including members of Peter’s family. The attraction was obviously the man himself and his music, and also the galaxy of guest performers, each of whom was given around 25 minutes to perform and reminisce. Mossy did an excellent and relaxed job of the MCing, and the whole evening stuck pretty well to time.

Mossy kicked the event off with a couple of Bellamy songs, and the second one, Kipling’s Widow At Windsor, seemed to set the tone for the evening. Brian Peters then took the stage with entertaining reminiscences of his contacts with Pete Bellamy and included a couple of songs from Walter Pardon (Rambling Blade) and Sam Larner (Napoleon’s Dream); both of these singers were, of course, immense influences on PB, and Brian’s songs provided a fine tribute to all three of them.

The next guests had absorbed a lot of influence from Peter over the years; the Wilsons have always had a fair bit of Bellamy in their repertoire, and did a couple of his Kipling-derived songs, including Big Steamers; there was a lot of Kipling throughout the evening, plus Sportsmen Arise from the Coppers via Bellamy. The Wilsons’ performance was slightly marred for me by some technical problems, but that seems almost inevitable at some point during such an ambitious evening.

Then we had a real treat: a short set from Heather Wood in New York, who had known Peter longer than almost any of us, when they were both part of the ground-breaking Young Tradition. Her singing was as impeccable as ever and her three songs, culminating with Follow Me Home, were entrancing.

Next up was a surprise tribute from Martin Carthy, not looking too bad following knee surgery a few days earlier. He mentioned an aspect of Peter’s life that, as a long-time fan of his music, always puzzled me: how was it possible that a man who was bursting with so much talent and innovation and who achieved such accolades found it so difficult to get bookings at clubs? I guess it had a lot to do with the “marmite” nature of his performance – you either loved it or you didn’t; middle of the road he was not. Martin also highlighted the sheer bravery of his singing.

Damien Barber, whose early musical journey had been hugely influenced by PB, was next. Damien’s always capable of conjuring up a vibrant picture of his mentor, and he did just that with Sam Larner’s Dockyard Gate and Peter’s version of Down The Moor. But it was Bellamy’s own Black And Bitter Night that really did it for me. It was the first mention of The Transports, and to my surprise it turned out to be almost the only one of the evening.

Gina Le Faux gave a first-rate rendition of a Scots air and a couple of jigs, and I very much enjoyed her version of what I know as Bruton Town, all interspersed with her impressions of Peter Bellamy from her then perspective as a budding performer.

Jon Boden’s first song was the one which (as a tenant farmer) I always enjoyed most when Peter sang it – his interpretation of Kipling’s paean to farm workers, The Land. And Jon did a great job of it, as he did with Courting Too Slow and Files On Parade before finishing with that Bellamy classic, On Board A Ninety Eight.

All this formed a preamble to what was, naturally, the high point of this memorable and unique concert; the grand finale was provided by a Doc Rowe recording of the man himself, made (I believe) in 1988, singing Van Diemen’s Land and then finishing with one of his own long-time favourites, Santa Fe Trail, and its almost impossibly high final “yo ho”. What a way to finish a fantastic evening.

Peter Bellamy wore his emotions and his opinions on his sleeve, and the concert provided a fairly full resumé of most of the complex facets of his character and career. I’m not a big fan of Zoom, but where else could you get Martin Carthy alongside Heather Wood and Damien Barber? It did great credit to his memory.

Any chance of an edited DVD of the evening?

John Waltham