Roger McGuinn performing at The Glee Club Nottingham on Monday 10th November 2014
Images and Review by Kevin Cooper
The Byrds, Roger McGuinn’s seminal 1960’s band, had a huge sound with a chiming 12 string guitar and soaring complex harmonies. So you might think that McGuinn trying to pull of some of those songs in a solo setting might not work. But it does.
Whilst they were originally dressed up with pretty vocals and shimmering guitars that sometimes verged on the psychedelic, the songs themselves were sturdy enough to sit alone in a setting with just a voice and a guitar. McGuinn proved this numerous times tonight during his show at the Nottingham Glee Club.
When the first chords of that magnificent 12 string Rickenbacker rang from off the stage, we were instantly transported, not just back in time, but into the mind of an iconic musical genius. Roger McGuinn walked on stage with a grin that stayed with him until he walked off after his encore.
McGuinn was also smart enough to know that the audience members did not just want to hear the hits, they wanted a trip down memory lane. He wisely kicked off with the Bob Dylan tune, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), which he covered for the Easy Rider soundtrack, followed by Ballad Of Easy Rider from the same film. We were treated to nearly two hours of great songs like Old Plank Road and Paddy West, and a great version of Pretty Saro, and a rousing take on Rock Island Line.
In spite of the fact that no-one could possibly count how many times he has played Mr Tambourine Man, the thrill of its 1965 arrival could be felt close to 50 years later in the ghostly chime of McGuinn’s resigned return to it. The ringing opening chords of Turn! Turn! Turn! still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and even with its acoustic flamenco makeover, Eight Miles High remains a gripping musical journey.
Even at 72, McGuinn’s voice is a cool and smooth, albeit a little fragile, tenor that can carry a venue like The Glee Club. In some ways, his voice shined even more without the pretty cluster of harmonies The Byrds employed. He also showcased his still formidable guitar picking skills on songs such as Pretty Boy Floyd from The Byrds’, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.
After a brief intermission, he returned with Lover Of The Bayou, and then weaved a tale using the character from that song to introduce others including Chestnut Mare and Beach Ball.
As you will know if you have seen McGuinn in the last 20 years, his storytelling is as good as his songs. He had this enraptured audience laughing as he regaled stories about Bob Dylan. Another couple of memorable stories concerned his love and admiration for Gene Clark as well as the formation of The Byrds when he was introduced to “a chubby kid called Dave (Crosby)”; all of which made the audience laugh.
As the progressed, the amazing scope of this man’s career became apparent. His singing was flawless, his guitar playing was magical and his story telling fascinating. All too soon the evening was being brought to a close with an encore of May The Road Rise To Meet You, and without any fuss, he was gone.
An evening spent with McGuinn alternating between his 7 string acoustic guitar and his trusty trademark Limited Edition Rickenbacker, was an honour, and to flip through the back pages of his illustrious career with him, was an absolute privilege.