The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


Way to Blue - The Songs of Nick Drake (live in the Barbican Theatre, London)

Nick Drake

Review Snapshot: Curated by Joe Boyd, various musicians gather to pay tribute to Drakes unique songwriting.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
Way to Blue has just completed a three date tour of the UK, featuring a five-piece house band and seven-piece string section. The Barbican theatre was sold out on Saturday night with the show taking on the same format as the Leonard Cohen tribute a few years ago – everyone takes a turn, one or two songs each, and then collaborations at the end.

The singers featured on the show were chosen to display the versatility in Drake’s material. Robyn Hitchcock performs “Parasite” with electric guitar, Vashti Bunyan turns “Which Will” into a jaunty baroque string led piece, Lisa Hannigan transforms “Black Eyed Dog” into an upbeat stomper and pianist Zoe Rahman gave “One of These Things First” the jazz instrumental treatment, which worked really well, sounding a little like something from Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown soundtrack.

One of the highlights of the night was an unannounced guest, who turned out to be Harper Simon. I’d never heard of this guy before but it didn’t take long to connect the dots and realize he was the son of Paul. Apart from having a similar guitar and vocal technique, he was short and stout like his old man. He did a beautiful version of “From The Morning” that made you imagine what could have happened if Simon had teamed up with Drake rather than Garfunkel.

Another highlight was tribute show darling Teddy Thompson who performed “River Man” and “Poor Boy”, aided by four of his co star female singers for the chorus. Songs like these, played with full band in a large theatre gives you even more of an appreciation for Drake’s song writing. He didn’t simply write songs which could then be tarted up with a band. He had an ear for hooks and was more than capable of writing songs for large rooms, given the right direction. But as we know, his talent as a songwriter was not matched as a performer. Vashti Bunyan seemed swamped in her performance on the night; her voice, soft and breathless, could not rise above the house band, despite them playing as muted as possible. As a result, the focal point of the performance failed to make an impression. This may well have been the case with Drake as well, had he undertaken an ambitious tour.

The low point of the night belonged to Scott Mathews. A popular draw with the crowd, but he showed the least sensitivity to Drakes material. Performing “Day Is Done”, at times the song veered too much into Rick Astley territory. Some singers rely too much on the “Whoa Bodyform!” moment.

The showed ended with a beautiful performance of “Voice from the Mountain” with everyone returning to the stage and then finally Joe Boyd, the curator of the show, paying tribute to Drake, Robert Kirby (Drakes string arranger who passed away recently) and Kate McGarrigle.

Plenty of cameras in the theatre on the night, expect a possible DVD release in the future.

Peter Teehan

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