Thursday, 12 September 2013

Lovesong: Jim White: Jailbird

Jim White sings that a friend once told him: "Jim, what you cling to, that's the thing that you had best forget."

Hello there; it's a been a while. A busy summer has kept me from daily sharpening my quill. Enough money is now in the bank to have me considering new recordings. I'm thinking paper, comb and spoons...
'In Cassidy's Care' is out there and, although the reviews have been great, the sales are negligible.
Apparently festivals, mugs and t shirts are the way forward...

Di and I returned to the Aarhus Festival recently.
I played at the opening gala last year and made such an impression that I was invited back as a non playing guest... maybe next year. Di made a bigger impression last year, I was essentially her freeloading fool this time. She was asked to photograph the various events.
And there were some quality events to capture:

Wednesday; the visit started in fine style with an evening meal at the festival Director's home.
Folmer Jepsen is a real gentleman, a relaxed Prospero who casts a gentle spell, creating a wonderfully relaxing environment for all of his visiting artists.

That evening I got to sit and chat with Jim White whose music I have admired for years. Jim's clothes had been lost by KLM (they lost my guitar last year) and he was wearing his one and only party shirt, down which I somehow managed to tip a plateful of salad within 5 minutes of our meeting...
Dinner chez Jepsen is always a treat, as Folmer's excellent wife Anna also happens to be a celebrity TV chef (think Nigella without the pout, and then add personality and charm).

Her fabulous food is a wonder of unfamiliar combinations; curious concoctions of pickled fish, berries, nuts, dried hams and pulses, salads that you'd never imagine. The cheese board is brilliantly bewildering and Folmer ensures that the wine is fine and full flowing. And the following days flowed into a magical musical marathon:

Thursday: During the day we went to see Brian Lopez and Jim White in rehearsal with DeSoto Caucus, this year's 'house band'. Di wanted some candids of the preparations and this was a great opportunity. Facinating to see these two fine artists up close with unfamiliar musicians. We know Brian's talents well, having had him stay with us this summer whilst touring with KT. Jim live was a new kettle of fish and it was obvious that he and DeSoto connected. I was particularly impressed with their guitarist Nikolai, who made his acoustic Martin sound like a Les Paul; a truly great player. Don't be touching his beard though. Di did last year and received a growled warning 'not to make the same mistake twice'! These boys take their facial hair very seriously...
I'm hoping that I can work with Nikolai and Desoto some time in the future.
Their playing is easy, dynamic and quite brilliant. 

In the evening at the pre-opening gala John Cale performed his rarely heard 'Music For a New Society'. It's a compelling blend of homely hymns and feisty dirges that tested the audience's patience and tear ducts. Cale was in fine voice (is he really 70+?) supported by a string quartet, a local choir and his own visceral, vibrant band from New York.
Desoto Caucus supported the support; Beth Orton (who I'm thinking actually sacked the band during the soundcheck because... they were too loud... ), the wonderful Jim White, and KT Tunstall, whose new album has been on non stop rotation within these walls all summer.
Here's a sample of one of the songs that Jim White played; 'Jailbird':

Friday night Di and split; she had photography duties with Brian Lopez and KT who were playing outdoors on a bizarre wooden scaffold.
I went highbrow for the official gala opening with HM Queen Margrethe II and the Mayor of Aarhus. Get me! We were treated to Mahler's 6th with a massive orchestra, conducted by... It was all very sonorous and melancholic. Thank you Mr Mahler for having the percussionist crash his cymbals every 10 minutes or so; it kept a lot of folk awake.
A champagne reception followed during which Beth Orton confessed to me that 'Mahler bored the tits' off her. I was off my tits on champagne but kind of got what she meant...

Saturday, we were lucky to witness an intimate evening of 3 stunning individual performances from a rejuvenated and more confident Beth Orton, Sweden's delicate spirit, Anna Jarvinen and an earthy Al Spx from Cold Specks. They were all backed by a specially formed trio: Argentinian pianist Diego Schissi (who I played with last year), Swedish multi talent Gustaf Ljunggren and Bob Dylan's affable and dynamic double bassist Tony Garnier.

Sunday saw us chilling in Aarhus and awaiting our return flight. As we wondered the ancient streets we came across a fantastic second hand store called 'Soul Shine'. Di and I sat outside sipping tea for an age, chatting with the proprietor Katy and her hilarious assistant June. Katy told us that, in the evening when the shop is closed and the customers have left, the dresses in the shop dance for her. I brought sunglasses for Di and I and a pair of snakeskin shoes that will wow them in Beaconsfield.

We returned to Blighty for a brief break; essentially our summer holiday. After an idyllic few days in Devon, at The Watersmeet Hotel in Woolacombe Bay, we returned Monday evening to rendezvous with Jim White for his London gig at the Old Church St Pancras. I'd gifted my infamous Jesus Shirt to Jim at Aarhus; it seemed only courteous and proper after ruining his only other shirt. He pronounced it 'a good fit, but not my style' and resolved (with my blessing) to auction it off for charity at the end of his Kings Cross show. It was a great gig; Jim's seen some tough times but still retains a hopeful heart and a keen eyed interest in his fellow man. His songs are dark and moving vignettes that detail the exotic bible belt spanning the American underbelly that he abides and thrives in. His stories are hilarious and breathtaking in their candour; often bleak or heart wrenching in their harsh focus, surely informed by sadness and regret, but delivered with wit and wisdom; cut deep with hope and admiration for the common man. Jim got £30 for the shirt by the way; about a quarter of what I paid for it 20 years ago. I nearly brought it back but decided it was best to let it continue on its new journey. I met the new owner and he committed to keeping me posted. I'd like to think that it will be re-energised by its freedom; maybe it might have a story akin to that accordion in Annie Proulx's 'Accordian Crimes'. I hope so. There's surely a song there. Jim put it best: "Hey sir, a wise decision to set the shirt free. As we grow older it's important to provide our psyches with gestures of fluidity.  Letting the shirt go was one such gesture.  I've sold many of my favorite shirts over the years, and kept the faith that the transaction was simply clearing space for something more meaningful." 

Here's The Independent's review of the gig below. 

I think it suits Jim fine, but I still love that shirt like no other...

Jesus Shirt

I watch you iron my shirts
Wishing that I could give
Such care to my labour
Not a perfect job
But a job well done
Done for the right reasons
Done for love
Done for the love of it
Done for the love of me

When you are done with love
I will be creased and crumpled

You have just finished my Jesus shirt
I love that shirt like no other
Yet I’m fearful of offending
By the wearing of it
And yet
When I wear it I am fearless
Out of myself
Above myself
Like no other

I know it’s there
Immodesty awaits
On a hanger in the wardrobe
The face of Christ
Smelling of mothballs
And promising everything


  1. Trev, sounds like you've ben having adventures! Makes my life seem so quiet.
    Jim White is a favourite in these quarters, particularly No Such Place which was on heavy rotation for a few years.
    I'd love to see John Cale as well. I've always been impressed when seeing him 'live' on the TV.
    Denmark is a place I'd love to revisit, too. I spent two summers working there in the eighties and almost ended up staying the second time. Never visited anywhere outside Copenhagen apart from Rosklide, though.

    1. I love 'No Such Place' too; amazed what the Morcheeba boys did with a couple of the songs. Jim is a gent who has a lot in common with that other master of understated candour, Sam Baker. I have all of his stuff and am currently revisiting the sonic wonders of his tales, particularly the wonderfully produced (Joe Henry take a bow) 'Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See'.
      Trying to find 'Songs for Drella' too as Cale left a lingering impression...
      Aarhus is apparently Denmark's 2nd city; it feels like a sleepy medieval town...

    2. On Cale - Love Drella. Do you have Fear? Well worth listening to. The first two songs are worth the price of the album - Fear is a Man's Best Friend and Buffalo Ballet.

  2. Ha! Those are the first two tracks on the excellent 'Island Years' compilation.

  3. They do.
    Have a look:

    1. Hell, they have the whole album! & all os Slow Dazzle, and looking closer, all of Helen of Troy, which I don't have. Plus extras. More of a 'collected' than a 'selected' works!

  4. Sounds like you know what you're getting for Xmas...