I haven’t seen many artists multiple times. I never saw The Beatles live, though my pal from school went with his gran! I have seen The Stones twice and there are many artists I love whose gigs I’ve never managed to make. As any musician will tell you, it’s always a bit of a busman’s holiday. We know there’s much to love at the gig but equally we’ve seen the Wizard behind the curtain and we know roughly where the smoke and the mirrors are placed. However I wholeheartedly confess that does not stop me being surprised and delighted by a few songs sung and played in a tiny venue by an artist I’m seeing for the first time. It’s happened enough times for me to know I should never dismiss the possibility of something wonderful occurring when the house lights go down.
Of the artists I’ve seen more than once, Neil Young is in the multiple category. In 45 years or so, however, (that sounds such a long time when you write it down) I’ve only seen him four times. There were two great nights, one was good and the other I fear was maddeningly so over indulgent with guitar solos, prolonged endings and feedback I left early. It was with some satisfaction that I realised I was one of hundreds all heading out before the final number. I hope that’s not the last time I get to see Neil as, over the course of these many years, I’ve always enjoyed what he does. No one can make the album you really want to hear all the time. Everyone should be allowed a little musical wandering; so I have no prescribed Neil repertoire I’d want him to pursue, but, and it’s a big but, I enjoy when he goes country.
It’s always been there of course. There’s the ragged roots of his first Crazy Horse elpee, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere…how country noir is Down By The River? The Louvins would have been proud. On Harvest it all sounded so down home you’d almost imagine he’d cut it in Nashville. He had. Even on the dark, mourn-filled, hash-hazed Tonight’s The Night there’s an atmosphere of a dilapidated western Honky Tonk. In this case it’s after hours, the spangly suits and hats have been hung up for the night, drink’s been taken, smoke inhaled and the house band are playing what they really feel.
So it goes with Neil. One minute he’s dueting with Linda Ronstadt or Emmylou Harris and the next he’s discovered computers, or the blues or invented grunge. It’s a wild ride on which you may have to sit through a few bumpy patches while you get to the place you’re heading.
Neil Young turned seventy five last week. There are so many country stops along the journey we thought it only fair to hand over the choice of what we’d play to you folks. I’m grateful for all your suggestions which we’ve tried to include. I’ve also chosen a few myself which we will sprinkle across this week’s show.
As well as that we will play you some fine new things from Julia Jacklin, Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell, Caitlin Cantry, Amy Ray and HC McEntire. It all starts at the usual time of five past eight this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me for another very special evening if you can.