I must admit, I never thought I’d end up at the Cross Kings pub in King’s Cross, North London. It used to be a place called The Backpackers, and every time I drove past it there appeared to be 200 Australians in a heap outside. Very macho, very rugby. Not really for me.
Last night, though, the place was taken over by my colleague Pat, who books a folk night called In The Pines and who had secured a couple of people I’ve been dying to see for a couple of years now, James Blackshaw and PG Six. Blackshaw, as I mentioned here the other day, is a quite fantastic guitarist, and having seen him live I can definitely assert that he’s a match for one obvious contemporary, Jack Rose.
Unlike Rose, Blackshaw (from somewhere on the outskirts of London I think, though he spends most of his time touring the States as far as I can tell) favours a 12-string acoustic, which he hunches over so low that his head sometimes rests on it. Like I said last time, the closest analogue I can find for his rich, mystical playing is probably Robbie Basho.
He starts with a new, untitled song dedicated to someone called Dusty, and it stretches out for something like 15 minutes of interlocking, recurring, bewitching melodies. It’s quite extraordinary. Then he plays something from last year’s awesome “O True Believers” album, which is very nearly as good. I think it may have been “Transient Life In Twilight”: right now I’m playing that song on a live CD I bought at the show, “Waking Into Sleep”. Really, I can’t recommend this man highly enough.
After Blackshaw, New York resident Pat Gubler, aka PG Six, played a pretty wonderful set, too. According to the stats on my iPod, it seems like I’ve played his second album, “The Well Of Memory”, more than anything else in the past couple of years, and there are plenty of selections from that tonight.
In case you haven’t come across Gubler’s music (we’ve featured a couple of his tunes on Uncut CDs in the past year), he’s currently moving away from the Janschish acid folk of his earlier records, towards a very woody, early ’70s canyon craftsmanship. When he plays “Bless These Blues” tonight, he self-deprecatingly notes that he always imagines Al Green singing it, though in its stripped-down incarnation tonight it feels closer to an unlikely Jackson Browne/Davey Graham hybrid.
Where Blackshaw is a fluid, meditative player, Gubler is much more clipped, fastidious. I get the impression he’s maybe a bit nervous, even in as relaxed and intimate a setting as this, and that the reveries of his records may take a lot more effort than they betray. He told me a few months ago that this year’s “Slightly Sorry” LP, for all its air of open-hearted mellowness, was actually written by following the exercises set out in a songwriting manual by Jimmy Webb.
It’s a neat conceit, and Gubler never sounds clinical, thanks to the pervading warmth of his tone; he does a great version of Jerry Garcia‘s “Loser”. Lying on the floor, gently enraptured, it’s the best thing like this I’ve seen for a while.