Street Arts Project fundraiser: "The Last Waltz" by WLDFLWRS and friends

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Street Arts Project fundraiser: "The Last Waltz" by WLDFLWRS and friends

Review

As foretold in my recent account of my visits to two workshops for Streets Arts Project, the professional musicians who facilitate them came together on Saturday (in two shows such was the demand & level of support) at Stratford upon Avon United Reformed Church to raise funds for the project.

The theme was a tribute to the final concert by The Band (filmed by Martin Scorsese) in 1976 and featured a core band of Katherine Abbott (acoustic guitar), Jack Blackman (electric guitar), Wes Finch (bass guitar) and Jono Wright (electric guitar) performing as WLDFLWRS augmented by friends including Ben Haines on drums (I remarked to him afterwards how rarely I get to see him play rock music on a full kit: which was a treat), Adam Barry on keyboards (essential for the set in question) & vocals and James Maguire on saxophone (he also took a verse as vocalist on "The Weight") in addition to others, whom I'll name later, as vocalists.

With so many people whom I'm used to hearing as lead vocalists on their own material, this was a definite supergroup, but what impressed me was not only their sense of democratic collaboration (I certainly wasn't expecting egos from people who give so much in terms of working with homeless & vulnerable amateur artists) but how their voices, blended beautifully together with the help of sound engineer George Adams, emulated the seamless harmonies of The Band: not least on the multiple parts in "The Weight". What a great metaphor this created to reflect the values of the project overall.

Taking this & the church atmosphere (a canny choice to go with this venue rather than the adjacent Playhouse where the workshops and Street Arts album release concerts are held) into account (and of course it was on Easter Saturday), the deeply spiritual aspects of the songs were emphasised: pretty appropriate given the philosophies of Street Arts. Set closer (at least for the first set) was "I Shall Be Released" (with Katherine on lead vocals) and for this, Adam ascended (literally) up to the church organ. You couldn't wish for a more fitting finale.

Obviously recreating the entire original concert (it ran for over five hours) wasn't terribly practical, so WLDFLWRS opted for highlights of some of the best known songs by The Band, opening, as with the original gig, with "Up On Cripple Creek" thence "The Shape I'm In", "It Makes No Difference", "This Wheel's On Fire", the highly appropriate song in Stratford "Ophelia", "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight".

If these well known & well loved songs demonstrated a sense of community which embraced those on stage and flowed out into the audience, paying tribute to the many guests who'd been part of the concert (including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr John, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond and many more), threw the spotlight back on individual singers, each with major challenges.

To me, the big highlights of this aspect were Nigel Clark's take on "Helpless" (close your eyes and it actually sounded like Neil Young was singing it): a performance of staggering power and impact and Katherine's version of the horrendously complex "Coyote". I think most performers would probably settle for just navigating Joni Mitchell's idiosyncratic song, yet Katherine gave a relaxed & natural sounding performance which again lived up to the original.

Something of a surprise was Generation Jones' (Jon Beynon & Geoff Carr) choice of  "Furry Sings the Blues": this fine song was omitted from both the film and soundtrack album (I have no idea why) and so I hadn't realised that Joni had played it on the night. It's good, even when you think you know the whole set, to have your expectations challenged in this way.

The next step for Street Arts will be the recording of the songs crafted in the most recent set of workshops. Look out for the subsequent release of their fourth album and its launch gig. They haven't yet got a further cycle of writing/recording planned (apart from anything it requires funding), but hopefully so valuable is the Street Arts project to not only the members of the project (many of whom were there in support: as was the Mayor of Stratford who is the patron on the charity) but the participating professional musicians and the many who support them as audiences, that the legacy of the work done & the values it possesses will long endure. 

Finally, much credit again to Street Arts founders Doug Armstrong & Jackie Lines, without whose initial vision & subsequent very hard work, none of this would have happened.

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