In 1996, Martin turned forty and invited six of us, including Arthur, to Dublin to celebrate. We stayed in Dun Laoghaire and caught the DART into Dublin every evening. We had a brilliant time and on the day of his birthday, we had a great meal in Temple Bar after which we went to Whelan’s for some live music. I can’t remember who was playing but it felt like a brilliant “house band”. I really enjoyed going to Whelan’s, it felt like the perfect venue to see live music.
A few years later, Roo and I had a holiday in Dublin. We flew there but when we were set to return a week later, we learned of a baggage handlers strike and all flights were cancelled. At the time, Roo was a ward sister and had never had a day’s absence in her life; she was determined to make her shift the following day. We got a ferry to Holyhead, a taxi to Bangor and a train to London. We had tickets to see Allan Davies and we arrived at the theatre with our luggage but no tickets as we had assumed we would be going home before travelling up to London. We were let in, enjoyed the set, got the train back to Hassocks and made it to work the next day. Oh good.
To backtrack a little, our stay in Dublin was good but got off to a poor start when we checked in to the hotel and we were told that our room wasn’t ready but we could leave our bags in there if we wished. When we opened the door, the room was full of overflowing ashtrays and dirty dishes containing leftover meals. All week, we reckoned we could still smell the smoke in the room. While I’m not normally that susceptible to the smell of cigarettes (which always smelt like a good night out!), it was overpowering. Never mind, we were in Dublin. We went to Trinity College and saw not only The Book of Kells but also the cricket ground. We enjoyed the buskers on Grafton Street, the great pints of Guinness and, especially, a visit to Whelan’s. I was determined to go whoever was playing and we found out that Steve Forbert was playing there.
I knew next to nothing about Steve Forbert apart from the fact that he was mentioned in a great Loudon Wainwright III song called “Talking New Bob Dylan”. This song was about how any literate American singer songwriter that emerged in the Seventies was labelled as a “new Bob Dylan” by the press. Loudon Wainwright III wrote a great song about this in which one of the lines is “I got a deal and so did John Prine, Steve Forbert and Springsteen, all in a line.”
Steve Forbert has released nineteen studio albums and three live albums. His first album was released in 1978 and his latest was released a few months ago. His second album was called “Jackrabbit Slim” (which got to Number 20 in the Billboard Charts) and contains the single “Romeo’s Tune” (which got to Number 11). When Roo and I went to see him in Whelan’s, he was engaging, tuneful and just perfect for a good night out.
A few weeks later I bought “Mission Of The Crossroad Palms” and it’s got an amazing Side One. Just one of those sides of music that fit together seamlessly, varying the mood subtly whilst retaining a musical and lyrical concept. The sound of this album is similar to Josh Ritter, Jason Isbell, Steve Earle and possibly even Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen. The bass player on the album is Garry Tallent who has been a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1972. The keyboards are played by Benmont Tench who was a founding member of Tom Petty’s backing group, The Heartbreakers.
Side One Track One is “It Sure Was Better Back Then” in which we find out that he didn’t appreciate it when he was working. “I hated it, you know, and now I find I miss it“. Now things are much much worse. “Of course I had it bad but not as bad as this though”. It transpires later that it’s the feeling after a failed relationship that’s even worse than working on the railroad.
Track Two is “It Is What It Is (And That’s All)” in which Steve Forbert berates people complaining too much: “Some fool stuck on the runway says ‘Hell, it’s only me this happens to’“. As, Musical Guru Peter would say: “get over it”!
Track Three is “Is It Any Wonder” in which he yearns to get back with his lover. It’s no surprise that he’s still in love with her, considering how wonderful she is.
He played “Lay Down Your Weary Tune Again” at Whelan’s and that was the main reason I chose to buy this album as opposed to the other eight albums that he had released by the mid Nineties. I remembered it because of two things. Firstly, “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” is a Bob Dylan song although this is nothing like it. The song appears to be about someone who is promising to be faithful but Steve Forbert thinks otherwise: “your phone call says your sorry and the grapevine says you’re free”. The second reason I remembered this song is that one of the verses is “I got it down and felt relieved and Jane went off to work. It’s wooden soldiers Christmas time and Jane she is a clerk“. That last phrase, “Jane she is a clerk” is lifted straight from “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground.
Track Five is magnificent. “So Good To Feel Good Again”. He’s had enough. Things used to be good but they’re not now. It’s OK to say “get over it” but he still loves her. She says she will be faithful but he doesn’t believe her. Time to get outta here! “I had to get loose from those quarreling tongues” – he’s hit the high road and it feels great.
Of course these feelings don’t last and Side One ends with the quieter and more morose “Oh To Be Back With You” where his whispering vocals sound that they are so closely recorded you have to turn around to see if he actually is in the room with you.
Steve Forbert’s vocal mannerisms on this album may not be to everyone’s taste. He has a trick of stuttering slightly to make it sound like he’s laughing a little. I love it but I would understand if someone found it irritating. Despite the pain of the words, the music is uplifting and sunny.