One Fair Summer Evening by Nanci Griffith

1988

There was a shooting in Plymouth a couple of days ago and six people, including the gunman, were killed. 93 more people have died in this country within 28 days of testing positive with COVID. Gerd Muller, the German footballer who scored the winning goal in the 1974 World Cup Final has died. 304 people have died in Haiti after an earthquake. The one thing all human beings have in common is that we are all going to die and so I probably become immune to sadness when reading the news. None of my friends have died and yet, learning of Nanci Griffith’s’ death yesterday has left me quite upset.

It’s statistically likely that reading of the death of my musical heroes is going to become increasingly common. A musician in the 1960s was probably in their 20s and so 60 years later, they will be in their 80s. Some died way too young. John Lennon, Tim Buckley, Dennis Wilson, Richard Manuel, Gavin Clark. There have been a number of deaths this year including

  • Gerry Marsden (Gerry and the Pacemakers) Died on January 3rd. Aged 78
  • Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge) January 13th. Aged 76
  • Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls). January 13th. Aged 69
  • Hilton Valentine (The Animals). January 29th. Aged 77
  • Elliot Mazer (produced 10 Neil Young albums). February 7th. Aged 79
  • Mary Wilson (The Supremes). February 8th. Aged 76
  • Chick Corea (Miles Davis’ band). February 9th. Aged 79
  • Gene Taylor (The Blasters). February 20th. Aged 68
  • Chris Barber. March 2nd. Aged 90
  • Bunny Wailer (The Wailers). March 2nd. Aged 73
  • Alan Cartwright (Procul Harum). March 4th. Aged 75
  • Lou Ottens (invented the cassette tape). March 6th. Aged 94
  • Don Heffington (Lone Justice). March 23rd. Aged 70
  • Rusty Young (Poco). April 14th. Aged 75
  • Mike Mitchell (The Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”)). April 16th. Aged 77
  • Les McKeown (Bay City Rollers). April 20th. Aged 65
  • Pervis Staples (The Staples Singers). May 6th. Aged 85
  • Florian Pilkington-Miksa (Curved Air). May 20th. Aged 70
  • Byron Berline (Flying Burrito Brothers). July 10th. Aged 77.
  • Phil Spector. January 16th. Aged 81
  • Chuck E Weiss (no longer in love with Rickie Lee Jones). July 19th. Aged 76
  • Nanci Griffith. August 13th. Aged 68

None of these have affected me in the way that Nanci Griffith’s death has. I haven’t bought a new Nanci Griffith album for nearly 20 years and I was surprised to observe how much her death upset me. I think that one of the reasons that I feel particularly sad about her death is that she was able to form a close personal connection with her audience. Cynics would say that this was just an act but I do believe that, when performing in front of an audience, the energy flowed two ways: she gave a lot of herself and the warmth and love that she gave out was reflected back to her by her fans.

I saw Nanci Griffith perform live a number of times. Once, with John, we were high up in the Gods of The London Palladium and we could really identify with the phrase “From A Distance”. Another time, Roo and I went with a friend of hers called Sheila, and we were squashed into a small standing space near the front of The Cambridge Corn Exchange. That night, Nanci Griffith gave a magical performance of songs from “Other Voices | Other Rooms”. The most memorable occasion was with Ben and Anne who also brought along their charming ten year old daughter who was a huge fan of Nanci Griffith. She sung along to a lot of the songs until the curmudgeonly miserable old git sitting in front of us turned round and asked her to stop. While I do have a smidgen of sympathy for this guy, her singing was not especially loud and sounded quite charming to me. Anyway, on the way out, he apologised and so I guess he felt guilty about being unpleasant to a ten year old Nanci Griffith fan.

“One Fair Summer Evening” was recorded live, in front of an audience at a club in Houston, called Anderson Fair over two nights in 1988. She plays acoustic guitar and is backed by a bass guitar, keyboards and harmony vocals.

“Deadwood, South Dakota” is slow paced and showcases the full range of Nanci Griffith’s voice. The song was written by Eric Taylor, who was married to Nanci Griffith for six years up until the time she released her first album. It tells the story of a group of men, sitting around in a bar, swapping stories and thanking “the Lord for the land that they live in, where the white man does as he pleases”.

“More Than A Whisper”, which follows, is a beautiful song about a woman who is living alone and having to deal with unrequited love; she is desperate for more than a whisper from the object of her affections.

“I Would Bring You Ireland” is even more stunning in which the singer is in Dublin and finding it beautiful. However, her former lover is in Amarillo and she wishes that she could be reunited. The melody and the quality of Nanci Griffith’s singing makes this especially moving.

One of the most charming songs on this album is a version of “Love At The Five And Dime” which has a long spoken introduction, explaining her love of Woolworths’ stores. Over some seemingly bland acoustic guitar picking she explains how, as a teenager, she would pop into Woolworth’s to pick up “unnecessary plastic objects”. Every now and again, she plays a harmonic on her guitar and she explains that this is the sound a Woolworth’s elevator makes when it stops at a floor. In the VHS recording of the concert that I bought at the time, she raised her eyebrows and gives a cheeky grin whenever she plays the note on her guitar. It’s utterly charming and a perfect introduction to this magnificent song about a couple who met in a Five And Dime store. The last note of the song is the harmonic, Nanci Griffith says “going up” and the audience explodes into appreciation.

The final song is “Spin On A Red Brick Floor” in which the charming demure voice of “Love At The Five And Dime” is replaced by Nanci Griffith’s more assertive rocking voice. It’s a mistake to regard her as a submissive person, simply because she is charming. Throughout her career, she was independent, determined and fiercely original.

“The Wing And The Wheel” is one of the most beautiful songs imaginable; a song of regret and wonder at lost dreams. The last lines are “The wing and the wheel are gonna carry us along and we’ll have memories for company, long after the songs are gone.”

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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