Roger McGuinn – Glee, Nottingham 02/11/14

Creative Commons 2009 photo by Hans Werksman.

Another Post review that I haven’t got round to putting up here before, maybe because the gig was… underwhelming. I first saw Roger McGuinn playing with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan back in 1987, when I’d already been a huge fan for half my life. Saw him again in Sheffield, then Newark, doing versions of the show reviewed below. This was his last UK tour. Nine years on, now aged eighty, McGuinn is still touring the same show, in stark contrast to Bob Dylan, 81, whose shows have changed enormously in the fourteen times I’ve seen him since 1978. Still, like Donovan in the previous review, Roger’s more than earned the right to earn a crust in whatever way he wants. His contribution to folk-rock, space-rock, country-rock and beyond can never be equalled. His voice is inimitable. Don’t think I’d rush to see him again, though, even if I were to get the chance. This was one of the last gigs I went to with my oldest friend and most frequent gig companion Mike Russell, who was an even bigger Byrds fan than I am. I chose several Byrds songs to usher people in to his funeral, a year later.

Former Byrds’ frontman Roger McGuinn invented folk-rock, speeding up Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man and adding a back-beat to take it to number one. If he hadn’t, Dylan is unlikely to have come up with Like A Rolling Stone. For that alone, McGuinn can never be forgotten, but he also has one of the most distinctive voices of any sixties giant: sweet, plaintive, endlessly naive, with a trademark warble. 

Much of McGuinn’s best work was ahead of its time. The Byrds’ strongest albums, 5D and The Notorious Byrd Brothers, were commercial flops, and his solo career yielded no hits. For the best part of twenty years, McGuinn has been touring a solo show where he talks through his career and plays us the highlights. And it’s finally got to Nottingham. 

McGuinn is now a bespectacled 72 and his wavy hair is half concealed by a big black hat, which he only raises once, at the end of the evening. The show has changed since I saw it last. No longer chronological, it begins with Dylan’s My Back Pages. He describes how he invented folk-rock, psychedelic rock and then country rock. Gram Parsons is left out of the last story but Miles Davis gets a glowing mention. Discussion of Dylan threatens to dominate the evening: You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and the co-write Ballad of Easy Rider get early outings. McGuinn does a good Dylan impression and seems sanguine about how his career has been overshadowed by Dylan’s and, later, by Tom Petty, whose American Girl and co-write King of the Hill feature in the second half. 

‘It’s a bit like a gig in an old people’s home,’ a friend tells me, somewhat cruelly, in the interval. The 90 minute show is cosy, full of anecdotes McGuinn’s told a thousand times. Despite the presence of a Rickenbacker and a 13 string guitar, it lacks the oomph that a band can give these great songs. But there are a number of curios for the faithful, like a Leadbelly spiritual and the intriguing song Joni Mitchell gave him, Dreamland. There’s a quick trip to his Brill Building beginnings with Beach Ball. The origin of The Byrds anecdotes come at the end, featuring big hits like Eight Miles High, with a Segovia-esque intro and, of course, Mr Tambourine Man. He encores with Turn, Turn, Turn and his traditional closer, May The Road Rise To Meet You, after which there’s a standing ovation, as is his due.

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