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Trucking into town

From time to time, as part of a bonding process with our North American cousins and their descendants, the Stuart men-folk on both sides of the Atlantic swap suggestions for rock/pop gigs that might be worth attending.

About ten years ago we in Blighty received a strong recommendation from our North American counterparts regarding one Bill Kirchen, formerly guitarist with the legendary US rockabilly/trucking music band Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen, who was shortly to tour the UK.

[Here I used the word ‘legendary’ advisedly – I’d previously heard of (but not heard) Commander Cody’s outfit, which strictly speaking was more of a legend in their own state of origin than a household name around the globe].

We duly set off to a tiny pub in the country about ten miles from Farnham in Surrey, where said guitar icon duly played to an audience of about twenty including the four of us. As the roadies were fitting up the stage, we asked the proprietor where the star was and he simply pointed our left, where a tall, silver-haired guy with glasses (for all the world, looking like an elderly university professor) was nursing a pint at the bar.

Kirchen is an affable decent guy and a mean guitarist. He currently walks around sporting the tag-line ‘King of the Telecaster’ but unfortunately his style of music – country-based ditties leavened with thunderous baselines and chugga-chugga rhythms – doesn’t really float my boat. It’s classy and technically proficient but just doesn’t appeal to this onlooker’s heart and soul.

That said, every time he comes to this country and the opportunity arises I turn out to see him, largely so that I can report this fact to those in North America who worship at the Bill Kirchen altar more than I do.

Last night I joined my brothers at the Half Moon pub in Putney to see him for what was my fifth time in the UK.

We began by downing a pint and discussing sport, including England’s upcoming clash with Sri Lanka in the cricket World Cup. The pub’s music room was billed to open at 8.00pm and so we duly went through about 8.20pm and then endured a 45 minute wait for Kirchen and his band to take the stage.

What can I say about what followed?

Putney witnessed a well-received set of highly-competent music by a four-piece band. Although Kirchen, with an easy and comfortable rapport with the audience of about 200, could literally play anything in any style or tempo he wanted on his chosen instrument, sadly (as ever) my slight aversion to country music somewhat obstructed my evening’s entertainment.

Of note was that, about half an hour in, the notable UK musician Nick Lowe came up on stage to guest-sing one song … waved … and then walked off stage into the night.

At 9.50pm, forty minutes in, my younger brother turned and announced that he was departing in order to go home and watch the England cricket game which was due to begin at 10.00pm.

I decided that this was also my cue to leave. I was getting somewhat weary due to standing up for 90 minutes without a break, it was well past my bedtime and I’ve got stuff to do today.

The other brother was left, presumably staying to the dying embers.

For those that might be interested, here’s a link to a YouTube version of Bill Kirchen singing/playing a representative piece – GET A LITTLE GONER


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About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts