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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Sunday, October 28, 2007


Sarah and I went to a house concert on Friday night, in a village outside York. House Concerts are a weird but wonderful affirmation of the small-is-beautiful principle. About 25 people bring their own drinks and collect in someone's sitting room to hear live music from up-and-coming performers/musicians/singer-songwriters. In our area this year these have been pioneered by Tony & Nicki (, so thanks go to them for organising and hosting Friday night's terrific event, which featured the excellent Romi Mayes.

It was the one UK date on her European tour! She flew in from Prague and tomorrow flies out to Milan for her next gig. Cheap flights have made this possible, of course, and there's a price to be paid for these, but they're cheap even when you pay the additional voluntary carbon-offset fee.

Anyway, Romi Mayes proved an exceptional talent, combining a well-judged amount of quick-minded, refreshing inter-song talk with self-penned songs that fuse strong melodies with ardent and intelligent lyrics, and beguilingly dexterous acoustic guitar playing. She has that alertness to the moment which brings together a high degree of musicianship, expressive feeling and responsiveness to others.

She also has style, and knows it. Witness the way that while the first five or six songs were all anchored and energised by her tremendous guitarwork, she never once looked at the guitar or her hands while they carrying this off. It was quick, resourceful and highly accomplished, and never flash. She doesn't take herself too seriously but she has the gravitas of the creative artist who knows what they're doing, and knows how to turn fleeting self-mockery into lasting song.

Her CD, Sweet Somethin' Steady, might (as so often) seem less distinctive than hearing her live and solo - maybe more musicians inevitably make records sound more like other records - but the songs are strong enough to come through for anyone, I'd have thought. It has won her two awards at The Western Canadian Music Awards this month: for Outstanding Roots Recording and Songwriter of The Year.

The tunes are not only strong but suggest an authentic steeping in other people's work. The lyrics are rich with quotable lines. I love, on the title track, this acute and economical expression of wanting to keep someone around but not buy the whole conventional package: "Please don't tell me your middle name"... But Romi Mayes knows better than to be clever-clever with rhymes. Less is more in such things, and what could be better than this rhyme (in the fine and challenging 'The Other Dame')?: "I'll ride in your Cadillac / You'll talk about Kerouac".

This is an immeasurably better thing to do with a Cadillac than Bob Dylan's decision, this year, to TV-advertise their new SUV. I write as an ex-Cadillac owner myself: mine was a white 1972 Eldorado convertible with red uphostery, bought around 1980, which did 15 miles per gallon on a motorway and 7 miles per gallon around town. We weren't half as conscious of the environmental damage then, though, and it was at least a thing of beauty. There's no excuse now for driving anything as anti-social, polluting and ugly as a 2007 SUV, and even less excuse for Bob Dylan, of all people, to take the money and run with them. The ads themselves are tantalising, not least for the strong hint of homage to that great early Spielberg movie Duel - but it's a shameful and sordid act on Dylan's part to have done this. Bad car to drive during a war on global warming.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come on now, Michael there's been many a global warming before, long before mankind or cadillacs were about; and nor is there a war against it, the major polluters are still at it and always will be.

Anyway, let's cut to the chase here - doesn't Bob look and sound wonderful in the adverts, reminds me od some concerts I used to go to :-) ?

best as ever,

9:49 pm  
Blogger Paolo Vites said...

was she in Milan? damn i wonder in who living room she performed... I love Dylan's Cadillac ad, btw.. better than anything in his last album methink....

12:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I don't even drive a car but I thought the ad and the car looked beautiful. And anyway, how do you know he didn't offset too, like the performer you admired. Sure you did the same for all the gallons you used. Nice to be in a roomy car like that with no particular place to go. Even nicer to be paid for the pleasure.

6:31 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Yes, but the more impressive thing would be for Dylan to look stylish in an advert for an eco-friendly vehicle.

3:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know. You might not like the (dread phrase) Dylan revival in the mainstream media but one thing that would have been much, much worse is Bob Dylan reinvented by marketers as some sort of proto hippie, playing the old 'protest songs' and doing spots for Eco Soap Powder. I think the Cadillac ad is hilarious and I bet he thinks the same.

By the way, I was given a copy of Song and Dance Man when I was 16 years old and loved it. Ended up reading a lot of the books and listening to a lot of the records you wrote about. It had a big influence of my education and career.

4:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, Michael - Dylan in an eco-friendly vehicle wouldn't be the Dylan we all love!

1:49 pm  

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