Some artists should not be allowed to open their mouths unless they’re singing. But two notable exceptions to this rule are American folk singer, Judy Collins and Chris Bailey (The Saints). As both artists showed at their first of three shows at The Basement, they are witty and entertaining in their own way and should each have their own TV show. Bailey’s was a more dry and sarcastic wit taking shot at everything in a no-holds barred frenzy that saw him even take aim at himself, while Collins had a cheeky irreverence typically synonymous with a carefree youth and all whilst having a wonderful glint in her famous blue eyes.
Messer Bailey was introduced as being, “Straight from a bus in Amsterdam”. He quipped, “I hope I don’t put you off your supper. Bon appétit!” He performed by himself with just an acoustic guitar playing Saints classics like “Let’s Pretend” and “Just Like Fire Would”. The longhaired, old punk was dressed in a modest suit and cranked out country and western-style folk interpretations of his more characteristic heavy tunes. For some people this kind of delivery would have been as jarring as those folk-loving folks who witnessed Bob Dylan go electric for the first time. However, I can happily report the crowd was rather well behaved with their quiet respectfulness and absolutely no one shouted, “Judas!”
These folk renditions actually didn’t sound too far removed from old Bob and at times even hinted at some of Crowded House’s softer ballads. But while the music was pleasant enough, it seemed to draw at least a few blank expressions from the crowd, prompting Bailey to call his own songs “Bloody depressing” and “Mock-Irish balladry”. As such, he asked us if we wanted to hear something more uplifting and then obliged one man’s request for Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” complete with new lyrics about being blind and just saying no and all topped off by a Presley-like drawl. Hilarious.
It was then time to return to The Saints tracks “Photograph,” “Ghost Ships” and “All Fools Day” delivered with a gentle acoustic guitar and a punk rock sneer. But the frivolity would soon reemerge with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire,” which even had a few brave souls singing along to despite Bailey misfiring (geddit?) twice with the wrong key. The final number was The Saints’ “Massacre” and afterwards Bailey thanked us for indulging him and warned us to prepare for “The concert of your life”.
Needless to say, Bailey was right. At 71 years of age (not that a true lady reveals such things), Judy Collins was positively awe-inspiring. With 50-odd years in “the business,” the singer-songwriter, musician, grandmother and social activist, not to mention inspiration for the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is unparalleled in terms of talent and character. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find another artist of her calibre doing this musical thing with such style decades from now.
At 9:40 the diminutive Collins in head-to-toe black entered the stage with her musical director (and pianist) Russell Walden. She stood in front of a grand Steinway piano with her 12-string acoustic guitar while two-dozen or so long-stemmed red roses were to be found at her side. She launched into her own composition, “Song For Judith (Open The Door”). Collins was all-smiles as her spirit and vocals – ones not dissimilar to Joni Mitchell’s – reached upwards for the night sky and only soared higher still from there, particularly as she did Mitchell’s fabulous, “Both Sides, Now”.
She then played “One you’d all know,” a cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” before commencing a long but thoroughly entertaining spiel (including snatches of a cappella songs) about how she came to be seduced by folk music. She told us a sidesplitting joke about a lady in a long fur coat who said it was from a man with ten thousand dollars. On a separate occasion Mae West would be sporting a similarly fine mink and she was asked if she had met a financially, well-endowed man. But West replied, “No darling, I had 10000 men with a dollar!”
A cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” had the audience singing along with the jingle-jangle classic; while “Anathea” was delivered with such poise despite being so moody and tense that it could’ve been a Nick Cave murder ballad. “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” – originally written by Sandy Denny – was the kind of delicate folk song that the likes of Julia Stone and Laura Marling have to be thankful for today, such was its tender, heartfelt feeling.
Collins remained elegant and graceful, regaling us with humorous stories and telling us about how she had once acted as Cinderella. But tonight she was certainly as enchanting as the fairy princess, especially as she continued to entertain us with her heart, voice and hair of gold. She followed “Someday Soon” with “Over The Rainbow” where she performed only with a mic and Walden at the piano. It was a searing rendition of the Judy Garland classic – you could almost see those birds flying and troubles melting like lemon drops.
The covers continued with the anti-war track “Weight Of The World” by Amy Speace and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”. During the latter, Collins performed at the piano alone creating something that Regina Spektor would probably have wished she’d written. Collins showed us just how accomplished she is at the instrument, having started off originally by learning Mozart before she changed musical direction. We even giggled when she took her high heels off mid-song.
Her own original composition, “Born To Breed” was another piano ballad before the set-closing “Send In The Clowns” and encore, “Danny Boy”. One punter summed things up best when he said it was such a privilege to hear Collins sing. Her sweet and pure voice had captured the hearts and minds of the whole audience (and a few waiters) thanks to the handpicked, killer tunes that she’d made her own by fashioning with added poignancy. Sublime.
Originally published on 18 January 2011 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/judy-collins-chris-bailey-the-basement-17-01-11
Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/