Summer of Woody

Amongst all my Dad’s Bob Dylan records there was a Woody Guthrie album which me and my bro always used to listen to. It was an interesting selection of songs, mostly traditional and hardly a mention of workers struggles or fighting fascists, the kind which he’s so well known for.

These seemed to be mostly party numbers, square dance songs, throwaway ditties like Ida Red, Yeller Girl, I Ain’t Got Nobody, kids songs like Rubber Dolly and Jiggy Jiggy Bum Bum (a song about a pig running away from a farmer…). There’s a western song, Old Chishlom Trail (Leadbelly did this one too), the tragically sentimental Put My Little Shoes Away (so sad. I guess this one may be even more poignant for Woody as both his sister and daughter died in fires, he’s really singing what he knows).

Woody Guthrie Record Cover

OK so there is Hard Travellin’ which is kind of about working, Philadelphia Lawyer which kind of says you can make as much money as you like, but that’s not going to stop you getting shot if you’re messing with someone’s wife. And Lindbergh which targets Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee who didn’t think America should go to war. The socialists changed their minds early on and decided that if this Hitler guy was going round murdering people because of their race or whatever then something should be done about it!  During the war Woody rewrote some of his dustbowl and hydroelectric songs with anti Hitler verses and adapted traditional songs to drum up support for America to fight for the freedom of Europe. Old Joe Clark became ‘Round Hitler’s Grave’, Oh When the Saints turned up as ‘Oh When The Yanks (go marching in)’. Pete Seeger starred alongside Woody in an Alan Lomax radio ballad about the war, The Martins & The Coys.

Now of course I have most the recordings that that Woody did on CD but I still never quite feel the excitement I did listening to that record. Something about Woody Guthrie makes the music more accessible, it’s like he’s kind of a link between the real backwoods hillbillies and the college kids playing folk in the cities. He’s authentic and he knows all the songs but he plays them like he’s seen a lot and been a lot of places, not just sat on a porch in the hills with a banjo. And he’s got Cisco Huston singing harmonies and blues harmonica player Sonny Terry wailing wild riffs on top of it. Sonny’s rustic style fits really well the traditional stuff, in the way Woody does it, and keeps the songs really driving along.

So I’ve been into Woody since I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan. Things got a little more extreme a few years ago when my good friend Michael Rossiter sent me an email titled ‘ACE JOB!’  about a company in Leeds looking for musicians and actors to tour a show about Woody’s life. Well, we thought this was too good to be true, we both went to the audition both got the job. (turns out Mike was actually a pretty good actor. I wasn’t, but got away with it cause I knew all the songs!). We spent 6 months on the road performing it in special schools (not very glamorous but a lot of fun) and did a tour of grown-up venues after that. It was resurrected for 4 nights at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2010 which was an amazing place to perform, in front of a full house. Then there was talk of it going to Edinburgh…


Meanwhile 2012 came around and I thought I wanted to do something to celebrate, something more interesting that just a jam in pub (although that could have been fun). I thought a theatre type place would make a nice setting and fortunately a friend who works at the Hyde Park Picture House was kind enough to let us do something there. A beautiful venue! I got a gang of trusted musicians, the aforementioned Mikey Rossiter and Jonny Hick – he can sing, dance, play the double bass and has a good feel for country music. We got some songs together, made some posters.

Woody Hyde Park Picture House Poster

Oh and we had to show some films too, that was the only stipulation Andy gave us for putting the show on. And due to the modern magic of the internet, you can see these films too, from the comfort of your own home. (It’s not quite the same as being there though is it..)

And here’s a bit of us playing:

If you want to know how it went, I found a review of the event here.


This Land Posters

It turned out that the Hyde Park show would come right in the middle of rehearsals for the Interplay Theatre show that did end up going to Edinburgh. I was mostly playing Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger

We did 15 shows in 15 nights plus a load of busking in the day to promote the show. Staying in halls of residence next door to Mike made for an entertaining few weeks.

This Land Cast

This is the cast on the last night, not sure what we are doing

Me and Mike were nominated to promote the show for a speed sell event. If you missed the show this is it condensed into 30 seconds…

Look out you fascists!