I must admit, I wasn’t that keen to start with. Six months ago, Lady BSM had spotted that James Taylor was playing at The LG Arena in Birmingham on 26th September.
But he is one of the great living singer songwriters, introduced to me back in the mists of time when I first met her ladyship. His soft, smooth style was the perfect background for wooing. At the time, I hadn’t realised I was being wooed.
So I agreed and Lady BSM bought tickets for us both and also one for Pen. The Sexton said he would pass on this occasion, not being the James Taylor type.
So it was with expectation that we took our seats in the upper tier; good seats they were too, with a perfect view. The show start time was 7.30pm, but we arrived at 7.25pm without worry, since experience has shown us that the main event rarely starts on time. Not in James Taylor’s case: he was on just after half past seven and straight into ‘Something in the Way She Moves.’ In his awkward way, he explained that it was the song he played to Paul McCartney and George Harrison in 1968 when he signed for Apple. The Beatles obviously held a special place in his heart as he described sitting in the studio with them as they recorded The White Album. Wow.
“I ‘d like to play some new stuff,” he explained, which as always was met with faux approval from the audience. I was unaware that JT had a new album. He hasn’t, I discovered, since it’s ‘still in production’.
It wasn’t long before all the gems started to appear, Taylor’s distinctive country/blues sound, his lead guitarist Michael Landau playing brilliantly on his bright red Fender Stratocaster.
Every Day, Country Road, Carolina on my Mind, they all made an appearance, along with ‘Millworker’, a song from his unsuccessful musical. Like Burt Bacharach, Taylor does a pretty good line in self deprecating humour. I suppose they can afford to. Watching him play guitar is quite impressive, but, he is one of the greatest and has been doing in for probably nigh on 50 years.
‘One More Go Around’ was a song describing Taylor’s keenness to do it all again.
“Maybe next time I’d remember it!” he laughed, referring to his fondness for chemically induced recreation in his younger days. It was his chance to show he could play some mean blues.
“Sweet Baby James” was written about his nephew, giving him the opportunity to describe driving across the States in his Ford Cortina GT, an iconic British car of the 1970s. It’s easy to forget that James Taylor spent a long time in the UK, what with the sheer ‘Americana’ feel to his music.
“We have to have an intermission,” he explained, “I don’t know why we have to have an intermission, I’d carry on, but we do.” Perhaps there’s some law about singer songwriters over retirement age having to take a break.
So the first half ended with ‘Shower the People’ and I was immediately transported back to Lady Barton St Mary’s room in Lancaster House at The University of Sussex, lying together on her 2 ft 6in bed as this sweet flowed over us from the speaker of her Amstrad radio cassette player. It took me a while to realise there wasn’t a special race called The Showerdee People. I didn’t mention it at the time.
Returning to our seats after 20 minutes, James was already on stage, but on the edge of the stage furiously signing autographs and posing for photographs with thrilled middle aged women. He continued signing as the band returned and started playing. It’s at times like these you realise all these musicians would be happy to play their instruments without a crowd and without money, probably. Go figure, X Factor.
James played another ‘new’ song – ‘You and I Again’, all about long term relationships and wanting to go back and do it all over again. Very poignant, lovely song. Completely untraceable on the internet.
Then back to the hits: Handyman and a great version of ‘Steamroller Blues’, with James Taylor parodying the blues style without disrespect. By this time, the audience were in Taylor heaven, as hoardes of excited ladies (and a few gents) wiggled their way to the front, forming the politest mosh pit I’ve ever seen.
Up on the Roof, Mexico and Smiling Face kept the crowd shuffling back and forth a respectable distance from the stage, finishing with tumultuous applause.
The encore included You’ve Got a Friend and How Sweet It Is, James Taylor ‘encouraging’ the band to play on. His final song was an ancient Celtic song, accompanied by band member Andrea Zonn on fiddle.
So there it was, a lovely evening of true American folk/country/blues, all familiar songs, like a comfortable pair of shoes. James Taylor defies his age – his voice is clear and has not diminished. Maybe the drugs do work.
In the car on the way back, the motorway had been closed and I had to take a diversion that the sat nav didn’t like. Lady BSM and Pen gave their own input, meaning I had three strident alpha females all telling me what I should do. Normally, this would have been stressful, but in my head, James Taylor was singing ‘Showerdee People you love with love, show werdem how you feel,” and everything was fine…