I first became aware of the legendary Canadian singer/song-writer Gordon Lightfoot when I was an eleven year-old back in the early ’70s – and yes, it was because of his monumental hit single ‘If You Could Read My Mind’! As I grew into a teenager, listening to the pirate station Radio Caroline (see my article #41), I heard more of his work; including the haunting ‘Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’, and ‘Sundown’. And although I’ve never been a massive fan, I’ve certainly been well aware of – and had a great respect for – this veteran of the sixties Folk revival since an early age.
Nor had I seen him in concert before; so when a year ago, I heard he was booked for a short UK tour – including a gig at Cliffs Pavilion, here in Essex – I bought tickets sharpish to avoid disappointment. It had been 35 years since his last tour of the UK; and I doubt whether he’ll ever return, so it was especially important for me to see him live.
Gordon’s four-piece band came on stage first, shortly followed by the man himself to great applause. In spite of being 77 years old, looking a little frail; and, as we found out during the show, suffering from a cold; it was soon evident that these factors had taken little toll on his distinctive voice; and he delivered a very professional and impressive two-set performance; standing centre stage and dominating it throughout. Gordon’s band consist of four very fine musicians indeed: the ever reliable Bassist Rick Haynes; Gordon’s long-term drummer Barry Keane; keyboard maestro Mike Heffernan; and impressive guitarist Carter Lancaster.
I must admit that I’m not completely au fait with Gordon’s back catalogue of songs – I knew quite a few but there were some that I didn’t, so I learnt a few more that night. We heard some of his numbers that I did know well though: ‘Sea Of Tranquility’ (with wonderful green lighting courtesy of the theatre); ‘Carefree Highway’ (with Gordon on 12-string); ‘Sundown’ (with Carter making himself very useful on a vintage Gibson 335); the epic ‘Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald’ (a more laid back version than the original that I’d not heard before; but equally poignant and wonderful); ‘Rainy Day People’ (featuring superb acoustic work from Carter again); then the massive 1971 hit ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ (sublime and perfect); and ‘Early Morning Rain’ (again a laid back version).
In some sense it was a very sedate concert; we, the audience, were enthralled by Gordon’s stage presence – quiet and attentive during each songs’ performance, but giving up huge applause at the end every time. There was a genuine ambience of affection and respect in the theatre that was tangible throughout the show. Some sang along quietly to every lyric; most just listened in awe. Even at half-time, the auditorium was surprisingly quiet. Yet we were roused to a standing ovation at the end that was very well-deserved indeed.
I have heard since, that Gordon’s other gigs on this brief UK tour were also very good – I have it on good authority that the shows at the Royal Albert Hall, London; and the last one in Bristol were particularly good. Gordon is now off to Ireland for a couple of shows before returning to Canada; and then embarking on a US tour. I felt it a privilege to be present at this gig. As I said, I doubt if he’ll return to the UK again… but we live in hope! PTMQ