It’s rare that you get the chance to talk to an artist beyond pleasantries. Often I have cause to blunder through gushing enthusiasm, because there is little I know about a particular singer other than their finely made new recording. But an opportunity at the Bedford tonight exchanging a few words with Stephen Kellogg, turned into a more rambling conversation about family and more, not the standard stuff of post gig chit-chat. But then what was set up as a pretty whirlwind visit for Stephen has already taken some unusual twist and turns.
Stephen flew in at the back end of last week and was immediately whisked off to Suffolk and the Maverick Festival for the first of a series of showcase gigs. The advanced interest has been ramped up by a history that involves his band the Sixers, who are currently in hiatus as Stephen treads the boards alone.
To his credit he seems well up for this UK visit and confesses to me that time in the car with Sara and Maurice of Bread And Butter Records, his brand new UK label, was a revelation. He tells me, “In all the years of releasing records in the US, I’ve never had a deep or spiritual conversation with any of the record company people, but this was different.” That can partly be explained by London gridlock and a recalcitrant sat-nav meets Hyde Park Festival crowd disgorging into the already overcrowded city.
But bad journey plans are only a part of it and a trip to play the Plough Inn Of Blunderston is another matter all together. For a start it signifies an unusual artistic frame of reference, especially for an American singer songwriter. The title of his forthcoming CD cements this notion, as Blunderstone Rookery is a direct reference to David Copperfield, far from current currency in the average Americana setting. Still he carries the book as a touchstone, bringing solace in hard times.
Stephen seems delighted with the village gig too. The trip there is one thing, recognising the church form Dickens’ description, but the way the locals all seemed to have watched the videos and checked out his music before coming to the show seems to have genuinely touched him. But he does pose me an awkward question, “Are there people here who are real Dickens enthusiasts?” I tell him that I suspect there are, but they are probably part of the older generation. I posit that the English are just not very good at genuinely taking to heart our undoubted treasures and shouting about them from the rooftops, even mentioning Show Of Hands song Roots to Stephen by way of illustration.
He’s an easy guy to talk to, quick witted and relaxed. I apologise for monopolising his time as other well wishers circle, yet something has passed between us, maybe to be instantly forgotten amongst the other detritus of the road, yet when talking about families and children we are all pretty much the same under the bonnet, or as the Americans will have it, ‘the hood.’
I also point out that I know all about Stephen from one of the songs he has sung, which he announces as, “An autobiography in three and a half minutes.” He invites us to judge his life once we’ve heard it, but the song teases with fragments. The words tumble forth giving glimpses and provoking emotions in just the way that memories do. It’s like he has Springsteen’s plotlines and Dylan’ microscopic attention to the details, with perhaps a dash of Jackson Browne’s gift for picking the bones of emotional wreckage. He also sounds sort of like all of the Travelling Wilburys rolled into one single being.
We only get three songs tonight, partly because of the constraints of the evening’s billing, but also in part because the last song is the epic Thanksgiving. What a song it is too and what a performance. I can’t begin to try and analyse what it is actually about, but amidst the cascading imagery, phrases cut to the quick. It’s intense and profoundly moving, delivered with a passion and the kind of integrity that marks Stephen as special.
There are other troubadours and wordsmiths out there for sure and I have no intention of setting up any kind of pecking order as you will doubtless have your own. Yet you will also know that when a song hits that spot that we all have, the effect can be electric. About two thirds through Thanksgiving the heavens arc and the hairs on my neck raise with the charge and my glasses fog. I leave the gig with my lightning vein glowing red hot and my axis somewhat off kilter, knowing Stephen Kellogg has just delivered much more than mere words can ever say.
Review by: Simon Holland
Stephen will be introducing his album due for release in the UK on August 12th on Bread and Butter Music, with a special live Performance on July 11th at the Barfly, Camden.