It seemed quite fitting that on the night much of Scotland were tucking into haggis and enjoying one or two drams while celebrating our national bard, 400 of us filled the Mitchell Theatre to capacity to experience the true American legend that is Tom Paxton.
Just as Burns was never reluctant to share his political insight, so Tom greeted us with “Oh god, what has happened?” There were a few Trump references throughout the evening, but at 79 Tom Paxton has probably seen and written about it all by now.
Along with his band, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer who play guitar, mandolin and banjo and harmonise like angels Tom Paxton invited us into his front room and gave us a night to remember.
“How Beautiful Upon The Mountain
are the steps of those who walk in peace”
Not much doubt as to where the first song was aimed at, and the first half continued with some of the lesser known and songs including some from his latest album Boat in the Water.
Just in case President Trump didn’t get the subtlety of the opening song the next one If the poor don’t matter (then neither do I) was even more succinct.
Standing between Marcy and Cathy, Tom Paxton took old timers like myself back 40 odd years to the last time I saw him and took my daughter (a mere 36) back to childhood car journeys when Tom Paxton tapes were a favourite in the car. The charm is still there, the voice is changed, but it’s still strong and emotive, and the aura of a man who talks without boasting of his friends Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, Mississippi John Hurt and the Clancy Brothers filled the theatre. “Comedians and Angels”, a song about his friends now passed on brought a tear to many an eye. Paxton’s ability to pen a line is second to none, and I mean that with no disrespect to the Nobel prize winner or any of the other genius songwriters that I have had the privilege to hear. For those of you who have sat ‘till the small hours singing songs with a badly out of tune guitar and a group of friends now moved on, who can fail to be moved by the simplest of lines?
“Comedians and Angels
I miss my friends tonight”
Burns would have been happy with that!
Highlights of the first half were Whose Garden Was This?, still as relevant as ever and a delightful surprise when the girls took the lead vocal on You are Love.
It transpired the band are an “item” and Paxton had sung this song at their wedding…after a 23-year trial marriage, we were informed! At a period when women still seem to be derided for being women, Cathy and Marcy sang a love song to each other. It was one of these life-affirming moments and yes, more tears
Ending the first half with Bottle of Wine suggested we might be in for a few old favourites in the second and we weren’t disappointed. Cathy and Marcy started the set off with a set of three songs (they are a highly accomplished act in their own right) before Tom arrived back with a comic Learing to play my Christmas Guitar, then it was favourites all the way: John Hurt, Last Thing on My Mind, Suzie Most of All, My Lady’s a Wild Flying Dove and of course Ramblin’ Boy. The encore was the previously mentioned Comedians and Angels and a lovely harmony song with the ‘girls’…by this time I wasn’t taking notes.
It wasn’t over.
Having played for 2 hours, Tom sat and patiently signed CDs and let us take photographs, exchanging a few words with each person. Judging from the range of ages present at the signing session ours is not the only family to have had Tom Paxton and his music ever-present in their lives.
I don’t imagine he has to do this, but as long as he is able, I hope he keeps playing and writing. Maybe musically he is now down to 9 out of 10, but for humanity, warmth, humility and presence it’s 19 out of 10.
Boat in the Water is Out Now