The Situation

Johnny Dowd and Park Doing

It has been a great couple of months for fans of Americana and Blues in Leek, as the Foxlowe has recently staged amazing performances from some of the top exponents of the genres.

Hot on the heels of Kris Barras and the Jack J Hutchinson Band, Gemma Ray and Thomas Truax, and the mighty Bob Log III and Husky Tones, the legendary Johnny Dowd brought his trademark Twisted Americana Country Blues to the Foxlowe on Friday the 12th of March, 2019, ably supported by Park Doing and Michael Edmondson.

Park Doing and Johnny Dowd both use drum samples, loops and pedals, in the vein of fellow US guitar mavericks Thomas Truax and Bob Log III, and Johnny and his band also inhabit the same twisted David Lynchian Americana universe as the aforementioned Truax and Gemma Ray. However, each individual’s sounds and stagecraft set them apart from their contemporaries. A fantasy future Leek Blues and Americana festival lineup of Gemma Ray, Thomas Truax, Bob Log III, Park Doing, Mike Edmondson and Johnny Dowd on the same day would be awesome, but who would go onstage last? Hmmm…

Anyway, back to Friday night’s gig…

So, first up onstage was Park Doing, who describes his music as “Psychedelic Disco Blues”. Sporting a corduroy jacket, and a hat that looked to have been styled upon the one worn by Brad Dourif in Wise Blood, Park plugs in and attends to his bank of effects pedals and sampler before introducing his first song.

With “These machines kill cashists” emblazoned on his road-worn electric guitar – a clever twist on the message immortalised on radical folk singer Woody Guthrie’s acoustic guitar (“This machine kills fascists”) – Park and his sonic armoury of effects pedals, samplers and loopers, and beat box crank out such idiosyncratic songs as Punk Rockers Don’t Need To Wear Watches; If You Don’t Say It Right, Don’t Say It At All; and You Know What To Do, So Do It – words of homespun wisdom set to an accompaniment of live guitar, loops and lo-fi trip hop beats.

After ably setting the tone for the evening’s entertainment, Park leaves the stage, changes into his blue velvet jacket, and loses the hat.

Talking about this latest tour together, Park said:

“I got a call from my good friend Johnny Dowd who asked me to tour with him again, this time in the Netherlands and England. He also asked me to sing with him during his sets, so I am doing double duty (the hardest working man in show business!). It’s an honor to perform with him — he has taught me so much over the years.  He has taken to calling me and his guitar player Mike Edmondson “The Hummingbird Singers.””

Park then joins Johnny onstage for his set as part of backing band with Mike Edmondson. This backing band may or may not be called The Bluebells or The Humingbirds (it may even change from gig to gig). I could have sworn that the band are introduced as the Bluebells, possibly or probably because of their natty blue velvet patterned jackets.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, and hailing from Ithaca, New York, Johnny Dowd’s sonic brand of dark and ramshackle alternative country-blues noir, with boom box beats, calls to my mind the recorded spoken word output of William S Burroughs (especially The “Priest” They Called Him, by Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs), early lo-fi Beck, and white blues guitarists such as Johnny Winter and Peter Green. Typical of Johnny’s style are the experimental, noisy breaks in his songs and strong gothic elements in the lyrics as well as in the music. There is also a strong undercurrent of black humor and the absurd in his work too.

The use of samples and technology mixed with good old fashioned stagecraft places the performance firmly in the 21st Century, although the music of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is paid homage to, including a Bo Diddley medley, and referencing James Brown and Blaxploitatation (the song White Dolomite). Johnny cites James Brown’s Live at the Apollo as his lifelong favorite album, and Live at Paris Olympia 1971 “has got to be high on the list”, according to Johnny’s interview with Americana UK. Avant garde jazz musician and cosmic visionary Sun Ra, and godfathers of grunge Blue Cheer, are also big favourites too. Johnny and his sidemen put on an entertaining show, which includes incendiary guitar playing from all three musicians, sweet harmonized backing vocals, spoken introductions to the songs, poetry and even some coordinated choreography with audience participation!

Johnny Dowd’s songs, stories and poetry are about the perennial topics – love, sex, death, religion, life on the road, and (dysfunctional) relationships (both familial and romantic) and break-ups and their aftermath – but delivered with enough self-awareness, self-deprecation and tongue in cheek humour to stop it from all becoming too maudlin and depressing. This ain’t no country music- or blues-style “born-under-a-bad-sign-my-woman-left-me-my-dog-just-died-I’m-so-lonesome-I-lost-my-job-and-the-man’s-repossessed-my-car-and-the-bank-has-foreclosed-on-my-mortgage-it’s-raining-hard-the-leevee-has-broken-and-the-water’s-three-feet-high-and-rising-and-I’ve-finished-my-last-bottle-of-whiskey” cry-fest! No, siree, Bob. There are laughs a-plenty, both in terms of the interactions between the musicians and the audience, and in the songs themselves (the humour is dark, but it’s there). There’s even a goofy dance routine to lighten the mood!

Johnny stands up (he stays sat down for the set up to that point), places his guitar on his chair, and exhorts the seated audience to get up on their feet and mimic the band’s choreographed dance moves. The band are doing the Butterman Dance – whilst shouting, “Butterman, oh yeah!” – and Johnny joins in and we all do too: a surreal but funny couple of minutes during the set. Park cleverly and expediently dedicates the song and dance to Leek’s very own Butter Market. Nice one. Good local knowledge.

When the song and dance is over, Johnny compliments the crowd for their audience participation and enthuisiasm, saying “There’s no fear in Leek”. There may be no fear in Leek, Johnny, but there is very definitely an “eek” in Leek! Sorry, I’ll get my coat…

Other highlights include a rocking Bo Diddley medley of Hey, Bo Diddley and Who Do You Love, How Much Emptiness Can you Swallow?, a coruscating but poignant grunged-up version of Frank Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year, Jesus Loves Me by Joey + Rory, and Country legend Conway Twitty gets a surreal namecheck too!

A love for late 50s and early 60s Death Discs is also evident. A cover of the ‘splatter platter’ paean to twisted metal and mangled bodies, Teen Angel by Mark Dinning, is played in a respectful homage to the original, and as a rendition it would be wholly in keeping as a Twin Peaks: The Return end of episode performance at The Roadhouse tavern.

The Death Disc, also known as a ‘splatter platter’, ‘car crash song’ or quite simply a ‘teenage tragedy song’, is a style of ballad popularised in the 50s and 60s sung from the point of view of either a dying (or dead) teenager or the dying (or dead) or surviving teenager’s sweetheart, as is the case in Teen Angel.

Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh
That fateful night the car was stalled upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe, but you went running back…”

David Lynch and the clientele at the Roadhouse would approve, I think.

All-in-all another memorable night at the Foxlowe, in front of a select crowd of appreciative and knowledgable Americana fans. Thank you to everyone who came out to support the venue and the artists. We hope to see you again soon.

Any milage in that fantasy festival lineup suggestion…?

Park Doing at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Park Doing at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Park Doing at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

All photos by Giles Metcalfe.

 

The Smears playing at Foxlowe arts centre

Playing in the New Year – January 4th, more details soon in the meantime have a look at this great video

The Situation @ Foxlowe 6th January

The Situation are presenting their first event of 2012 at the Foxlowe Art Centre Café on Friday 6th January, 8.30pm – 1am

To celebrate their launch at Foxlowe and acknowledging we’re all skint in January the first event is free – yep, no money will change hands to get in.

The Situation’s New Year Free For featuring:

  • Faces &  Steve Goodwin
  • Indie Disco & DJ Scott

For more info see:

http://thesituationpresents.posterous.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815

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