Caedmon Hall, Gateshead, Saturday 22nd October 2011 concert review by Pete Ryder
I was really glad that Harold Camping, the world's favourite failed apocalypticist, was wrong (yet again) because yesterday, the day-after-the-world-should-have-ended, I got to see Caedmon in concert at, fittingly, the Caedmon Hall in Gateshead. If you do not know about Caedmon, or rather the Caedmons, perhaps I can explain. Caedmon I was a seventh century Anglo-Saxon swineherd from Whitby, who, with a spot of angelic tuition, became England's first recorded singer/songwriter - at least his written words survive, but audio equipment, let's face it, was a bit basic in those days, so his tunes don't. Caedmon II were a band formed by students at Edinburgh University in the 1970s, who produced one (vinyl) album before going their separate ways; technology had improved over 13 centuries but you can still hear the hiss of the studio oven on one track. Caedmon III (who played last night) are in fact the same five musicians, back together again 30 years on. In between Caedmon II and III the internet got invented and the world changed; the 1978 album was "rediscovered" by Kissing Spell Records, who despite issuing it with a sticker warning of offensive Christian lyrics (!) stated that it was "the best folk rock album of all time". When I stumbled across this statement on the web, I was filled with immense smugness, because I ALREADY KNEW THAT. . . I had not only heard the album, but was so impressed I bought not one but two, and wore out both. And now Caedmon III, who played two reunion gigs in Edinburgh last summer, have made a brand new album, the excellent 'A Chicken To Hug'.
So, to last night's gig; getting there was a struggle with jammed roads, Newcastle were playing at home. The hall was pretty full, but hardly swarming with kids as it was, to be honest, an evening of middle-aged music. Support was by local seven-piece outfit Sleeping Dogs whose songs, in contradiction of the popular adage, told truth. At least, they were truthful observations of a weary world and fragile human relationships, often bounded by the ceiling and bedroom curtains, or, as one song memorably put it, the clouds passing before the moon. Lead singer Mike Soanes came on with a very fetching bright blue set of Northumbrian pipes (or so we thought) but it turned out he had a damaged arm in a colourful sling.which did not stop him playing guitar very competently, and the band were tight and together. "Red Dust Ghost" about a local teacher, an exiled Zimbabwean struggling for acceptance, stood out.
Then came Caedmon; Ken Patterson (whose home turf this is) mainly on cello, accordion and keyboards, Jim Bissett on lead guitar, Simon Jacquet on acoustic, Sam Wilson on bass and Angela Webb (vocals). They wisely mixed old and new songs; the new ones are largely carefully-crafted observations on growing older; the fact that all the band members do not these days share the same explicit Christian faith is tackled wittily in "Elephant In The Chat Room", but these are middle-aged (or should; I say mature?) songs of gratitude for friends and families (whilst admitting the reality that things do not always work out), and still shot through with light. And the old songs? The best of them are not in fact old, but outside time - but then again I am biased; for years some of these have been the soundtrack to my soul. "Beyond The Second Mile" simply unzips the sky, an utterly beautiful song; this has to be the one that Caedmon I and his mentor, Saint Hilda, sitting together at a candlelit table in some celestial café church, are listening to and saying, hmmm, yes.. Angela's vocals interweave with Ken's cello and Jim's lead guitar in an interplay that is characteristic of the band. Sometimes this takes the form of duetting (or even duelling) between unlikely instruments, a hallmark of the band - Ken also plays charango, which looks a sort of African mini-mandolin.
We ended up with a cheerful jam "I'll Fly Away" with both Caedmon and Sleeping Dogs on a distinctly crowded stage and then it was done; a good time was had by all, out into the now-quiet Gateshead night and home.
There you have it. For many years not seeing the band live had been one of the regrets of my life. No longer. Great songs, original arrangements and dexterous musicianship. Perfection and polish, no (after all, the band had only managed one weekend to rehearse). But in an odd way that was entirely fitting. In some medieval art, it is said that deliberate errors were made, asymmetries thrown in, because perfection, emulating the divine, was blasphemous. I don't think Caedmon have any immediate plans to play any more gigs; the world will be a poorer place if they don't.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.