Pop: Still in bloom after all these years

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Pop: Tim Rose

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

In the 1960s Tim Rose cut some of the defining moments of folk rock, most notably the original versions of Hey Joe and Morning Dew. There was nothing fey or fragile about his music - he sang of murder, betrayal and remorse in a voice of spine-rattling power. Then he disappeared for the best part of two decades, working at a variety of trades in New York anonymity. Nick Cave picked up on his music, eased Rose back into the spotlight, and Saturday marked his return with the biggest headlining gig of his on-off career.

Rose is now a burly, shaggy-haired man in his late fifties, in striking contrast to the swaggering, cigar-chomping young blade who posed for the cover of his classic 1966 debut album. But the voice retains its range, from a throaty, cigarette-roughened whisper to a howl of anguish. Wisely, he introduced the audience to new songs from his recent "comeback" CD Haunted, on the Dressed to Kill label, as well as reminding them of his long list of near hits. His awful vision of a post-holocaust landscape, Come Away Melinda, is no less powerful in Saddam's anthrax era than it was during the days of the Vietnam War, and his catalogue proves full enough for him to have overlooked one of the songs that Nick Cave recently covered, the reflections of a contrite wife-murderer Long Time Man.

Rose is an engaging, shambling raconteur, sometimes rueful - as in his tale of rejecting a song sung to him by a young Greenwich Village hopeful who invaded his dressing room, a song called Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, sometimes proudly name-dropping his way through an adventurous life. On Saturday his muscular acoustic guitar ("Two picks broken and I've hardly started") was shepherded by two supporting guitars, Dave Clarke (who moved to a grand piano for a new Valentine's Day ballad) and Mick Winn, who occasionally beefed up the sound with some wah-wah electricity. Although he is teetotal these days Rose remains a bar room man, but he conquered the concert hall as if he'd never been away.

An imaginative bill brought Rose together with Jackie Leven and Martin Carthy, whose wide-ranging folk influences complemented the American's white-man blues. Leven, the Scotsman who once traded as John St Field before forming the under-rated Doll By Doll, has also returned to recording of late, his music overlaying an r&b pulse with Celtic strains, the songs introduced by warm monologues that usually involve meeting someone in a pub. And Carthy remains the leading repository of the European folk tradition, a tradition that could not have developed quite as it has, were it not for his musical curiosity. He recreates a 17th century Scottish lament as a jazz-guitar piece, or fits an Olde English tale to a modern Basque melody, doing his best to ensure that folk music remains a taproom entertainment and avoids gathering a dry layer of academic dust. After the concert a makeshift stall was trading briskly in Tim Rose CDs, suggesting that another 18 year lay off could be avoided.

John Collis