CORONAVIRUS may have halted the Premier League, the Queen’s engagements, Formula 1, the US Masters golf, every Broadway show and England’s cricket tour of Sri Lanka, but nothing stops a veteran folkie from getting to his gig.
Thus, here was Phil Beer, the folkies’ folk musician, the doyen of fiddle players and one quarter of mighty roots combo Show of Hands in his familiar position on stage at the lovingly unreconstructed Shelley Theatre.
And he was in fine fettle. His carefully created look of a generously-proportioned Viking gone to seed belies his status as one of Britain’s most adept stringed instrument players, be it slide, Spanish and tenor guitar, mandocello, viola, mandolin or even South American cuatro.
Tonight it was mostly three guitars and a fiddle as Beer, currently undertaking his ‘So Much to Choose From’ 2020 tour, rummages through more than 40 years of active musicianship and distils it into two hours of his favourite songs.
He name-checked a host of his heroes and influencers – from Davy Graham and Dave Swarbrick to Hoyt Axton and Lowell George – in a series of rambling, tangential and entertaining anecdotes and also spoke of his early influences, family life and fake Cornish folk songs.
The best of these was that his dad was a part-time fiddler in a west country Glenn Millerish strict tempo dance band which went by the name of Arthur Challis’s Black Diamonds and which introduced the young Beer to folk tunes.
In what he is threatening to make his final large scale solo tour, Beer treated his audience to a wide variety of songs, such as Albion Band founder Steve Ashworth’s Feeling Lazy, Steve Knightley’s Cold Frontier and Transported and Richard Shindell’s sublime road song Next Best Western.
There was also room for The Blind Fiddler, Paper Round, Devil’s Right Hand, Blow The Man Down and three more excellent covers – Graham Gouldman’s Hollies hit Bus Stop, Blind Willie Johnson’s Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes and The Band’s marvellous Arcadia Driftwood, plus a lot more.
It was a heartwarming, understated and thoroughly entertaining show of accomplished musicianship from a virtuoso performer.
Next up at Bournemouth Folk Club at the Shelley Theatre is Megson on March 28.