Steve Earle in the UK

by Chris Bertram on June 5, 2005

I finally got to see “Steve Earle”: play live at the “Wychwood Festival”: outside Cheltenham in England. It was a fairly miserable day weatherwise, but the storms held off for his set and (earlier) for that of his current partner Allison Moorer. Since my enthusiasm for all this may not be widely shared at CT, I’m putting the rest below the fold.

Hanging out at world music festivals is usually not me at all, and I felt rather out of place among the various rainbow-hatted yoghurt-weaving types. One measure of how this particular subculture is cut off from the rest of the British population is that I passed a whole day among several thousand of them without seeing a single person wearing a replica football shirt (ten minutes in the local shopping mall would probably result in a count of 20!). Anyway I had a great time, and everyone seemed to be pretty nice.

A word about Ms Moorer’s set first. She was on at lunchtime and as woman-alone-strumming-guitar made her way through some not-very-exciting material. She also comes over as very shy indeed and didn’t communicate much with the audience at all. But she is possessed of a marvellously strong voice and when she played a traditional song, Carrickfergus, rather than one of her own and was accompanied by Steve Earle on mandolin, she was really rather good. (Not that I’m attributing any special properties to Mr Earle, just that the addition of the mandolin and the guitar lifted the whole thing).

Earle himself was on much later and, I have to say, lived fully up to my expectations. This was a solo acoustic set, although when I’d booked I’d thought he was playing with the Dukes. Maybe next time, but this was great anyway. He started, somewhat oddly I thought, with “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”, learnt, as he told us from a Bob Dylan record, and proceeded to tell an anecdote about how he lived across the street from Rick Von Schmidt (from whom Dylan got the song) in the 1970s. In this case, as in a few others through the set, anyone whose listened to Earle’s Air America Radio shows has probably heard the story. He then made his way,
over the next 1 hour 40 minutes through a variety of material (accompanied by guitar or mandolin plus harmonica) including Taneytown, Steve’s Last Ramble, Goodbye, Tom Ames Prayer, Dixieland, The Galway Girl, My Old Friend the Blues, Someday, The Mountain, Ellis Unit One, Comin’ Around (duet with AM), Townes Van Zandt’s Rex’s Blues, Fort Worth Blues, Rich Man’s War, Revolution Starts Now (finale to the set), Copperhead Road (encore). That’s roughly in the right order, I think, but there were also at least a couple of songs I didn’t recognize as well and I may have forgotten something. He got better and better as the set went on. The first few numbers including Taneytown and Goodbye were pretty ragged I thought, but after the first half hour or so everything was pretty under control and very powerfully expressed. He segued from Rex’s Blues to Fort Worth Blues as he does on Just an American Boy, and that worked particularly well as did the duet with Allison Moorer.

Thankfully, he kept the sermonizing to a minimum. He gave a bit of speech about the Civil War (mentioning the allegations of plagiarism against Stephen Ambrose in passing!), told us all that all wars are basically about money before Rich Man’s War, and spoke about the importance of trade unions before The Mountain. Some of it I found congenial, other bits rather crude and simplistic, but then I’m not looking to Steve Earle for political nuance! Definitely worth the price of admission and I think that anyone who can catch him in London or in Manchester or at Glastonbury during his trip to the UK won’t be disappointed.

(SE is the first guest on Ned Sherrin’s “Loose Ends” on BBC Radio 4 this week, “archived for a week”: .)

(There was some other good stuff on that day as well, I should add. And I’d especially want to mention Finnish band “Varttina”: who play an eclectic mix of folk, jazz and other styles that defy categorization, at least by me.)



clarkent 06.05.05 at 12:18 pm

Last year, my mother-in-law saw him at the Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, OK. He apparently drove alot of the older folk home early with his constant swearing. She enjoyed the show herself, however.


clarkent 06.05.05 at 12:20 pm

I saw Alison Moorer and Steve Earle in May in St. Louis, and I certainly agree about Alison’s performance. It was nice enough, but the only thing I really recall from her set is Carrickfergus. With Steve Earle on the other hand, I even remember the music playing over the loudspeaker when he took the stage (Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”). A great show all-around!


david 06.05.05 at 1:04 pm

Earle has very irritating habit of repeating stories — I’ve heard the same civil war and Joan Baez sang this song bits many times. Such a deep catalogue, though, and such an excellent singer.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 06.05.05 at 1:40 pm

Second the recommendation for Värttinä, who I’d love to see live sometime.


Andrew Brown 06.05.05 at 3:28 pm

I went to see Earle in Cambridge a couple of years back with the Dukes, and it was one of those shows where the volume was so high that the music was inaudible. All the treble frequencies merged into a giant shiny refrigerator in my head. Rereading, I see that I need to add that I had only had two beers. Maybe with more drugs I’d have heard more. But it was a disappointment.


Keven Lofty 06.05.05 at 7:56 pm

Saw Allison Moorer at the Southgate House in Covingtob KY with about 30 other people. I’m not a big country fan (I was taken by my wife), but I thought she was fantastic, joking around, really at ease. Maybe that’s more her perfect audience size.


Hederman 06.06.05 at 9:30 am

Have seen Earle several times in DC. Best tour was easily the Trans Blues the first time. A great variety of his earlier stuff and TBlues.

Saw the full Revolution tour with the Dukes. Played virtually the entire album and it was pretty solid. Some of the stuff is painful especially with some heavy browbeating.

And in DC, we always get Christmas in Washington.

I love his shows. He usually plays a solid 2:30 and has hit the 3 hour mark before. I’m a bit jealous of this show as he hit some real vintage material.


cleek 06.06.05 at 10:09 am

saw Moorer at Merlefest last month. she did a solo set, Earle came out for one song. and then she did a song with the Chieftans during their set.

her stuff didn’t really grab me. but she is nice to look at scroll down)


Greg 06.06.05 at 1:32 pm

I saw Mr. Earle at the Beacon during his Transcendental Blues tour. Terrific performance, but, as Chris mentions, I could have done without the ten minute speech on capital punishment (and I actually agree with him!).

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