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Jimmy Webb - Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 6/11/2009

  by John Clarkson

published: 1 / 12 / 2009

Jimmy Webb  - Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 6/11/2009


John Clarkson finds American singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb heartwrenching at a show at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh

There is a great, big barrel of a man in the row behind me and I want to punch his face in. He arrives, reeking alcohol, just as Jimmy Webb is coming on stage, and promptly tries to reveal himself as his biggest and most enthusiastic fan. “You’re a genius,” he bellows, pounding a meaty fist down on the pew in front of him. The shock waves roll through the three rows ahead of him. “Gen-i-us,” he chants and thunders, oblivious to mumbles of discontent and annoyance from those around him. “You’re brill-i-ant! Brill-i-ant!” One of America’s greatest and most covered songwriters, Jimmy Webb has toured Britain on various occasions over the last 20 years, and been to the Queen’s Hall, a converted church and one of Edinburgh’s more elegant venues several times before. Webb has always, however, appeared as a solo act, accompanying himself on the grand piano. For this tour, however, he has brought with him a band, the Webb Brothers, a group comprising of his four sons, Christiaan, James, Justin and Cornelius, and with whom he has just recorded an album, ‘Cottonwood Farm’. As well as the boys, who are now all in their late 20s and early 30s and who play an assortment of instruments including guitars and keyboards, there is also in the touring line-up Romeo Stodart from the Magic Numbers on bass and Cal Campbell, the son of Webb’s close friend Glen Campbell, on drums. This extended band start with a suite of songs from ‘Cottonwood Farm’, and open with ‘Highwayman’, a song which Webb originally wrote for Kris Kristofferson, and for which he takes central vocals, joined by his boys on sugary backing harmonies. For other songs from the new album he is happy to take the role of ringmaster and proud Dad as each of his sons step up to their microphone to have a turn on main vocals. Father and sons finally converge on the epic title track, as Webb Sr. sings the first verse before each boy, adopting the role of another of its several characters, takes a verse each. The large man really should know better. He is not some obnoxious and blasted fat cat of a yuppie on a night out, or a young man barely out of his teens unable to handle his liquor. In fact he could not be any more different. He must be of a pensionable age and 65 or 70 if he is a day. As the evening progresses, his behaviour, however, becomes increasingly more erratic. There are moments when he will become quieter, heaving and sighing deeply and, head clenched against them, shuddering into his giant hands, and then he will start all over again, “Gen-i-us! You’re brill-i-ant. Brill-i-ant!” Even Webb it seems is becoming fed up with him. “This is not an interactive show,” he quips, as the band troops off the stage and he starts a short solo set, in which he plays several less well known songs from his back catalogue. He has done this a thousand times before and it is here that he is at his most relaxed. Admitting that he has been dry for the last eleven years, Webb tells of a drunken scrape involving Harry Nilsson and an equally intoxicated road trip across Ireland with the actor Richard Harris, for whom he wrote two albums of songs and who recorded the original version of his best known song, ‘MacArthur Park’. Before he begins a version of ‘All I Know’, a song that he wrote for Art Garfunkel, Webb says, “There is a man in the audience tonight who has been with his wife to every single show that I have done in Scotland. I have been in touch with him by e-mail. For circumstances beyond his control, and beyond my control, and certainly beyond her control she is not able to be here tonight. This one is for him.” It suddenly starts to become obvious. “That is my wife,” whispers the big man to the man next to him, a quiet, bespectacled American whom he slopped a lot of his pint of beer over on his arrival. “ Your wife is not well?” asks the American, immediately concerned. “She died last year,” says the large man, the entire awfulness of his situation fully clear. The band come back on stage. There is a somewhat shaky version of ‘Galveston’, a song recorded originally by Glen Campbell in which Webb strains to reach the high notes, and then a far better rendition of another Campbell tune, ‘Wichita Lineman’. The set concludes with a magnificent version of ‘MacArthur Park’, which begins with Webb singing a cappella before being joined by his sons on harmonies. It has been an overall fine performance from Jimmy Webb and the Webb brothers. I know that at other shows I will get irritated by other audience members in a similar or the same situation. As the lights go up, however, I can only hope for some of Jimmy Webb’s kindness and humanity.

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Jimmy Webb  - Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 6/11/2009

Jimmy Webb  - Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 6/11/2009

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