Two iconic American musicians visited Manchester on 5th June, of the type that don’t often pass this way. Unfortunately an audience didn’t; about 30 people from a city-region of three million showed up, which makes me wonder, as I’ve pondered before here, what is wrong with the place. Young aspiring guitarists in particular had much that could have gleaned from a master but I saw three people who looked to be under 30 years of age.
Manchester prides itself, rightly, on its musical heritage but while it can easily fill stadia for the likes of the Spice Girls, it too often fails to make a quorum to honour the presence of visiting foreign musicians of the highest calibre. Perhaps, and even while venues are closing down as elsewhere, there’s too much choice being offered by home grown artists. Or maybe the venue, not a bad one at all but which is strangely obscure even to music writers and PR people and which is situated in a part of the city where there are no other venues, was not the best choice. Or perhaps it was, God forbid, just a case of apathy.
At least the crowd that did show was an enthusiastic one, prompting Jesse Dayton to change his act completely into a hillbilly stomp rather than one which might have included a series of classic artist covers including the like of Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, which are the subject of his forthcoming album.
Dayton’s back story reads like a Hollywood movie script, and it comes as no surprise that he’s been involved with some La-La Land films as well as his many musical exploits. From playing Telecaster guitar underage at 15 in black zydeco bands (French creole) in Louisiana dive bars and then in honky-tonk country bands in Texas he recorded his first song which made #1 on Americana charts. He’s since recorded 10 studio albums, the latest of which is ‘The Outsider’ (2018).
He moved on to be Waylon Jennings’ (who famously gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight in 1959 that killed Buddy Holly and others) guitarist when Jennings spotted him on a crappy Nashville TV show and when he turned up at the studio Johnny Cash answered the door and said, “we’ve been waiting for you.” That led Dayton to recording guitars on records and film with Cash, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Bush, Kris Kristofferson and Glen Campbell.
Ignored by mainstream country radio, he developed his own cult following amongst Americana followers, college alternative rock fans and aging punk rockers, embarking on headlining tours without any support from a label.
Later he found himself in the movies, writing and recording a soundtrack for a horror film, ‘The Devils Rejects’ which led to the co-writing of songs for ‘Halloween 2’ (in which Dayton appears, playing the part of the character ‘Captain Clegg’).
Ok, there’s a lot of adapted PR stuff here but the point is that with this sort of experience and these reference points you’ve got to be pretty damned good, and Jesse Dayton is. His guitar work (still on a Telecaster) is exceptional, producing pedal-generated sounds I’ve never heard before, and backed by a top-class bass/double bass player and an equally virtuoso stand-in drummer who my ears deceived me into thinking was called Bart Simpson. (It’s Mike Stinson).
In fact the mention of Johnny Cash is apposite. Dayton has the same confidence, cultured southern drawl singing voice and indeed aura and stage persona as did Cash. He even has a similar look about him.
Plied all night by drinks from the audience the band rattled through a 90-minute set including a song, ‘Possum ran over my grave’ about an absent and drunk fellow-Texan George Jones (who for 20 years was considered to be the greatest living country singer), ‘Jailhouse Religion’, about prison parole day parties resuming as if they’d never stopped, and a cover of The Clash’s ‘Bankrobber’, after which an audience member informed him the song had been recorded just 300 yards from the venue, prompting a burning desire to track the place down.
The most poignant one was ‘Charlottesville’, about the Virginia town where the removal of Confederate monuments in 2017 led to protests and rallies in which a demonstrator was killed and 40 others injured.
And that is what Jesse Dayton is about. In an immensely entertaining set he told his life story (in a non-boastful way), cracked jokes, made social observations pertinent to both sides of the Atlantic, and performed both serious and more light hearted songs conjured up from a myriad of styles.
The only downside to an excellent show was a lame comment from Jesse about Trump, who was in the country for his state visit, and which like most political ones at gigs didn’t travel well. On this occasion though it was used as an introduction to ‘Charlottesville’, which I thought was a bit below the belt.
The next show is in London, at the Sebright Arms on Friday 7th June, after which he returns to the UK in July, partly to support Kiefer Sutherland. I notice that Kris Kristofferson is touring the UK right now too and it’s a pity he couldn’t be supporting him, as well.
Supporting artist at Night People, Californian Russ Tolman, is another character, one with eight solo albums under his belt, the last one, ‘Goodbye El Dorado’, being released this year and “a final love letter to Los Angeles,” as he described it.
He was last in town in 1985, playing in a five-piece, True West, a band associated with the 1980’s Los Angeles psychedelic-punk Paisley Underground movement that referenced The Byrds, at The Hacienda. That fact alone should have ensured a big turnout because unlike Madonna, who played the same venue at roughly the same time for her first ever UK show, Russ can still sing, and doesn’t need auto tune.
The offspring of a rancher and a burlesque dancer and related to both a noted psychologist and a physicist who worked on the Manhattan (Atom Bomb) Project, he’s Roy Orbison meets Elvis Costello meets The Eagles (one of his songs was even called ‘Take it easy, Take it slow’). He too was the recipient of several shots of whisky courtesy of an audience member.
His style is slower, acoustic and laconic in comparison to Jesse Drayton and in deep songs like ‘Yuba City’, ‘Something about a row boat’ and ‘Looking for an Angel’ he demands your attention, and got mine.
He’s another fine artist who, like Dayton, we rarely get to see on these shores. Manchester had its chance; we can only hope there will be others.