In the picturesque village of Eye, the former bank has been converted to a coffee house/performance venue, the ideal intimate space for the alternative country blues and spoken meanderings from the long life experiences of Johnny Dowd.
Opening the show was talented singer/songwriter Mark Lotterman from Rotterdam, playing gently on acoustic guitar and performing ballads mostly on the sad side. There was the more up-tempo black humour of ‘Indie’ then the final song the powerful and heartfelt ‘I Miss You’ hit a poignant note emotionally and sounded like it could have been from an early Tom Waits album.
I was not sure quite what to expect from Johnny Dowd, quotes like ‘coming on like a flu-ridden Texan undertaker singing broken folk laments for a dead dog he never cared much for anyway’ and similar are easy to find and perhaps over-emphasise the dark side of his lyrics. So when he took to the stage and the first two songs featured doom-laden deep guitar loops and images of death and the devil (‘The Devil Don’t Bother Me’) I thought we were in for an intense, challenging and possibly downbeat evening. But a few songs in and a few exchanges with the audience and I realised what a likeable, charming and musically interesting performer he is. Tales of small-town Americana, peculiar relatives, law breaking, horses, graves, all delivered with absurd lyrical twists (..’all of the ladies loved him, he was the town mortician…’).
A temperamental drum machine accompanied or fought against the guitar loops on some tracks, then he was joined on stage by a second guitarist for some noisy interplay. This included the title song from the new album ‘That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse’ and my favourite track from it ‘Why?’, a tender showcase of voice and ascending chord sequence, a potential classic. We were also treated to some poems about Jerry Lee Lewis and forgotten actor Peter Lawford, a cover of R&B standard ‘Louie Louie’ and an encore of ‘Separate Beds’, another impressive song and probably the nearest to traditional ‘country’ music that was played.
Johnny Dowd did not start recording until 1997 (aged 50), with his many albums and live shows he has carved a unique niche for himself, the epitome of the ‘cult’ performer…