Monday, 24 October 2011

Here's to Glen Campbell. Seriously.

I was going to be all trendy with a roundup of Cardiff's Swn festival (Nikki and the Dove stood out), but, er... well, I went to see Glen Campbell the other night; he kind of took the cake.



Glen Campbell may turn out to be one of the most memorable gigs I've been to. He's 75, suffering from Alzheimer's and yet still performing in a farewell tour - one that includes a costume change no less. He basks in a haze of glorious neon Americana (does a mean Elvis impression), and whilst on stage he appeared to be enjoying himself immensely.  The dexterity of the septuagenarian's guitar playing and his lyrical recall remains untouched by the ravages of dementia - there was even an outbreak into 'Dueling Banjos' at one point, causing my poor charred husk of a heart to burst with joy. He still can perform.

Watching Glen, one is apt to be reminded of the redoubtable Mrs Beetle from Stella Gibbon's 'Cold Comfort Farm', she who planned to turn her grandchildren into a jazz band. Glen's done it. His daughter's a multi-instrumentalist, one son plays bass and another plays the drums. They all play and sing. Whilst that kind of forward planning must certainly keep the overheads down, I suspect it's also the reason that he was able to undertake this last tour. His family treats him as a treasure.

They weren't alone in that sentiment - I don't think I've ever seen a standing ovation given before an artist has even sung one note, but there was a palpable genuine affection in sold out St David's Hall. It was never hard to watch Campbell on stage (despite my pre-concert worries), there was never a pause to allow a crushing weights of concern and sympathy deaden the mood. Alzheimer's wasn't so much an elephant in the room as a buzzing fly to be hand-waved off , at least while the limelights shone. "I'm 54", he joked, "I  forget things!".

As the evening wore on Glen's banter became at times a little confused but the show's structure and band provided direction and focus. He remained in high spirits, surrounded by his children,even singing some 'new'. The picture of a man at peace; one who has the good fortune to be on stage, appreciated, and singing with wizened gusto. Would that that level of attention and fondness could be so easily granted to other dementia sufferers, providing a constant tonic of reassured self worth. That said it's not all peaches and gravy; on the way out one old chap muttered about Campbell's voice being "different" since the last time he saw him, 35 years ago.

Glen Campbell's certainly never been cool. Not even ironically, despite the potent combination of Rhinestones and faux folksiness. Nor  has he been rejuvenated and re-marketed by the loving ministrations of a seminal producer (one suspects he wouldn't  have submitted to such attentions), or fixed into the firmament as an American icon. Yet he's still wearing spangly cowboy jackets, and the Witchita Lineman is still on that line. The evident pride in his career must surely contrast with what his happening to his mind, yet  he looks to be content. A man who knows himself, and is in on the joke. To watch Glen Campbell was to be provided with a rare glimpse into unique performer's longevical life, and to be given cause to celebrate.

Here you go, you know you'll enjoy them really:







5 comments:

Sally said...

Great review. I was there, and I treasured every minute, even though I got emotional with that HUGE standing ovation when he entered, during Phoenix and Wichita and then again when he walked off and once again on my short journey home when I popped his cd on.:-) I'd been so apprehensive about his gig, even though I knew I'd be completely in awe of seeing the man that sings some of the most beautiful songs written. His wonderful charisma and humour made it easier than I expected, and Glen obviously enjoyed every minute. There were a few mistakes and he joked about them, and we laughed with him. A wonderful, wonderful man.

Rol said...

Yeah, I saw him on Friday night in Salford. A gig I'll remember for the rest of my life.

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