(Photo taken by Andi of Outline magazine)
The doors had only been open for 30 minutes on Tuesday evening and many people were still filing into the venue when Billy Bragg and Joe Henry walked unannounced onto the stage at bang-on 8pm. The pair launched into a strong six song selection from their recent collaborative LP of great American railway songs, 'Shine a Light', each one being individually set into context by either Billy or Joe. After concluding their opening segment with a version of Gordon Lightfoot's 'Early Morning Rain', Billy took his leave and left Joe alone in the spotlight, to perform a five song solo set. Some of the audience around me became a little restless during Bragg's absence and following Joe's first song, 'Trampoline', the chap next to me lent over and idly asked what I'd thought of the show so far. I told him that though I'd been lucky enough to see Billy Bragg many times in my life, I'd waited 21 years to see Joe Henry sing 'Trampoline' and it had absolutely made my night. He admitted that he'd never heard of Joe Henry before the present collaboration and looked at me gobsmacked. To my surprise this memorable performance wasn't even the highlight of Joe's set. That came with a cover, 'Freedom For the Stallion', proceeded by a moving tribute to his great friend Allen Toussaint who died in 2015. Here's an audience recording of the same song from last year.
After a short intermission, it was Billy Bragg's turn to sing a few of his own songs, including two brand new compositions. One, 'The Times They Are A-Changin'...Back', is unlikely to be formally recorded, but I can see it becoming a constantly re-written and updated staple of Billy's set for the foreseeable futre. The other, which may or may not be called 'The Dreams of Reason', is an equally powerful work in progress - just five days old on Tuesday. Following Billy's well received solo set, he was rejoined by Joe for more from 'Shine a Light' plus a fine cover of Dylan's 'Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You' during the encore. An excellent night.