I must admit it has been a few years since I last went to the Radlett Centre for an event. The Radlett Operatic Society performing The Mikado, if I recall correctly. So I had forgotten what the venue was like. It turns out that in size it is somewhere between The Alban Arena and The Abbey Theatre in St. Albans. More Abbey Theatre in that it has a single seating block, with no balcony. A very compact venue, with easy parking on the road, very different to central St. Albans, so that’s a real plus.
Enough of the venue. I spoke to Clive John, who plays Johnny Cash, the previous week. He was clearly an engaging and intelligent man, who enjoys what he does (see this post). I am a big fan of Johnny Cash, more him than his music. Not to say I don’t like his music, I do, but I have huge admiration for him as a man of principle and strong views. Therefore a hard act to portray as a tribute. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are, with all due respect, easy to portray. A solo artist, with such presence is not. Well I’m glad to say Clive did a very good job. From the first song it was clear he has worked on the mannerisms and he certainly has the voice.
Of course a large part of what made the Johnny Cash sound was his band and Clive has put together a great unit. The sound was authentic, but with their own personality. Most notable, for me, though was the June Carter role. Jill Schoonjans played her perfectly, very similar look but an even better voice. The quality of the singing, from the star turns to the backing band, was note perfect.
Personal highlights were ‘Jackson’, ‘The Man in black’ and ‘San Quentin’, which including audience participation to simulate the prisoners ecstatic reaction on the recording of the original. As you would expect, it was hit after hit. Not sure about the Kris Kristoferson songs during the second set, but the audience seemed to appreciate them. Of special mention was the performance of one of Clive’s own songs, a hit in the country charts a couple of years ago – The Spirit. In terms of songwriting quality it sat up there with the work of Johnny Cash, which is about as big a compliment as anyone could give.
I may be biased, but I have a great admiration for artists that pay tribute to their heroes and inspiration. In my experience it is harder to perform a tribute to a famous artist than to perform your own material or covers. Expectations are high and the room for improvisation and change is limited or non-existent. This was one of the best I have seen.