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Richie Havens, Jazz Café

Richie Havens, Jazz Café

Below is my review of the Richie Havens gig at London’s Jazz Cafe, 17th February 2008.

Richie Havens music career spans over four decades. His powerful, soulful voice personified 60’s counter culture and he was immortalised in the video of the now legendary Woodstock Festival. He was in London last weekend at The Jazz Café.

This was the third and final show of Richie Havens’ ‘mini residency’ at the Jazz Café.

When Richie took to the stage he immediately filled the room with positive energy, and we all knew that it was going to be a great night.

“I learned a lot of songs in Greenwich Village, some of them I still sing ‘cos they still matter, others – we’ve taken care of that”. Songs included classics such as ‘Here Comes The Sun’ (“The Only Happy Song I Know”) and Richie’s signature tune ‘Freedom’ both of which demonstrated his effortless use of the guitar as a rhythm instrument. Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’ brilliantly segued into The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and the interplay here between Richie’s acoustic and Walter Parks electric guitar was the finest of the night in my opinion. ‘3.10 to Yuma’, ‘If I Could Change The Ending’ and ‘Handouts In The Rain’ were two of many very deep and moving songs performed. Richie conveys such intensity and emotion when he plays and you can see clearly that every line, every strum, is a big deal to him. Cellist Stephanie Winters and a percussionist whose name I didn’t get (apologies if you’re reading!) joined Richie and parks for the second half of the gig.

There was total hush in the Jazz Café when Richie was tuning up, which was quite often! “Apologies for the tuning – it’s due to relativity. I’ve got a machine up here that’s supposed to tune the guitar for me, but I don’t believe in things like that…”.

The songs were interspersed with some great dialogue: “There were days in Greenwich village when you would play twenty cafes per night. If you liked a song, you could ask the performer to write it out for you – and they would! There was one song that this guy used to play, and I asked him to write it out for me. I saw him a week later and I said ‘do you have that song for me?’, and he produced a cassette from his back pocket – he was a hi-tech guy! So I used to play this song around and then some guy asked me to write it out for him, so I did. And he killed it man, his version was so good that I didn’t play it for many years…”. Richie then launches into Dylans ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and you know he’s alluding to Hendrix.

Richie obliged my encore request of ‘Just like A Woman’ and the only song missing from the set for me was ‘Handsome Johnny’, which I wish I’d asked for as well!

Richie was signing CD’s and chatting to people for a long time after the show – he really wasn’t in any hurry to leave, just very relaxed and happy to chat. Unfortunately, I was shamefully drunk by the time my turn came to get my copy of ‘alarm clock’ signed…

Mesmerising, poetic, profound, funny. As my friend said – “It’s not a gig it’s a spiritual experience”.

Richie’s new album ‘No-one Left To Crown’ is pencilled in for release in March / April 2008.

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