The problem with the Fulford Arms is that it’s the wrong side of town for me to get to. I don’t mind cycling in Summer but the five mile ride home doesn’t appeal to me in Winter. There’s no direct bus route so, if I want to see a gig there, it’s not as easy as heading into the city centre, especially if I want to sample some of the fine real ales. I guess that shows the pull of Hazzard County as I bought a ticket for tonight’s gig before thinking about how I was going to get there. Or, more accurately, how I was going to get home. Eventually, my plan was to get a lift to the pub, then leave just before 11PM, giving me enough time to walk back into town and get the last bus home.
The Hazzards used to perform pretty much every Friday night (for something like fourteen years – that’s some residency) at The White Swan and we often headed off their after other gigs to see them play. When the individual members started to get too busy, the band ceased to be a regular live act and now get together occasionally, usually for charity. Tonight it was to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support.
When we arrived there was a brief moment of panic as the landlady (I think) went inside to check that our tickets – in fact a hand-written receipt saying we had paid because, when Andy went to buy them, the girl behind the bar didn’t know where the actual tickets were being kept – were valid. Eventually we were allowed in and found the place packed and a familiar-looking support band already playing.
Stout Boots are a new band comprising of ex-Hazzards Chris Johnson (guitar and vocals), “country” Jon Benton (guitar and vocals) and Paddy Berry (double bass) along with ex-Mostly Autumn Angela Gordon (various wind instruments, accordion and vocals). There was an Irish feel to much of their set of covers, with Whisky In The Jar, The Belle Of Belfast City, Sally MacLennane, Irish Rover and a few jigs thrown in for good measure. In fact, from memory the only track without an Irish connection was the American Civil War song Johnny Comes Marching Home, for which they were joined on stage by Chris Farrell (The Yards) who played a tiny mandolin. As you can probably guess from the set-list, this was an energetic performance and it featured some very nice vocal harmonies. A nice warm-up for the main event.
As Hazzard County took to the stage, we found ourselves much closer to the front of the audience, where it was a little easier to breathe (and a little harder to get to the bar). There were a few familiar faces from the White Swan days dotted around the crowd and ticket money alone, without the various other money-raising ideas – pay for a song dedication, buy a drink for somebody not here, band-baked cakes, collection buckets, band-made chilli – must have made a good amount for the charity.
Tonight was billed as the first time that all the various members of Hazzard County had been in the same room together. Unfortunately, Dave Keegan had come down with ‘flu, so was represented on stage by a balloon (which got popped at sometime during the evening, something I don’t remember ever happening to Dave). Nevertheless, being a relative newcomer to the band, there was a couple of members I didn’t recognise and one that even Andy didn’t know. (Andy tracked him down later to find that he was the original bass-player.) Even Simon Snaize confused me for a while as he seems to have lost a bit of weight and, dare I say it, smartened up a bit tonight. Even with the larger-than-normal number of members (although not everybody played or was on stage at the same time until the last couple of songs) there was still room for a couple of guest spots from Chris Farrell as the evening went on. There was much instrument-swapping throughout the set as the band played a foot-tapping, sing-along bunch of old favourites – Cocaine, Crickle Creek, Rock Me Mama, Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness (the first song ever played by the band), Passionate Kisses, California Stars, Folsom Prison Blues, Rhinestone Cowboy and a whole host more (nearly thirty in total), including some that I didn’t recognise.
The Band has always been an influence on this band and Levon Helm’s death from cancer earlier this year gave added resonance to tonight’s event, as did the passing of one band member’s mother from the same cause. That’s not to say that this was a sombre affair, though. Far from it, I don’t think the Hazzards could do sombre if they tried. There always seem to be covers just out of the left field as well, whether it’s a countrified Sweet Child Of Mine without the iconic opening, a nifty segue into Just My Imagination or a Black Sabbath riff accompanying Take A Load Off Annie, you never quite know what’s going to happen. Sadly, there was no sign of the superb version of Dear Prudence that I have still only heard the once. You are pretty much guaranteed a fun evening, though. And dancing, there’s usually dancing of some sort. Hazzard County are three years off their twentieth anniversary and I hope that their plan of getting together like this on a yearly basis comes to fruition.
And my plan for getting home? Well, who was I kidding? It was well after midnight when the gig ended and I finally left the pub, having paid a near year-old debt to Simon. I did walk back into town, but it was a taxi that took me home, not a bus.