Merlin-like in vivid color coat with his flowing white hair falling to his shoulders, singer-songwriter-guitarist Charlie Landsborough delighted an appreciative audience at Belfast’s Grand Opera House this week in his distinctive homespun manner.
Ably supported by a four-member backing group, Tony Ariss (keyboards), Phil McDonough (electric guitar), Dave Rowland (steel guitar) and Joe Topping (acoustic guitar), the likeable Scouse leisurely strolled down memory lane plucking songs from his diverse repertoire on subjects ranging from death to football to first love, each song interspersed with witty repartee.
Without doubt, it is in the realm of wistful lyrics and melodies that Landsborough feels more at ease, not quite country, not quite not. While most of the evening’s musical menu comprised such mellow ballads with stand-outs among them being the heart-warming ‘I Will Love You All My Life,’ ‘Song Of My Heart,’ ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ and ‘Looking For A Destination,’ the tall, angular singer wasn’t averse to tossing in a rousing melody such as the raw, bluesy ‘Counterfeit Man’ to raise the tempo a notch or two.
All in all, while known as a country artist – the British Country Music Association inducted him into its Hall Of Fame seven years ago – the Belfast show was a blend of anthem, ballads, blues, gospel, country and folk, featuring strong, often personal lyrics. Combined with his natural love of story-telling – a skill enhanced by playing the club circuit of northern England for decades – Landsborough’s soothing vocals and simple anecdotes created a kind-of cozy, fireside evening for the folks who dared brave the cold, wet Irish winter evening.
In his biography, the entertainer and former teacher now in his mid-70s speaks about his love of what he terms a “heady mix of joy and melancholy, anarchy and reverence, humor, and the music.” All of this was served up in abundance this week at Belfast’s most ornate theater, with honest-to-goodness, light-hearted banter moderating the tone of the evening.
Granting insights into his musical heroes, the jocular Birkenhead native performed not one but two songs written by Illinois-born songwriter, John Prine, including the naughty and irreverent ‘Blow Up Your TV,’ about a soldier who meets a topless dancer who tells him it is good to live simply.
Reared in the docklands area of Birkenhead and with his brothers becoming sailors, it is no surprise some of Landsborough’s songs have a maritime theme, including the lullaby ‘What Colour Is The Wind,’ with the echoing lyrics, ‘Just like his friend the sea, The wind feels blue to me.’
Who cannot be uplifted by the inspiring messages in the lilting, Hank Williams influenced ‘We’re All Passing Through’ or ‘Shine Your Light,’ or be moved by ‘Too Good To Last,’ about loss of a loved one, with the haunting lines, ‘I can’t escape you, You’re here inside me, And time can’t hide me, From the past’?
Not surprisingly, a favorite of the home audience, was Landsborough’s romantic ‘Irish Waltz,’ about a man slow on his feet and lacking in grace who, spying his loved one across the dance floor and with stars in his head, takes the plunge to reap his rich reward.
My favorite: Landsborough’s gentle solo performance of the classic 1950 song ‘The Isle of Inisfree’ that featured in the Hollywood classic, ‘The Quiet Man’ starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and a later hit for Bing Crosby.
Postscript – unlike some successful artists who seem to have forgotten the loyal fans who helped them reach stardom, Landsborough is careful to announce every audience request he receives. It’s one of the reasons he’s welcomed on his Irish tour every year.