Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Jerron 'Blind Boy' Paxton - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 25th October 2016


On the night the Cubs began their quest for a first World Series win since 1908, you could easily have envisaged being transported back in time to that year when spending an evening in the company of Jerron ‘Blind Boy Paxton’. The term revivalist could be mulled over when attempting to define him as an artist, but that involves some foot in the contemporary world. This multi-instrumentalist interpreter of old time songs hails from Los Angeles, encompasses the whole ethos of the singing Southern black person, while evolving into the personified spirit of American roots music. Blues is the starting and anchor point for Jerron, but his random demeanour floats between old time country, traditional folk, jazz and general music hall.

First and foremost, Jerron extols the virtue of a majestically crafted musician wielding the magic of an 1848 banjo, regular guitar, fleeting violin, evocative harmonica and impromptu piano. Word is significantly getting around about Jerron  – and his ‘Blind Boy’ moniker – as a sold out Kitchen Garden Café testified, providing the suitable non-conformist setting that creates the perfect backdrop for Jerron’s semi-chaotic ramblings. This was almost twelve months to the timing of his debut at the venue and three years since he first crossed my path with a part in a Sunday morning gospel set at the Calgary Folk Festival in Canada. To this day Jerron  does remain a conundrum with undoubted precision skills in the musical department, while remaining a tricky character to pinpoint effect, connection and place in a structured world.

Possibly there is no place in a structured world for Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton and that is part of a curious appeal. If you have a wardrobe mind, the coat hangers are missing with just a heap of clothes to wade through. This was a rare evening at the Kitchen Garden Café which was definitely drifting in an infinite direction when time was called on the proceedings. You got the impression that Jerron was settled in for the long haul and there was no doubt that many members of the audience were fully with him on a journey which started with a chronological reference; a notion which got to the Civil War before evaporating in the ether of spontaneous song.

The parts of this lengthy show that lingered most prominently were based around the music. The playing was absolutely mesmerising. Going back to the baseball analogy at the start, if a pitcher needs four or five days rest after a start, surely does the fragility of Jerron’s prized banjo. Together with the guitar, like all instruments filtering through the central mic, they were in essence weapons of emancipation in the early throes of the set as the focus was on the establishment of the black folks identity in early 19th century America. The shift into fiddle paved the way for an alternative immigration source and that from the British Isles, while the enticing harmonica pieces had a definite wandering theme to their improvised status. Eventually the sound and mood drifted into pure entertainer mode with the crowd shouting out standards, Jerron weighing them up in his inimitable style and the irreverent mood moving up a notch. All this followed Jerron starting his second set in the venue’s foyer-type room playing the piano while folks were settling down.

Being in the company of Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton does require an uncluttered state of mind. This open approach will soon be taken up by the many nuances of an artist – part caricature, wholly authentic, highly talented and the potential to intoxicate. Evolution is probably not a word you are going to associate with his music and the ultimate connection with him is entirely in the sphere of an individual’s psyche. However his presence is highly valued in the not over-populated pool of without compromise American roots music exponents. His growing stature over here is apparent and experiencing at least one night in the musical company of Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton is essential to anyone with a historical interest. From then on, perception takes a deeply personal stance. 

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