Eh? That's not Dylan and indeed it's not. In fact the image isn't even of John Wesley Harding, but of John Wesley Hardin, no g, 1853 - 95, outlaw gunslinger and, possibly, nemesis of "Wild" Bill Hickok, referenced within the title track of the also otherwise stage-named Robert Zimmerman's 8th studio album. This isn't about either of them, but about a latterday minstrel from Hastings, Sussex, UK, who took on this monicker for the launch of his musical career in 1988. Quite the renaissance man, one suspects he could have made a go of nearly anything, as Wesley Stace, his real name, has written 3 novels and has a First in English Lit from Cambridge University, as well as being responsible for upward of 17 discs. In fact, had he not been offered a record deal, whilst supporting (real name) John Hiatt, he may well have got his PhD as well.
I think it fair to say I took no great shine to his initial work, it seeming a bit sub-prime Declan McManus, perhaps hindered by the use of various "Attractions" in his studio band. Perhaps this gave him his greater edge in the states, where he is better known and has been resident since 1991. My real interest was sparked by his 1999 work, "Trad Arr. Jones", a collection of folk songs initially covered by a a fellow Brit, Nic (real name) Jones, who had been tragically injured in a near career stalling road traffic accident in 1982. (I say near,as he has, remarkably, started cautious gigging again during literally only this last year or so.) Here is a song from that record, perhaps better known in another version, as "Matty Groves", by the mercurial "Fairport Convention." This showed a voice that had now some more oblique and less affected character of it's own and a willingness to ignore fashions and conventions redolent within his earlier work. Since then there has been a number of releases, often increasingly diverse in styles and statement, demonstrating a confident eclecticism, absent in his sophomore efforts. It somehow seems entirely apt that he now finds himself on "Yep Roc" records, who seem always to specialise in individuals reluctant to embrace any great degree of type-casting, such as label-mates Dave Alvin, Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock, all real names, amongst many others.
The song I feature above, "Sussex Ghost Story" comes from 2004's "Adams Apple", my favourite track on my favourite LP. I would have preferred the studio version, but could not find it on youtube, but this at least has the fabulously evocative string arrangement of (Richard) Gavin Bryars. Not particularly representative even of the rest of the record, I can play it time and time again, reflecting on the bleakness and the beauty in the lyric and the melody. And in case my selections are all, as ever, a touch melancholic, here's a (slightly) more upbeat song, give or take the lyric.
Ironically, to time with the year of this posting, for his most recent record he has reverted to his own name for 2013's "Self-Titled".
Finally, for those feeling unduly deprived of the expectation offered by my title, here's the "other" JWH, the song, or, more exactly, the album, but, indulge me, not that one either. Here is folk phenomenon, real name, Thea Gilmore, with a song from her cover to cover of Dylans's 8th. Enjoy