Saturday, February 8, 2020


Hang on, I hear you mutter, that's a song by Bruce Cockburn, pride of Canada, and it's already had a shout here, why, a mere 12 years ago. Indeed it has, saving me the time to mention that original version, good that it is, but I'm here talking about a whole different barrel of monkeys. OK, same song, different band, different time, well, six years, and a whole different ethos and vibe.

Let me take you back to the mid 80s. Contrary to cliche, it was not all poodle hair and shiny suit jackets, sleeves pulled up, at least not for me. Indeed, I had espoused rock music as being for losers, and embraced folk as my field and furrow. None of your finger in the ear and fluffy jumpers, mind, I was in much deeper than that. I had ditched my inky music press for Folk Roots, a glossy monthly devoted to all things folk and what would become world music, gathering up aspects of blues, country and bluegrass along the way. (Sadly, recently defunct.)I had taken up morris dancing, as mentioned here before, and started going to folk clubs, folk concerts and folk festivals. I guess I still do. One of my favourite haunts was the Red Lion Folk Club, still going, in King's Heath, Birmingham. (U.K.) They seemed to have a visionary approach and interpretation to folk, booking all, it seemed, the acts I was so avidly reading up about. If Dylan plugging in had led to the cry of traitor, this club was populated by all the people who had said goodo, as, for every staid stalwart of the trad. arr. brigade, and they booked the best of them too, they also had all the young turks, blazing away full pelt, plugged in and drums pounding. For a while it seemed a rotating feast, week on week, of Edward II, then with the Red Hot Polkas, Gregson & Collister and Alias Ron Kavana. EII, as they came to be abbreviated, were melodeon led reggae-morris fusion, a version running to this day. Clive Gregson and Christine Collister may have been just two voices and one guitar, but had more vim in their acousticity than the national grid, both then also members of the Richard Thompson band. And Alias Ron Kavana were just something else.

A night out with Alias Ron Kavana was one where you knew you would get good 'n' sweaty, requiring copious fluid intake and a firm floor below. The folk club was held in the upstairs room of a large roadhouse styled pub, so the fluids were guaranteed. How the floor held the bounce of the ferociously jigging audience from careering down through into the bar below, lord only knows, but it did, as the four piece band thrashed through a heady mix of rockabilly, irish folk and celtic soul, all fronted by the glorious paradox of, no alias, his real name, Ron Kavana, a balding and bellied pocket behemoth, with a light and adept touch on his guitar and a foot to the floor full throttle vocal roar. Channeling all his heroes, Elvis, Van the Man, Johnny Cash, he could effortlessly hold  the room, with no small nod to more modern players, Joe Strummer and Costello, say, with a hefty side order appreciative of the genius unfolding, unravelling even, of Shane McGowan. Backing was provided by second guitar, Mick Molloy, bass, Richie Robertson and drummer, Les Robertson, the whole a collective banshee of jubilant noise. Yet, at the same time they were winning the Best Live Act, year in and year out, at Folk Roots, they were essentially off radar to all else, initially having no record label to sign them. Eventually the band signed to Chiswick records, a small London based independent with a tiny roster of likeminded scallywags and reprobates. Of course I bought the record, Think Like a Hero, appalling cover picture and all. It seemed an age, five years, before the follow-up, Coming Days, dropped. Rocket Launcher was on this second album, a very much angrier version than the original. If Cockburn was despairing, musing on how far he could be pushed, Kavana and crew were ready, willing and able to press the button. By now I had left the Red Lion behind, catching the Alias band at a festival in Portsmouth, second on the big to Fairport Convention. I seem to recall the Alias band won.

And then it all seemed to stop. The Alias band fell apart. I vaguely recall some form of RK big band, now with his wife on fiddle, it all seeming too messy and muddled. To be fair, it may have been me that was messy and muddled that night, it being a troubled time in my life, as well, it seemed, as I later read, in his. Trying to keep up, I learnt of links with ex-Pogue Terry Woods, as the Bucks, that never seemed to last, and of other dalliances, as he gradually fell off the map. My last sighting was an erudite collection, Irish Songs of Resistance, Rebellion and Reconciliation, gathering he had largely packed in the music biz for a life in academia. It all seemed a bit dry and dull after the ceilidh of his earlier stuff, sad even, as it seemed to be then recycled into a 40 Favourite Irish Songs for misty eyed irish ex-pats, of whom there is a wealth in Birmingham, and who would probably faint if the Alias Band were to crank up in their earshot. (As balance, I also sought out, for this piece, other explanations for this sudden apparent change of direction and fortune, discovering a somewhat different slant. I may have been chasing the craic, he was altogether on a more serious journey. His most recent release was supposed to be a collection of songs from the Irish Travelling diaspora, due in 2017, but I cannot determine whether that ever materialised. A facebook presence seems also to denote some, um, issues, changing from 'Ron Kavana-musician', and hosted by his seemingly long-suffering agent, if his comments belie anything worthwhile, to 'Ron Kavanagh', a whole more closed book, attributing only his university linkage.)

By way of conclusion, here he is a decade ago. I hope all is well with you, Ron, and may the road rise with you.

And you?

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