A household name he isn’t, but when The Harmonie couldn’t fit his gig into their Summer concert break they opened the hall a week early so that Ian Parker could appear. If you were lucky enough to have been there on Friday evening you will know why.
Bonn has been a lucky town for Birminghams Ian Parker. His appearance here for Rockpalasts ‘Crossroads Festival’ in 2004 had him voted the the Festivals best act. In 2006 his appearance on RUF’s Blues Caravan with Aynsley Lister and Erja Lyytinen also garnered great praise. Despite the previous appearances I had never seen Ian before and was curious to find out more about the man and his music.
My first experience of Ian Parker is as a drummer. Well sort of. As I step into the hall of Bonn’s Harmonie an hour before showtime Ian is tapping out the beat on a foot drum-pad. There are three microphones and half a dozen guitars onstage which give the impression that the rest of his band have all finished soundchecking and gone upstairs for a pizza, but actually Ian IS the band – it’s a solo tour with just roadie, merchandiser, and Assistant Mike for company. When someone asks Mike if Ian wants to eat before or after the show Ian himself is more pre-occupied with taking the excess treble from the speakers. I have the feeling that without Mike, Ian might well forget to eat in his search for perfection. I’d been told he might have time for an interview and he’s happy with that when I want it – In fear of his stomache rumbling mid-set I suggest after the show. Finally Ian heads to the dressing room for his pliers to cut a string on his guitar (and maybe eat too)
With candle-lit tables across the floor it’s a cosy atmosphere that greets a hopefully well fed Ian an hour later. The audience is a comfortable size and seems aware that Ian is solo this evening although it seems odd to see the odd Rocker sitting sedately in candle light. But will they be sitting comfortably after half an hour of acoustic folk-blues?
As it turns out, for someone who was turned on to music by Jimi Hendrix, Parker is very capable of holding an audience in the palm of his hand without a Strat or Fender for company. It’s really down to three things: He is someone who takes great care over his lyrics, he has an excellent ear for simple melody behind the guitar solos, and has an unpretensious ‘typically English’ character that makes the between song banter immensely enjoyable. Right from the off when he introduces himself (for the lack of a band to introduce) by announcing things are a bit different from the previous show in Bonn. “I’m standing here without a band, and wearing a hat, for example” he smiles. ”I know what everyone says about a musician wearing a hat onstage… no hair!” he smiles and removes his hat to prove the lie. The audience is in the palm of his hand, and happily stays there for the evening.
There are some older numbers played such as the CSNY classic ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ and, as if to cock a finger at the Hendrix guitar hero image, he even puts in ‘All Along the Watchtower’ which not surprisingly given the Martin he’s holding, takes on more of the original Dylan version. Indeed, if Hendrix was an early hero guitarwise then Dylan was obviously an inspiration lyrically. So much so that Parker covers Dylan in triple pack with ‘Lovesick’ and ‘I Shall Be Released’. The former is a pretty straight cover but ‘Released’ is a highlight that sees Parker sing the refrain “See my light come shining” through twice at the beginning to create his own backing duet for the song. This, the sparing but clever use of delay and playback, plus the foot drum, really are all that a good singer/songwriter needs and, as the songs show, Ian IS a good singer/songwriter.
He’s first to admit that the material is weighted heavily in favour of sadder themes when I interview him later, and even onstage he freely admits (before playing ‘Your Basket has never been so Full’) that we should make the most of it as “It’s my only cheerful song”. For the record I found another – ‘Your love is my Home’ but laughs are certainly in the minority on Parker releases – hence the popularity of the live sets with their cheerful banter in between songs I suspect.
‘Told my girl to go Away’ for example came from Ian always being on tour and not finding time for a relationship. But these days he’s more upbeat, ‘The Lights Came On’ with it’s uptempo buskerbeat describes the change perfectly: “You found me down and out. Back up against the wall lately. Then you found me, and all the lights came on”
Far too soon of course all the lights at the Harmonie have to come on too. Ian has already encored with ‘I’ll make love to you any old time’ , “Written by a real man, an American” as Ian smilingly points out. “Not like us English – we have enough hang-ups about actually making love – never mind writing about it!”. He’s still called back by rapturous applause for a further encore and dips into his musical pocket to come out with an off the cuff, raw and all the better for it version of Robert Johnsons ‘Walking Blues’. When the final applause has died down afterwards he says what a wonderful audience we’ve been with such a polite air that it sounds like he’s found his second home. Hopefully Ian Parker will come ‘home’ more often. On tonights performance he will have a lot of friends waiting.
Ian ‘Twittered’ the following during his break at the Harmonie –
“I’m having one of the best gigs of my life! It is a privilege to play for these lovely people in Bonn tonight :-)”
…and finally, a video from the show: