We all tell jokes about banjo players even when we know better. But I’ll tell you this. See Dan Walsh on his current tour and you won’t be laughing. In fact, you’ll probably leave with a big smile on your face. Dan managed to record Live At The Floodgate in Stafford just before the first lockdown and presumably decided to hold on to it for a while until it was all over – I suppose that’s now.
He starts out thoughtfully. There’s a ripple of applause, a big chord and a pause before he tackles the first notes of ‘On The Border’. It’s a slow start – one of those tunes that evokes the wide open spaces somewhere down Mexico way before slipping into a second and third tune and picking up speed. The first song is ‘Still A Town’ about urban development and the death of old town centres but also about people power. From there we have the traditional Irish song, ‘The Suilin’, a lovely lilting tune once part of the Saw Doctors’ repertoire.
Having nicely warmed up Dan plays three meaty jigs, clawhammer style, under the collective title, ‘Plan B’ and switches to guitar for another old Saw Doctors’ song, ‘At Least Pretend’, presumably to get his breath back before diving into the break-neck ‘Late Night Drive’. It’s a tune that should end with a car wreck but produces silly grins all round. ‘Whiplash Reels’ begins by sounding like a slow tuning-up exercise or the player trying to master the fingering. After about two minutes, he’s got it and the piece takes off. ‘Calliope House’ is a set of fast session tunes, the sort of thing that Dan does best.
A couple of songs come next, ‘Darkness Descends’ and ‘Only Way to Go’, before more digital dexterity with ‘Moonshine 68’. ‘Jack Crawford’ is a probably traditional song, much covered in the north-east and ‘The Song Always Stays’ with Dan on guitar again, is told from the point of view of an elderly man in a care home and is one of Dan’s best songs. His performance of ‘You Can Call Me Al’ – yes that one – and still on guitar is much faster than the original and sounds as though there were two of him – brilliant.
He “finishes” with ‘Joxers Set’ which begins almost wistfully but soon speeds up to his signature high speed picking moving towards insanely fast. The actual closer is ‘Sleep With One Eye Open’, again rather pacier than Lester Flatt’s original.
Live At The Floodgate puts together some of Dan’s best material and is a very varied set. If you think you don’t like banjo, take a listen or, better still, catch Dan live. It’s by far the best way.
Artist’s website: https://www.danwalshbanjo.co.uk/
‘Whiplash Reel’ (the first time around):