You are here

John Dickinson

The Regent, Doncaster
Monday 14 May 2007

I first came across John Dickinson in about 2003 when he came to do a support spot at the Lonsdale. My impression then was of a quiet softly spoken shy geordie lad who had clearly spent far too much time in his bedroom refining the craft of bottleneck style guitar playing. Not a lot has changed in the subsequent years, he's still quietly spoken, still a geordie lad (hails from Morpeth in Northumbeland), a mispent youth is still very much apparent in his dazzling playing ability, but somewhere along the line he has become 'Johnny' rather than just plain John. Presumably this gives him that bluesman edge.

The likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Alvin Lee proved that British white men can indeed play the blues, but we have to agree it can only be achieved if they don't piss about trying to sound black. Johnny is blessed with one of the strongest Northumberland accents and therefore cannot come within a light year of fooling anyone of his roots. He creates his own take on the blues by reconstructing everything he plays in his own distinct style. It's like listening to Paul Rogers playing in the style of Ry Cooder with a Martin Simpson sense of clarity thrown in for good measure. That's some big names there.

Johnny Dickinson appears to have come a long way since his support spot at the Lonsdale with a main stage appearance at the 2005 Cambridge Folk Festival under his belt, albeit a Sunday lunchtime slot which to any self respecting bluesman is an unthinkable time. This is night time music, and the later the better. His crystal clear bottleneck playing together with a soothing unaffected vocal delivery makes for all that is good about the blues. His treatment of traditional ballads and tunes from nearer to home is where Johnny differs from the rest. She Moves Through The Fair has never been played with so much eloquence.

Beach Road from his CASTLES AND OLD KINGS album set the standard of emotive playing for the night and paved the way for beautiful readings of such songs as Black Jack Davy, Jock O Hazeldene and The Rowan Tree.

Towards the end of his second set, Johnny by his own admission, collapsed into a busking approach and the over-long and amnesia drenched Werewolves of London could've done with a silver bullet, not least to stop Warren Zevon spinning in his grave, but it was fun nevertheless. His encore of Hank Williams Jambalaya played as a tango was an absolute treat, despite the impromtu duetting with an audience member, at Johnny's request, on Jew's Harp. Could things be more surreal?

My only niggle about the night is that I can't get my head around why someone would want to play a National steel guitar. It may have looked pretty on the cover of BROTHERS IN ARMS, but it sounds like someone slapping a cheese grater with a spatchelor, even in the hands of a genius. They should all be melted down to make office desk toys. I would rather watch balls banging together than hear another note on one of those things.

All in all, a pretty good night at Bob Chiswick's Monday Music Club at the Regent, once again proving that music is alive and well in old Doncaster town.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky