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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

A fellow member of an unofficial Joanna Newsom Facebook group I belong to asked how many concerts we’d seen the Californian singer and harpist perform. The author of the post had seen her twelve times and wanted to know, “Can anyone beat that?”

I was pretty sure I could. From memory I made it seventeen times (eighteen if you count the guest appearance with Roy Harper in 2013, though I’m reluctant to mention it until we’re certain he’s been acquitted of all charges. You know how it is.) But later that night I realised I’d forgotten Barcelona. How could I forget Barcelona, with all its wonky buildings and street performers who look like they’re levitating but in reality are just doing nothing on a reinforced steel platform. So it was nineteen times. I hastily edited my comment to show that I was clearly the best at seeing this Texas Gladden/Ruth Crawford Seeger-influenced artist in a live setting.

And then someone from America replied that they’d seen Joanna Newsom twenty times. Infuriated I amended my list, adding the three shows I’ll be seeing on her upcoming tour. Since she has no US dates booked as yet, that will put me firmly ahead until next year. Unless…

I started a new job recently. It’s one of those modern jobs where I could be working any day of the week at any hour. I’m sure they’d allow me one day off to go and see my favourite musician in concert. But will they allow me three? In the same week?

“It’s just that… she’s really good. We’re talking Bob Dylan level good, in terms of her lyrical symbolism. Or Joni Mitchell at the very least. And her harp playing that borrows from West African kora techniques learned at the Lark folk camp in Mendocino is thrilling to witness in person. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I have to be there!”

Office managers aren’t equipped to deal with an employee’s existential anxiety attack. And it’s unlikely that mine will rejig the rota to allow me to attend more gigs than most clerical support staff would deem necessary. To make matter worse I also have tickets to see Bob Dylan. Twice, on consecutive days.

“Of course you can see Bob Dylan that night, it’s not a problem. I heard he doesn’t talk to the audience and mangles his old songs but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. And you’re on the late shift the following day so plenty of time to recover.”

“Yeah… it’s just… I have a ticket to see him the next night too. Because the first night I’m near the front on the left hand side, which is good because you can still see his face when he goes to the piano. He plays piano now. No, he ­hasn’t played guitar for ages. But the next night I’ve got a ticket in the choir stalls. I’ve never sat there before. And some people say you’ve not really seen Bob Dylan unless you’ve seen him from behind.”

There’s a modern adage that says you won’t reach the end of your life wishing you’d stayed later at work. Is there also one that says you’ll never regret getting fired for skipping work to see a polarising harpist you’ve already seen nineteen times before? Let’s find out.

Tim Chipping


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