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    Ray Wilson Unplugged - 13 Shows - Madogs 2001


    What’s that, Ray Wilson plays in a small pub for three weeks? Welcome to Madogs, a basement pub with historical roots, as it were. Ray and Steve play here – and have been doing so for ages. They have an enormous reputation with their local audience who pile into the pub in large numbers every evening. Its stage is a bizarre little thing. Squeezed into a corner, it is separated from the rest of the room by a nostalgic wire fence and almost too small for a single musician, let alone three musceteers and their equipment.

    It’s a stress-free evening full of relaxed improvisation. At first, there’s just Ray and his acoustic guitar before his brother Steve and finally the wonderful Amanda Lyon on keyboards and co-vocals join in. Steve and Amanda are, indeed, the current incarnation of Guaranteed Pure who play their way up and down the chart hits at Madogs’ several nights a week.

    Ray kicks off the evening with No Son Of Mine, Follow You Follow Me and Shipwrecked. He plays them in a fresh and lively way. Never does he abuse the ‘unplugged’ label to play slow and weepy songs slower and weepier still… He interpretes the songs in a number of extraordinarily different ways. At times the music is quiet and fragile, but he never shies away from making a big noise if necessary.
     
    After this first block of Genesis material Ray moves on to all kinds of songs from throughout his career, including numerous recent songs. Even though he jumps through his repertoire almost at random with a casual disregard for eras and style boundaries, the result is an impressive bouquet of music. And that really says something about his excellent qualities as a song writer.

    He quickly sweeps through the Stiltskin era with Steve by playing Rest In Peace and, of course, Inside. Between those songs there is another block of early Gabriel-era Genesis material, namely Lover’s Leap and an agreeably fast Carpet Crawlers. He is not here to follow a chronological order. He plays what he feels like playing.

    Between songs Ray tells cock-and-bull stories from his life (and I’ll be darned if I tell the punch-lines) – anyway: We get to hear what Tony is doing on a tractor, what Mike does with a rubber duck at night and last not least whether Phil ever was so pressed for money that he wanted back his job. The highlight indisputably is the tale of a naked Mike & The Mechanics roadie on rollerskates in Bangkok at night, and the most moving story is about the day even Tony Banks could not help but laugh.

    ... And the really spectacular songs are still to appear. Lots of them, too. If ever there was a song everybody was positive he would NOT play at all, it was Swing Your Bag. It’s the song that he most regrets to have written, but here it is, completely rearranged with a breathtaking doo-wop arrangement for Amanda and Steve and a merciless scat bit from Ray that would have left Louis Armstrong impressed.

    Then there’s another song from the early days that sounds a bit like Phil’s work. It’s a duet with Amanda, Always In My Heart, that has been dug up again from the archives. After that, Ray plays a number of brillant new songs. Believe is dedicated to recently deceased Larry Adler and performed Dylan-style complete with a mouth organ. An encounter of the weird kind Ray had with a Hare Krishna activist inspired him to write the delightful Gouranga. Three songs from Cut, an album that is still largely unknown in Edinburgh, complete this block of new material: Sarah, Gypsy and Another Day.

    The stories that accompany Ray’s own songs are noticeably more serious. Another Day is (amongst other things) about the suicide of a fellow pupil and fellow member of his punk band at school. It was written towards the end of his time with Stiltskin. Gouranga dates from the equally depressing time after Genesis. Even though he has been at the top twice and hit rock bottom thrice, Ray does not give up. One could do far worse than turn one’s wounds into great songs the way he does.

    Scattered throughout the set are his three favourite songs by Collins, Gabriel and Genesis. Collins’ In The Air Tonight has been completely rearranged to the point of leaving out even the notorious drum pattern, but it still is dynamically performed in a convincing and powerful way.

    Whoever attempted to play off Ray against Phil in the big “Whose guilt?” debate that ensued when Genesis split up – whoever that did, I say, got to eat his words in the face of this song. Ray has an uncompromising respect towards every good song and every good songwriter. This shows in the way he covers the song. Never once does he simply imitate the original nor abuse it for his own purposes, but he competently rearranges it in his on style.
     
    The second favourite number is Peter Gabriel’s Biko, which Ray acknowledges as Gabriels’ most important song and plays in a straightforward way. As an encore he plays a stunning version of Mama, and it really shows what could have been if this band that did not want to be anymore had brought such an amount of creativity, originality and courage to bear on their own material.
     
    When things get hot, Ray plays the occasional (series of) bum note(s), be it a totally different intro or half a verse in the wrong key. It’s hard to say who had more fun when that happened: him, us, or Steve who accompanied those moments with brotherly grimaces and gestures.

    Finally they even begin to play the most peculiar covers, just for good measure and mixture. Bob Dylan’s Forever Young is a regular in this department – it’s one of Ray’s favourites, performed with Amanda. He occasionally also plays the odd Eagles or Springsteen song. If he feels like it, he even kicks out No Son Of Mine for the Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, just because, as far as progressive music is concerned, Pink Floyd were far more important. And anyway,  “It’s MY guitar!“ :-)

    by Martin Christgau

    translated by Martin Klinkhardt


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