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Review: Steve Earle, Snape Maltings

PUBLISHED: 13:32 22 August 2014 | UPDATED: 13:32 22 August 2014

Steve Earle, who played Snape

Steve Earle, who played Snape

Archant

There was something surreal about seeing Earle on stage at Snape Maltings. They were certainly unlikely surroundings for the American troubadour, who thankfully didn’t feel the urge to censor his performance at the world famous concert hall.

Performing solo, the 59-year-old left very few stones unturned as he took the capacity crowd through the finest moments of a career that began in 1974.

Best known for the anthem Copperhead Road, he clearly holds the UK dear to his heart. In true have-guitar-will-travel tradition he’s been touring on his own – by train.

I’ve been lucky enough to see him at various stages of his career and vocally he’s never sounded better. He has a lived-in voice which you might associate with a man who has pretty much seen and heard it all.

He’s never had any trouble getting his forthright political views across and we heard plenty of those, delivered from the heart and in an affable manner. He even stressed the importance of arts funding both here and in the United States and in the process had a pop at David Cameron’s government.

Two of his most beautiful songs – My Old Friend The Blues and Christmas in Washington – took pride of place in a performance which had plenty of light and shade. Not once did he look out of place on the huge stage; his personality and presence saw to that.

Earle is up there with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and our very own Billy Bragg in his ability as a storyteller-activist using the powerful medium of music. His messages are uncomplicated, loud and proud. Even if you don’t agree with his politics you still have to admire the quality of his material.

He’s always been his own man – probably to the detriment of him making a fortune – and for that we must be grateful. His early “hit” I Ain’t Ever Satisfied is as relevant to him now as it was when he first released in back in 1987.

No compromises were made and no prisoners taken as he delivered his songs with pride and passion. His guitar playing was a delight and it didn’t matter one iota when he hit a wrong note.

He also did a couple of tracks on his treasured mandolin, which he kissed as he put it back into its case. It was a touching moment from a man who made many new friends at Snape.

Times have changed for Earle. He may have ironed out some of the rough spots in his personal life but his music has lost none of its bite and beauty. Steve Earle converts the classical mecca that is Snape. Who would have thought it?

STEPHEN FOSTER

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