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Happy 70th Birthday to the best rock drummer Martin Chambers and our queen Chrissie Hynde still rocking it out.
I had the pleasure of seeing Chrissie at Queens Hall on 23rd August 2021. It was a fantastic show, much better live than on record. You just feel the emotion and range of her voice live. We also had the pleasure of the first live playing of “Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely”
*Setlist courtesy of Kyle Watson
It was Bob Dylan’s epic song, Murder Most Foul, that dragged the Pretenders singer, Chrissie Hynde, out of what she describes as a “quasi-emotional coma” occasioned by the pandemic lockdown last year.
She and the band’s guitarist, James Walbourne, would then be inspired to begin doing covers of Dylan songs, recording their parts separately and sending them to each other. The project blossomed into a superb album, Standing in the Doorway, with Hynde and Walbourne giving nine selected Dylan songs a thoughtful, pared-back re-working.
The album has in turn led to a tour, the sound fleshed out on stage by the addition of Carwyn Ellis on keyboards and Danny Williams upright bass. The accompaniment (and a word of praise in passing for the outstanding acoustic guitar work of Walbourne) helps make for a beguiling and delightfully intimate show. Walbourne and his partner, Kami Thompson, incidentally, make up the London-based duo, The Rails, who opened the show with a fine, half-hour-long set.
The Dylan songs are played in the same order as they are on the Standing in the Doorway album, from In the Summertime to Every Grain of Sand via Standing in the Doorway, Blind Willie McTell and Tomorrow Is a Long Time. It’s a positive joy to hear such classics as You’re a Big Girl Now, from Dylan’s landmark 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks, and Love Minus Zero/No Limit, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, being skilfully re-interpreted by Hynde, whose distinctive voice is still a thing of wonder.
She paid tribute to Dylan’s skills as a songwriter by saying that when Love Minus Zero was first released, “we all thought he knew what he was talking about, but we didn’t”. And as she began to sing Standing in the Doorway it was interesting to recall a throwaway line in her memoirs that she thinks that Dylan wrote the song about her.
Tomorrow Is A Long Time, which was dedicated to the American businessman Steve Bing, a friend of Hynde’s and Walbourne’s, had to be restarted, but drew one of the biggest rounds of applause of the evening.
The Dylan songs over, Hynde sang a couple of Ray Davies songs – Stop Your Sobbing, and I Go To Sleep – before doing a handful of her own numbers. An excellent concert, then, one that reminded you of Hynde’s gifts as a singer and interpreter, and the peerless quality of Dylan’s songs. And, furthermore, it reminded us of how just we much we have missed live music.
Chrissie Hynde and Ali Campbell/UB40 unreleased track exclusive to Pretenders 977 Radio. Recorded around the time of Viva El Amor and titled “You Haven’t Got A Clue” click the player to listen.
The great Pretender strode onto the huge stage at the Royal Opera House dressed in her regulation rock and roll outfit: shiny knee-length fake-leather boots, tight jeans, red belt, black T-shirt and enough eye make-up to start an ancient-Egyptian cult. There may have been no drums or electric guitars in her band, but at 69 years old her attitude remains distinctly punk. “There’s not much you can say about these songs,” she observed, settling down with an acoustic guitar. “They’re all perfect.”
Hynde recorded an album of Bob Dylan covers during lockdown, Standing in the Doorway, collaborating with Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne via the internet, and it was clear that she has been impatient for an opportunity to bring them to a live audience. Her T-shirt boasted the no-nonsense message Don’t Pet Me I’m Working, and her between-numbers chatter was brusque and direct, infused with wry humour. “Rumour has it Bob wrote this song for me,” she declared, introducing the title track. “A rumour I started and he hasn’t denied.”
Hynde played nine Dylan songs in a row, delivering the great singer-songwriter’s long, complex and involved lyrics in a sultry, seductive, free-flowing style that invested each phrase with fresh intent. In The Summertime (from 1981’s religiously themed Shot of Love) was sung as if it was Hynde’s account of her connection to Dylan himself (“I’m still carrying the gift you gave / It’s part of me now, it’s been cherished and saved”).
His bitter 1975 ballad You’re A Big Girl Now became a song of letting go from mother to child, while she dedicated the mystical epic of interconnectedness Every Grain of Sand (also from Shot of Love) to a friend who “didn’t make it through the lockdown”. Hynde fumbled the intro, restarting twice with the blunt admission “Sorry, I ballsed that up.” Introducing a delicate Love Minus Zero (from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home), she said “Feel free to sing along…” Then added, almost threateningly “… but not really!”
She was backed by a trio of acoustic musicians, playing double bass and piano with Walbourne nimble-fingered on lead guitar, and they weaved a gentle tumble of notes behind Hynde’s simple rhythm guitar and gorgeous vocals. It sounded a little loose and unrehearsed but no worse for it, emphasising a spontaneity and interconnectedness between players that really made it feel like a unique live performance. “We’re finding out how easy this hippie s— is to play,” smirked Hynde.
The absence of her usual highly amplified rock band set up put extra focus on her voice, and that proved the true highlight of the night. Voices age and change, but Hynde’s is just getting better and better as she settles into her soft, round tone and almost jazzy rhythmic inflections. She ended the night performing some of her own songs from the last Pretenders album, 2020’s Hate For Sale, which “we never got a chance to play”.
Putting down her guitar and stalking the stage, microphone in hand, she sang like a rock and roll Dusty Springfield, letting long soft notes unfold with luxurious ease. By the standards of the Royal Opera House, this was a very small, casual and intimate gig, but the star at its centre held that intimidating stage as well as any of the great divas who have trod these famous boards.
It was very well received by the people that went. One describing it as phenomenal. Check out the other dates on the tour page.
Added an article from Sounds August 1979, it’s an excellent read as the Pretenders are in Blackpool, about to play the Norbreck Castle, they talk about the stresses of touring and recording. Read here…
I’ve just added three Chrissie Hynde demos.
Two from late 1977 and one from around June 1978. These have circulated on the net for a while, I’ve tried to keep the quality listen here, Chrissie Hynde Demos