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Fringe Online 2021

Low Down

Written and directed by Terence Blacker, for JST’s Footprints Festival. Designed by Louie Whitmore. Lighting by Johanna Town’s simple. Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. One day only, July 4th . Filmed and may be later available as stream.


Delusion, denial, death? Such cosy premises for a great show as Terence Blacker introduces his The Shock of the Old. Of course we’re in the presence of someone who was there and remembers it. And as for getting older, he’s going to remember that too.

Blacker’s in that long line of older singer-songwriters from the political like Leon Rosselson and David Russell and the late P J Fahy, through Kath Smith and Jake Thackray, those ironic observers of life coming up through the 1970s.

Blacker’s pro-Europeanness and gentle government prods place him on the ruminant side of political and the lucid side of lyricism. His style’s often a gentle but firm through-line with a stronger lyric impulse in the guitar, which takes on a melodic character depending on the theme, especially if French or Spanish.

Written and directed by Terence Blacker, for JST’s Footprints Festival, it’s designed by Louie Whitmore with a centred chair. Lighting by Johanna Town’s a warm yellow round the guitar and a violet blend washing a premature twilight round the JST stage. There’s sometimes a near blackout.

Blacker declares he’s of the Branson generation – and given the man’s blasting off to stars should we reach for them or fall flat on our face? There’s the ‘blubbing at Captain Tom’ approach. Getting older sometimes involves one great gesture. Blacker’s shock doctrine interrogates his own and his generation’s life-story. Well if you were a bit hippyish.

And it’s ‘muddle’ Blacker celebrates. The first of ten songs ’The Band Played On’ is an amusing crisply memorable take in three parts including his coming of age in an orgy (well, the story here) but as the lyrics point up, and life: age is sudden. He found himself called y the BBC at least only to find himself in the ‘older’ bracket with Stanley Johnson.

The second’s the ‘youngest’ song telling his partner ‘Baby, You Should Have an Affair’ which again with a very memorable riff and its ‘grim treadmill of kisses’ from a young lover, is mildly funny; Blacker’s mild sexual nudges of unsatisfied women is a self-deprecating trope: new-man, late 1970s style.

Passing the ‘delusion’ stage we’re nudging ‘denial’ Blacker intersperses with ‘Writer’s notes’ a scrapbook of writers on their work: hence Somerset Maugham’s Writer’s Notebook from 1949 where he declares he’s content to retire. He was 75. Wait for Blacker to counter that.

And being 70s something infuses The Ex-Pat’s Song ‘I’d Rather Be French’ explores in gently ironic ripples the fates of the Whittingham-Smiths, those generic retirees, in pointed Franglais. ‘Brit-Francaix/tout vrai’. Backer continues with Joseph Heller’s assertion that man (Blacker rightly deems this too gender-specific) romanticise long beyond their capacity for sex.

Then riffs von those ‘fake Asian women ads’ and we’re into ‘Fake News’ an up-beat territory about Nigerian princes scams and those thrusting men in their 40s one used to be. Nor is ockdown inproing us as it promised, and we’re into the elegiac ‘Darling Ellie Ree’ with ‘players in the game’ and abdicating. As Blacker does with the even more purely elegiac recall from a more optimistic time. ‘we’re Still searching for the heart’  with more 1960s quotes ‘lei-lei-lei’ aspirated so lightly it borders on sheer elegy.

He edges this with a later Leonard Cohen quote, at 85. ‘When I was last in London I was 60, just another crazy kid with a dream…’. The opposite of Maugham as Blacker reminds us – it’s clearly his approach too. Despite those moments when you think the weather woman has lost weight, Blacker meets his slowing with defiant shaft of 1960s insurance. Blacker recalls his time in 1967 in San Francisco at 20 with a young divorcee of 29, in ‘Saved by. a song/turned by a tune’ and like Paul Simon recalling a time of innocence, in a park watching a group of picnicking hippies from a distance with his newly-encountered friend. This is a song infused with West-coast sunlight and lilting refrains.

Still, there’s consolation on aspiring to be just ‘One half of the couple next door’ as we riff off into an upbeat suburban subfusc tune, quietly jaunty, neatly pointed as are all Blacker’s lyrics.

Doris Lessing’s reflections on having not changed with age at all, in one’s 70s and 80s: it’s your body’s changed. Fair comment from one’s maturity at least. Lessing who never altered her stance was awarded the Nobel at 87 50 years after a Nobel delegation officially informed her she’s never be eligible.

One of Blacker’s finest songs is very recent. A elegy for his father ‘a war hero’ her meets him in a dream, now released to tell him all he never did in life. It’s a masterly piece with wonderful lyrics: ’From the forest and the seas, the tide of living/where sins will be forgiven/flow gently to the sea’ and a where man’s ‘sculpted by his troubles’. A powerful melody a song vivid with feeling and ultimately a passionate threnody.

Blacker’s signing off ‘I’m not quite done’ is a homage to the audience and to an electrician rising from his coffin and a woman friend sexually unsatisfied by her millionaire lover. It’s a catchy as well as apt sign-off. Blacker’s more heart-on-sleeve than Jake Thackray with the  elusive brilliance of his identity and fire-cracking wit.

Though Blacker recalls his times he transcends them and with ‘The tide of living’ he produces a heartwarming small classic. And before his final song he heaps praise on those who make JST’s astonishing Footprints Festival possible, in particular Executive Director Penny Horner. If he’s not already, Blacker should be on your radar. A wryly consummate musician.