Well they were only eight months late. As John Tams and Barry Coope settled into position on the small stage at Nettlebed Village Club in Oxfordshire, John explained the delay with "something went wrong with my arm, I kept dropping my pint glass". Thus we were being treated to two blokes, a keyboard, a guitar and a harmonica or two in April instead of last September when the concert was originally scheduled. But it was worth waiting for. For the completists amongst you, the proceedings are detailed below. For those who want it all in one heady breath it was gorgeous. My two abiding memories are of what looked suspiciously like Daniel Hagman, bellowing out "Chicken on a Raft" while the audience gave it back to him in spades; and a shy fellow of about seventeen, shuffling his feet and blushing behind his hair, when the same audience wouldn't stop shouting for a second encore.
Nettlebed Folk Club had set the stage up at the side of the hall, which made for a much more intimate gig than the last time I saw John with his usual band. The audience soon proved to be in good voice for the first number, Lay Me Low (which was led as usual by Barry). But then as John said they did win Best Folk Club at the BBC Radio 2 awards in February. Next we had one of the first songs he wrote. The Pulling Down Song marks the time he spent working on the fairground when he first left school, "until I fell off the waltzer and broke my arm, and had to go on the hook-a-duck... not such a good job for 'pulling', that!"
John has often compared his concert delivery to that of a weightlifter, nervously sizing up each song and verbally pacing around a bit to psyche himself up. But he was beginning to get into his stride a little now. We went on to Sorrow (from the play The Holy City) and then two songs from another, very recent, Bill Bryden production, The Good Hope: How High the Price and All Clouds the Sky. This play he described as "the most miserable play I've ever been in. I played a drunk, and found the only way to play a drunk is to do it sober. I did some research first, though..."
Really cracking on now, with the traditional Amelia, where're you bound to? and then Harry Stone preceded by Remembrance Day. This last, sung unaccompanied with masterful harmonies from Barry, is set to the tune "There is a Green Hill Far Away."
Next a song on a subject dear to both their hearts, The Old Pubs, followed appropriately by a break for beer!
First song in the second half was by request of my friend Cathy from Nova Scotia! Snow Falls is from another play John was involved with in Albion Band days, Lark Rise to Candleford. He then spoke emotionally of the recently departed John B Spencer and his songwriting skills. "He made it look like he just dashed them off, but I know that he honed them mightily." We all joined in the refrain of John B's One More Whiskey, One More Brandy, One More Beer.
What followed next is something I've not heard from him before, a humorous monologue by Marriott Edgar about the Peninsular War. My best stab at a title would be How Sam Small's Pudding Won the Siege of Badajoz. It was very well received; the audience saw the punchline well in advance, as they were supposed to, and had to be reined back by the storyteller!
"My" song next: The Old Man's Song from the play Don Quixote. I asked John to sing this at another gig some time ago, just because it fascinated me that when he first did it, he was even younger than he is now and it sounded perfect. Still does.
Then the traditional By the Banks of Red Roses, followed by John's own mixed platter of sea songs. This time we got Pretty Nancy from London (John and Barry unaccompanied again), A Sailor's Life and then a rabble rousing Chicken on a Raft which really got the audience going, and electrified John. There is a famous incident recorded where there was a power cut mid-set; it wouldn't have mattered here because I don't think he was using the mike at all. He just lifted up that mighty voice and the hall shook.
Phew. A quieter one, Ewan MacColl's Manchester Rambler set to the tune of "The Farmer's Toast" which really sounded good. This was in honour of the 70th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass. The usual preamble of "what key's this one in, Baz?" ended in, "tell you what, I'll just set off with it and see how far I get, it'll be a Kinder Surprise."
They took their bows and off they went. We cried for more. We got the wonderful Rolling Home, which makes such a perfect encore. Off they went again. Still we hollered. Eventually a rather moved John came back onstage. "I'm not sure what I can do for you, perhaps a little hoovering?" We settled for You Keep Me Right On Line. "Thank you," he said, "you've made a happy man very old tonight." Thanks Tam, thanks Bazza.