The last time your Te Puna Correspondent saw Midge Marsden was at a Red Mole concert in 1978 in Wellington, where Beaver did a great job of solo vocals and there was actual nudity and fire-breathing. So, not your average Jazz Fest gig. And you could say, last Saturday night in Baycourt, there was a lot to be up against. But Midge did the same Good Thing, in principle, that he did last time: provided himself with a truly excellent supporting act.
I was wonderstruck with the musicality, calm good skills and wit, both instrumental and vocal, of Neil Jefferson, who at short notice accompanied/supported/Did The Thing for Midge (“the master”) on his one appearance during the Tauranga Jazz Festival. Never mind the master – the apprentice was busily conjuring flute, vocal and guitar accomplices to magic some new takes on some pretty well-known blues.
Midge did a good job of pulling the playlist together, offering, along with his spoken reminiscences, a slide show that poignantly showed how marginal the existence of many of his heroes was. He did Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” with a fine sense of what it might mean to have only twenty-nine songs against your name, but was clearly more at home with the cheerful “Goin’ Up the Country” familiar to all of us from the Woodstock era, some of whom were seen to get up and boogie – at Midge’s invitation. Memories of ‘Son’House, who lived to be much, much older than Robert Johnson, and lived to influence Muddy Waters, who died untimely – 70 is too young for such talent to leave the world – were nicely evoked, though Midge’s voice lacks the tobacco darkness and pain of these tough, sad, old men. There’s still time: he admitted to being “60-several”….
On the other hand, his harp playing was as virtuosic as ever, and the importance of using lots of mouthwash rather than coping with the inadvertent intake of stale spit from one or another of the instruments was a practical insight into life among harmonicas.
Meantime, Neil sat at his workbench and did the job. No doubt it is important to watch an old pro work the crowd, pull off a programme, and fight the clock – going well over a published one-hour programme, Midge was generous with his items and his energies – but it’s also exciting, in the audience, to see a young important talent being brought forward to support and challenge the old order with some very cool instrumentalism and a smart stage persona. Neil, too, was treated generously. We got a long, cool and expert exhibition of his slide guitar with some snazzy fingerpicking to introduce the gig’s last big number, which seriously disrupted the Te Puna Correspondent’s nostalgia and left her looking forward to the Tauranga Jazz Fest’s future billing of Neil Jefferson, maybe supported by the long-lived Mr M. Marsden.
– THE TE PUNA CORRESPONDENT