Gig: Mark Olson – Bar Brel, Glasgow 28/5/2007

I never was much of a Jayhawks fan. What I heard tended to go in one ear and out the other and make little impression. I was nuts about Uncle Tupelo, but the Jayhawks left me cold. It’s been more than a decade since Mark Olson left the band, and my knowledge of his work since then is threadbare in the extreme. Still, a miserable and rainy Bank Holiday needed something to give it a little gloss, so I strolled down to the West End’s Bar Brel for some country music.

Brel is a pretty unique venue – basically an elongated conservatory tacked on to the bar itself. With a glass roof and side, it does feel like a gig in a greenhouse – although the Glasgow climate doesn’t often bless it with sunshine. I’ve seen some fairly special gigs in its confined space by the likes of Arab Strap and John Doe. If you number more than a quartet, though, forget it – and four is stretching it.

Olson was accompanied by an Italian fiddle player called Michele (I didn’t catch his second name). He was nothing short of superb – adding colour to the songs when needed, but not afraid to take the limelight on occasion. His playing sounded very Scottish at times, but at one point I thought he was going to break into Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”! Olson himself was a genial presence. I was totally unfamiliar with all the material, but thoroughly enjoyed it – unpretentious and unsentimental folk-tinged country music of the highest order. I went on a whim, but left impressed. My only gripe was that the set barely lasted 45 minutes, and the gig was over by 9:40.

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