2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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Great American Rock Song from a great band

One of the best rock groups around in the 1970s was The Band led by Robbie Robertson, a Canadian guitarist, singer, and song-writer.

Most of the group started off playing in Toronto as The Hawks backing Ronnie Hawkins ( a cousin of Dale Hawkins of “Susie Q” fame). After leaving Hawkins in 1964 they toured and played under different names before being invited to back Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of America and his world tour three years later. They backed Dylan on  his album “The Basement tapes” released in 1967.

The band began to perform officially as The Band in 1968 and made 10 studio albums before they celebrated the end of their touring careers with Martin Scorcese’s  Film “The Last Waltz” in 1978.

The multi-instrumental  lineup of the band was Robbie Robertson on guitar and vocals, Levon Helm on drums, guitar, mandolin and vocals; Garth Hudson on keyboards, sax and trumpet; Rick Danko on bass, fiddle, trombone and vocals;, and Richard Manuel on piano, drums, baritone sax, and vocals.

My two favourite songs from the Band are “The Weight” and “The Night they drove old Dixie down” but it’s the latter, although not their greatest hit (Joan Baez’s version did much better in the charts in the UK and in the USA) that is such a good song, telling a story about the despair of the South and the celebrations of the North.

This is the album version released in 1969.

This is the version from the Last Waltz: 

The Dixie song is based on historical fact: Dixie refers to the southern states of course, the Danville train was the supply line to Richmond, the capital of the confederacy, which the Union troops did their best to disrupt, the Confederate Commander-in-Chief General Robert E Lee surrendered in 1865 and the reference to him in the second verse is to the Mississippi steam boat named after him which was built the following year.

Lancashire was linked to the South through the import of cotton. At that time there were 300,000 men, women, and children working in the cotton industry in Lancashire and the civil war created the Cotton Famine which lasted throughout the war (1861-1865) and it’s estimated that there were half a million people starving and destitute during that period.

Australia and New Zealand offered free passage to cotton workers and about a thousand emigrated. Some diversified into other things like making hats in Stockport. Some even moved to Yorkshire to work in the woollen industry!



40th Worsthorne Arts & Crafts Fair

P10006662 Shades of Grey were honoured to be asked to be the closing act  at this year’s Festival. Barrie and I had played at Worsthorne Carnival as part of the Uptown Band (technically the Uptown 5 as we were missing Don on keyboards and our second sax player) in 1989! So this was our 25th anniversary re-union in the village 😉

Mindful however that there were more important anniversaries to consider with the commemorations this week of the 100th anniversary of World War I Barrie called on his resources to make it a more wide-ranging programme.

We opened with a couple of Jazz-flavoured tunes, “Fly me to the Moon” and “She before Bobby Darin’s “Things” got the members of the choir in the audience providing superb backing.

P1000655A switch of tempo and Joanna Butcher joined us to duet with Barrie on  “Hallelujah” and solo on “Songbird“.

Barrie and I performed the Beatles’ song adopted by Dementia Friends this year “With a Little Help from my Friends” before Tony Cummings joined us to duet with Barrie on the Everly’s “Let it Be Me” (the second French song of the evening Barrie pointed out).

As our recognition of the sacrifices made during the Great War Tony Cummings then orated an extract from Michael Morpurgo’s “Private Peaceful” followed by local trumpeter Jim Hoyle playing us into “Abide with Me”. When we finished you could have heard a pin drop, very moving and not a few tears in the audience.

P1000657Jim stayed with us for the final section of our programme. First he demonstrated his versatility with a fine piece of Tex-Mex trumpet playing on the Mavericks‘ song “Dance the Night Away” which had the audience clapping along.

Our finale was that great Civil War song written by Robbie Robertson and recorded by the Band (Bob Dylan’s then backing group) The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.

Jim introduced this with a muted rendition of a short piece of “Dixie” – the de facto anthem of the Confederacy – which was very evocativeEverybody joined in on the choruses enhanced by Jim’s trumpet. A rousing finish to the evening.

The church was full, everybody enjoyed themselves and they sold a lot of cakes!P1000658




Thanks Jim (left of picture), Joanna (centre) and Tony (on right) for your excellent contributions.

On an historical note the UK lost almost 900,000 servicemen in WW1 and the Americans 600,00 in their civil war – abut the same proportion of the population at the time.

But there is also a local connection as the Civil War led to the Cotton Famine which lasted throughout that war (1861-1865).

There were 300,000 men. women and children employed in the cotton industry in Lancashire alone and it’s estimated that there were half a million people starving and destitute in Lancashire because supplies of cotton from the Southern states dried up during the war.