Peter Rice reviews The Songs of Nick Drake – The Junction Shed, Cambridge, 2 Dec 2006

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Keith James and his bass player Rick Foot made a welcome return to The Shed playing two full sets of mostly Nick Drake material. It is interesting to see how far Keith has come in his personal interpretation of these haunting and challenging songs since his last appearance here more than a year ago. The power is still there, the delicacy is still there, but the subtlety of performance now stands out, showing what has been gained from his hugely popular tours amounting to several hundred dates.

The favourite Drake songs were of course in evidence - Three Hours, Cello Song, Black-eyed Dog, Fruit Tree, Riverman - along with some of the less well-known ones, and these were neatly contrasted with songs by Tim Hardin, Keith James himself and a couple by John Martyn (including Solid Air that Martyn wrote about Nick Drake). The delivery is restrained yet powerful, the guitar-playing masterly, and Rick Foot's bass line adds a real solidity to underpin these interpretations.

Keith James does not fall into the trap of trying to be a Nick Drake clone, and his interpretations are all the better for this. Only in Riverman, where his 5/4 rhythm is less than convincing, does one wish for a different view of any of his Drake repertoire.

This was a soul-searching and satisfying evening. The audience was reverently silent throughout, even allowing the last chord of each song to fade to inaudibility before applauding. On remarking about this to the two performers after the show, Keith and Rick said as one: 'It's always like that!' I think I understand why.

Writer: Peter Rice