Charlie Parr by Stefania Ianne
Charlie Parr by Stefania Ianne

A joyful evening, stripped down of all the hat tricks of the music business, the show business. The location, the smallest pub in the world, without a stage, a man with a guitar followed by another man with a guitar. Daffodils in vases dotted all over the Alice in Wonderland themed pub. Pretty much the whole of Guildford is themed around Alice in Wonderland, as it was the chosen place of residence and burial of Lewis Carrol, its author. We catch the tail end of the performance of Hope Convention, an acoustic musician hailing from Dartford, telling us he knows he should polish his guitar tuning banter but hey, he’s got nothing to say, you know coming from Dartford and all. I was still recovering from the shock of how tiny the place is, how minimalistic, for the lyrics of Hope Convention to register but his guitar playing is fascinating. It just ends too quickly because of our late arrival, it would need further investigating. Charlie Parr is there all along with his partner, standing near the small table with his merchandising, attentive, silent. An untouched glass of red wine stares at him from the table. He jumps in immediately after Hope Convention, spending the interval tuning his steel guitar, custom-made by a man named Lee. It looks extremely shiny to us but apparently it is smudged by peanut butter somehow, Parr jokes. The guitar strikes me as the most luxurious item in the room, everything else is basic, or is it the power of the music that makes you just feel instantly transported to a wood cabin on the Appalachian mountains with the local wood chopper casually picking up a guitar in front of the log fire. Parr plays a mix of classics from the American folk tradition, Robert Thompson’s Devil stories, and his own ballads of an ordinary man living rough, living off nature, roasting opossums accompanied by imaginary dogs named Blue. Parr’s finger picking technique is not elegant, his hands have been working the land, not spent hours in parlours. His position is not elevated on a stage, he is sitting down on an ordinary chair and only the front rows and the tallest people in the room can actually catch a glance, but, the visual experience of his performance has been described as “a wet rag left to dry on the pavement, we are not missing much”, he reassures us. He is wide-eyed, genuine and hilarious, a true folk singer as they do not exist any longer. Towards the end  of the show, he treats us to a Bob Dylan song, “you know, you’ve got to promote a local guy”, he jokes, as they both hail from Duluth, Minnesota. He’s been travelling up and down the UK during the only snow storm hitting the island this year. Duluth is under snow for most of the winter, you do not survive without a shovel. But he tries to cheer us up, “don’t beat yourself up about it, it happens in Georgia as well, stuck on the motorway for hours because of an inch of snow…”

No space in the pub to pretend to exit and come back for an encore, he sorts of gets up and sits down again saying: “I’ll play another couple of songs if you can spare the time”. He ends with a rendition of Claude Ely’s “Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down)” voice only, banging his shoe on the floor. He sings it as high as he can, I sort of feel the ghost of Johnny Cash duetting with him in his grave, velvety tones.

The Keep Guildford 5 March 2018

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