Johnny Dowd: The Portland Arms, 23rd May 2012

“Hello, is this Betty?  Hi Betty, guess who this is.  No…….  No……  It’s Johnny.  Johnny Dowd.  Oh Betty, Betty please, don’t hang up”.

Johnny Dowd is like the bloke at the bus station that no-one wants to make eye contact with.  Some people find him frightening, others laugh at him, some might feel sorry for him and others find him strangely compelling.  His songs are often raw and troubling stories of love, conflict, hatred and regret.  He was in his 50s when he started recording as a solo artist and now, at the age of 64, he is touring the UK with his new album, No Regrets.

There’s a whiff of Mark E Smith about Johnny Dowd.  Both men have very singular world views, unique vocal styles and are backed by irresistible bands.  Dowd is, however, soaked in the sounds of small-town USA while his band’s muscial palette mixes Booker T & the MGs, Talking Heads, classic rock and early NY disco.  On Wednesday night at the Portland Arms they took us on a journey that started with ‘Green Onions’ and was packed with dizzying twists and turns – veering into poetry, getting lost in a cock-rock guitar solo, or crashing into improvised audience participation.  A night of unexpected brilliance.


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