California Dreamers: The Sounds of Laurel Canyon, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review

By the time they sang 'There's something happening here/What it is ain't exactly clear' the Festival Centre audience knew exactly what California Dreamers were up to.

California Dreamers
California Dreamers

They were giving us a musical tour of Laurel Canyon from 1965 to 1975, including that classic counter-culture song from Buffalo Springfield, and it went down a treat. To quote a line from a Joni Mitchell song we heard later, ‘I could drink a case of you and I would still be on my feet’ – which the audience was by the end.

Laurel Canyon is a wooded retreat running north from Sunset Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. In the sixties it was a cheap and attractive place to live and for a period became a magnet for aspiring singer-songwriters. There was a fertile cross-breeding of musical styles and much collaboration as bands formed, broke up, and re-formed in new constellations.

In producing a show that celebrates the musical outpouring from that distinctive time and place, the California Dreamers can choose from a huge range of melodic material whose mood conjures instant images of key political and social changes. They mined a deep seam of nostalgia in the Festival Centre audience.

First up, some lovely close harmonies in medleys of songs from The Byrds and The Mamas and Papas: ‘All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey… I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.’ And there we were, basking in the sounds of James Taylor, Carole King, Linda Ronstdat, and many more.

My personal favourites show-pieced close harmonic singing from Dreamers Grace Palmer, David Barnes and Simon Foster – never better than in a handful of Crosby, Stills and Nash songs. I enjoyed Foster’s electric guitar, especially laid-back arrangements of the Eagles’ Take it Easy, and the Doors’ Riders on the Storm. Barnes did justice to Canned Heat’s great rural hippy anthem Going Up the Country with his flute, though I missed the original falsetto voice of Alan Wilson.

That misses the point though, because this is not a tribute band. Grace Palmer doesn’t try to sound like Joni Mitchell (thank goodness). It’s a recently formed group of six musicians from the Midlands who had a good idea for a musical entertainment and execute it well. This was only their third gig and as their thirteen-venue tour progresses I expect they will be playing even more tightly together, with ever more on-stage chemistry, as the bonhomie of Laurel Canyon works on them as well as their audience.

A personal plea to producer and drummer Tim Mansell: Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick came from San Francisco but I bet she has some link with Laurel Canyon. I’d love to hear your own Grace belting out ‘Somebody to Love’.

In April the Festival Centre sees another live band, with a tribute to the pioneering progressive rock group The Moody Blues which formed in Birmingham in 1964.

By John Hargreaves

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