By BRUCE DENNILL
Bob Fox: An Evening With The Warhorse Songman / Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
As was mentioned in the review of War Horse elsewhere on this website, the musical component of that huge theatrical achievement was the unexpected ace in the pack – contrary to the marketing material that endlessly hyped the animal puppets and the epic storyline.
The man responsible for the magic in that music was Bob Fox, one of the leading lights of the English folk scene, whose calm, caring presence as Song Man added not only fluid continuity to the action in the stage show, but also a great deal of pathos.
As Fox explains in his introduction to this no-frills solo tour – the whole set-up involves a single guitar amplified by a couple of microphones, with his vocal mic in the middle and a melodeon perched on a bar stool to one side – he only ever gets to sing a line or two of each of the songs. This concert format allows him to showcase the full wonder of songwriter John Tams’ sublime compositions from War Horse, which he does, effortlessly.
Songs like the medley of Scarlet And The Blue and Goodbye Dolly Gray, Snow Falls, the brilliant Only Remembered and the achingly gorgeous Devonshire Carol are fantastic, as are the the non-War Horse tunes in the performance, including the darkly humorous The Wrong Bus.
The bulk of the songs are built around the theme of war – an obvious link via the theatre production, but interesting to note when it becomes evident how much of an influence conflict has on folk music.
The show is never heavy, though, as Fox is an outstanding raconteur – part of what made him a natural as the narrator character Song Man – who could hold an audience rapt by merely speaking to them. More to the point, though, he is capable of the sort of musicianship that defines the term “world-class”, with his acoustic guitar being played in such a way that luthiers everywhere must fantasise about their creations finding their way into his hands and his voice – what a voice! – so rich and warm it’s like listening to 18-year-old Glenmorangie.
All of the above is combined using what less accomplished performers are often not capable of delivering: craft. From a quality perspective, there’s very little that could be improved in this show. Offstage, more awareness of how much Fox adds to War Horse (for the crowd who need that reference to spike their interest) or, even better, an understanding of the value and appeal of folk music and the heritage behind it would lead to Fox performing to the throngs his talent deserves.