Wednesday 29 May 2024

LIVE: Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane - River Calls tour (May 2024)

I started writing this post a few weeks back, but life got in the way and I’ve just unearthed the half written post, so here goes nothing for take two...! One of my most well received posts of the last couple of years (and one of my favourites to write, too) was a write-up of a Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane show at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the start of 2022. Opening the post, I wrote:
I went to a gig a couple of days ago! Rejoice. Although ‘gig’ perhaps isn’t the right word, and doesn’t do the evening justice. In the candlelit setting of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a 340-capacity space that is part of the Globe Theatre no less (!) I saw two of my favourite writers, Johnny Flynn and Robert Macfarlane, performing their album Lost In The Cedar Wood. Music there was, but it was so much more than a gig - a journey… a magical, bewildering evening of story and song, traversing across timelines and continents. Genuinely mesmerising. Tickets were difficult to come by and I feel SO incredibly lucky to have been there.
Looking back a couple of years later, it really was a genuinely transcending and magical experience, a celebration of one of my favourite musical pairings, and of one of my favourite albums of recent years, surrounded by some superb writers on nature. The bookseller and nature writing nerd in me is still giddy with excitement when I think of being in the same room as all of those writers, even (and perhaps especially) having met a few of them at subsequent events (Amy-Jane Beer at Gathering FestivalSam Lee at the Stornoway album launch, Merlin Sheldrake at a Cosmo Sheldrake show, and of course Rob himself!)

You’d think that it might be difficult to replicate the magic of that evening - the venue, the fact that it was one of the first shows most of us had been to out of lockdown (squished up against strangers), the combination of gig and theatre. It was truly special. Luckily for me (and for all the others who managed to secure some very sought after tickets) the pair have just been on tour across the UK with a full band. 

In venues across the UK (I saw them at Cambridge Junction) audiences were taken on a musical, lyrical journey through songs from the two recent albums, Lost In The Cedar Wood and The Moon Also Rises. Storytelling weaving through the music - as each song finishes, Rob, on stage for the duration of the show, dives into some spoken word. Poetry? Not easy to define, but utterly enchanting. The setlist was clearly very carefully thought out - taking us on a journey through storytelling and song - an extension of what they set out to do in those first shows. With a band too - who are utterly wonderful also.

I saw Johnny with a full band in 2017 at the show which became the Live at the Roundhouse album and I think I’m right in saying that until now, he hasn’t been on a full band tour since then. I’m sure I’m far from alone in being grateful that they found the time to put these shows on, they’ve been a long time coming and they were more than worth the wait! Mainly taking songs from the recent two albums, the show was a true celebration of Johnny and Rob’s collaboration (Bonedigger live is just the absolute BEST, for a start) but they managed to find room for a couple of older favourites (The Ghost of O’Donahue and The Water - both stunning.)

I won’t be missing the old favourites for too long, as I’ve just secured a ticket for Johnny’s show with the band in London in September, as part of Transgressive Records’ 20th anniversary celebrations. Can’t wait!

I’ve written a lot already about how much I love both Johnny and Rob’s work individually, and this project is such a treat. Whether they continue to write music together or not (my fingers are crossed) I’m glad that they got a chance to take it on the road. To see others responding to the shows so positively and enjoying them so much was the best. In a way there’s an element of bravery in putting on a tour that is quite unlike other things that are out there in format, but it worked so well, and I’ve seen nothing but love for the shows.

With the London show on the horizon, and plenty of Johnny’s acting endeavours to catch up on (I am desperate to watch Ripley!) my interest (as a bookseller and book lover) turns to the books, too. Rob’s work in progress at the moment is Is A River Alive? - I’ll be pestering the publisher for a proof of that as soon as I get a sniff of those existing. (Sorry HH.) Elsewhere, Rob and Johnny are collaborating on a couple of book projects - a graphic novel of the Epic of Gilgamesh (focus of Lost in the Cedar Wood) with artist Dave McKean (very exciting!) and a picture book surrounding the track The World To Come, illustrated by Emily Sutton, due later this year. Truly a marvellous time to be a fan of these two! They’re very busy guys, and I am very happy to be enjoying the fruits of their work.

Now, off to carry on reading Mountains of the Mind with a Johnny Flynn shaped soundtrack. What could be better?