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ACROSS THE VALE: SONGS BY GRAEME MILES - Saltburn Community And Arts Associations Theatre, North Yorkshire - 10 June 2016

Tribute concerts are prone to be a disappointment, often because they highlight how much the original will be missed – can you imagine a Dave Swarbrick memorial concert that wasn’t about loss? This concert at Saltburn was different; Graeme wasn’t missed because his songs were still there and, unlike Ewan MacColl, he was never a great performer. Also unlike him, his songs haven’t become suddenly more familiar after his death but that was the point.

The line-up was an appropriate mixture of well and little known folk performers whose different deliveries not only complemented the diversity of Graeme’s songs but somehow reflected the quiet professionalism of his writing - The Wilsons, Vin Garbutt, Martyn Wyndham-Read, Robin Dale, Ailsa MacKenzie, Kevin Hall. The venue itself seemed appropriate - a small packed theatre whose capacity was probably less than a mainstream folk club. I would imagine that up to half of the audience had never heard of Graeme Miles before the evening, but left wondering how his songs “were so true and personal to all of us”, as the lady in the next seat told me before she left.

A similar group of artists led by The Wilsons and Martyn Wyndham-Read have held concerts with the intention of giving Graeme’s songs an airing, most recently at Middlesbrough Town Hall in February. This was a bigger and grander event but no less entertaining. For Saltburn, Vin Garbutt replaced The Unthanks and it was good to see him in great form after his recent illness; it’s a shame the same can’t be said of the Ring Of Iron that Graeme described and Vin sang. Graeme himself had been involved with creating the group Ironopolis to sing and record his songs and they were well represented by both Kevin Hall’s rendition of Moorland Yearning and Ailsa MacKenzie who finished the first half with Last Call Of The Day, leaving hardly a dry eye in the house. Similarly Robin Dale’s rendition of Across The Shingle spoke of a friendship and a tradition that in this part of the world was partially created by Graeme Miles.

Where Ravens Feed is probably as well known as Graeme gets, and whilst it might be covered by many singers, it won’t be bettered than Martyn Wyndham-Read’s version. To finish the concert there could be no more likely a bunch of lads than The Wilsons enjoying a trip to Yarm Fair – is it just me or are they getting better as they get older?

The evening was just what it said on the packet – a celebration. The smallness and the intimacy of Saltburn made it that bit more special and, like the lady next to me, I left wanting to hear more.

A rather touching addition to the concert was an exhibition of Graeme’s drawings from his two year’s National Service in the mid 50s. They share the honest scrutiny of his songs and are similarly immediately accessible. During August, to coincide with the Olympics, there will be a second exhibition of other drawings that he did in Rio where he typically depicts the people and places of the city’s favelas. So Graeme’s legacy is continuing to grow, not only through the discovery of his unsung songs but also through his unhung drawings.

All the acts donated their performances in order to raise funds for Teesside Hospice and Saltburn Community Theatre, neither of which receive state funding but genuinely serve their communities.

Trev Wardle