Reviewer: Pete Benson
The great Johnny Cash’s career spanned nearly half a century until his death in 2003. Commonly he was associated with the country music scene but he had much success in other genres. Known as The Man in Black because of his on stage attire his path traversed stardom, serious drug dependence, brushes with the law and eventually rediscovery of God.
On this occasion, The Johnny Cash Roadshow was delayed for a while due to, ‘technical difficulties’. Eventually we are let into the theatre and the three piece band, drums, upright bass and lead guitar are playing on stage and Johnny Cash in the form of Clive John enters the stage. There is a tangible negative tension present in the band. None the less we are straight into ‘I Got Stripes’, and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ inspired by shows Cash performed in prisons. John has a more than passing resemblance to the young Johnny Cash and his good voice is a fair match for the real thing although it never quite carries the emotional quality of the man himself particularly noticeable on the brilliant Nine Inch Nails song ‘Hurt’.
Between numbers John fills us in on Cash’s history and as songs are performed black and white images and video are projected behind the band. There are shots of Cash at different career stages, lots of prison imagery and various stills of song appropriate Americana.
Just as the show is settling into a familiar pattern things kick up a gear with the introduction of Jill Schoonjans portraying June Carter, Cash’s singing partner and eventual second wife. The two duet on ‘Jackson’. Schoonjans’ voice is an excellent complement to John’s. She is joined by the other Carter Sisters and together they regale us of the music career of the Carter family while singing some of their hits accompanied by Schoonjans on autoharp.
The three women are backing vocalists on other Johnny Cash hits which all contributes to a continual building of the show’s sound dynamics and this show is all about the music. Other than a few understated costume changes from the Carter Sisters there is no flash about this performance, it is just good solid musicianship.
The second half is more varied than the first half which has mostly been country music and Rockabilly. The upright bass has been replaced by an electric bass and the band covers a more varied range of genres. The atmosphere on stage now seems to be much more relaxed and happy and the varied song styles serve to reveal how good John’s rich baritone voice is.
John announces that he will perform one of his own numbers, always an unwise idea for a tribute act. However, ‘The Spirit’ turns out to be as good as any song of the evening. Clive John has his own career as a singer/songwriter and ‘The Spirit’ deservedly topped the English and Irish country charts for several months. It fits perfectly into the proceedings with it country feel and narrative structure.
There is one final surprise when a two trumpet brass section appears for the last two numbers of the show and make ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ into the songs they should be. These must be the two most costly live numbers ever performed by a tribute band. Nonetheless, the brass section helps the whole show build to a final climax.
If you are a fan of Johnny Cash or his musical genre then this is a well thought out must see show.
Photo: Steve Ashton |Reviewed on 21st March; on tour until 22nd August