A Bloody Show – John Wesley Harding & Friends: Live at Bumbershoot 2005

All the usual elements usually present in live concert recordings (sex, drugs, loud guitars and screaming teenagers) are noticeably absent from the recent live release from Irish folk-rock troubadour John Wesley Harding.  Instead it features a concert put together on the fly a week before it was filmed, based on a historical novel written by Wesley Stance (aka John Wesley Harding.)

Set in Victorian England, A Bloody Show tells the story of an abandoned baby boy taken in and raised as a girl by a wealthy family.  Not sure what to expect?  Don’t worry.  A Bloody Show comes off as more rock ‘n’ roll than most live DVDs out there. 

Perhaps it is because it was organized at the last minute for Seattle’s annual Bumbershoot festival, when Harding was asked to assemble a show using readings from his recently released novel Misfortune, or perhaps it is because the story itself is so dark and deals with that most common of rock ‘n’ roll themes, gender bending (think “Lola”, “Ziggy Stardust”, or anything with Freddie Mercury).

Harding, who was already on tour with The Love Hall Tryst, added a string quartet and The Minstrel in the Galleries and began to flesh out a set based on his novel that would include a musical element and be more than just a straight forward reading of his novel.

During the course of the week as the musical side of the show began to take shape, Harding realized he would need a narrator to help read selections from the actual book. Good friend Robyn Hitchcock, who just happened to be in town, was quickly recruited to fill the role. 

With the show scheduled for Sunday afternoon Harding, Hitchcock, The Love Hall Tryst, the string quartet, and The Minstrel in the Galleries hastily gathered to rehearse Saturday for the show the following day (what’s more rock ‘n’ roll than that?)  Much of the rehearsal (which was the first and only time they all played together before the show) is included as a bonus feature.

The end result is a thoughtful interpretation of Harding’s book (which almost makes you feel smarter as you watch it) that contains a loose ragged feel that is what he envisioned as “splendid mayhem,” and is in his words “the best show I was ever involved in.” He doesn’t lie.  It is.