There are moments in your life that you’ll remember forever. Seeing Jimmy Webb perform ‘Wichita Lineman’ on a grand piano at Birmingham Town Hall is one of them.
Jimmy Webb is a prolific and epic songwriter. If you think you’ve never heard any of his music, you’re probably wrong. He’s written hits for countless big artists including Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Art Garfunkel and Donna Summer. Kanye West’s number-one ‘Famous’ even had Webb’s ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ used as the underlying music (though this wasn’t actually sanctioned by Jimmy himself and he’s still not happy about it!).
Webb is also a fantastic pianist. Like many of the most soulful musicians, he started off playing in church as a child and progressed from there. During his performance of ‘MacArthur Park’ he added some stunning piano variations and finished with booming chords from the bottom end of the instrument. He told us that aged 14 he’d decided he wanted to write hits for Glen Campbell, and boy did he make that happen. He performed several of them at the Town Hall including ‘Galveston’, ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ and ‘Wichita Lineman’.
The performance of ‘Wichita Lineman’ was, for me, the defining moment of the whole night. Apart from the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful songs of all time, Webb faded it out with an ever-quieter, high-pitched drone, and into complete silence. The auditorium was so silent you could hear a pin drop.
That wasn’t the only stand-out moment though. Tonight’s performance of ‘Up, Up and Away’ was also very emotional – it’s the song for which Webb won his first Grammy in 1968 after all.
The concert was interspersed with tales of Jimmy’s life, and we’re not talking what he had for dinner last week, he’s had a fascinating life and has some stories to tell. He told tales of his parents reuniting at the end of World War II, his great loves, pretending to be Johnny Cash, and even chasing whiskey barrels with Richard Harris.
Opening tonight’s show were duo Ashley Campbell and Thor Jenson. Ashley Campbell is Glen Campbell’s daughter and, given the strong relationship between Jimmy and Glen, it was really special to have Ashley there. Her standout song was the gorgeous but heart-breaking ‘Remembering’ which she wrote about caring for her father as his Alzheimer’s progressed.
During his set Jimmy also played a few, arguably, lesser-known of his compositions. One that stood out was ‘If These Walls Could Speak’, which has a hugely satisfying final cadence, and has been recorded by various artists such as Shawn Colvin, but has never gone as far as it perhaps should have. In Jimmy’s words “Sometimes you write a hit song, but the dominos just don’t fall”.
Birmingham was the last location on Jimmy Webb’s current tour, however he did say he plans to be back in the UK as soon as next year. So, if you missed out this time, watch this space.
Up, Up and Away
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
If These Walls Could Speak
Do What You Gotta Do
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Review: Chrissie Duxson