When someone of Bob Harris's calibre announces that he's about to play possibly his favourite Christmas song, you sit up and take notice. That was how I first heard 'Christmas In Paradise', and after hearing it I both bought an album and made a note to look out for live performances.
Mary has had a difficult life and her songs tend to be on the downbeat side, but with a touch of humour to make them both bearable and somehow sadder. It was strange and lovely to see her on stage, all smiley and twinkly-eyed, launching into these tragic ballads. For 'I Drink', a great favourite of mine on the cheerful topic of being an alcoholic with an alcoholic father (also championed by Bob Dylan on his radio show), she grinned throughout and made us all laugh at the end.
She later explained the phenomemon herself: "Y'know, I am happy. I just don't write when I'm happy". Makes sense.
I'm a sucker for songs about trains, something British musical culture, with the honourable exception of Flanders & Swann, doesn't really go in for. After all, our trains just get cancelled and serve horrible tea; they don't thunder across the prairie, blowing their lonesome whistles, and they don't have boxcars for the convenience of hoboes. My favourite American train song will probably always be 'Boomer's Story' as performed by Ry Cooder, but I heard a couple last night that might give it a run for its money after a few plays.
Support act Ben Glover returned for the last few songs, ending with a duet of perhaps the most miserable song of all, 'Mercy Now'.
I queued up to buy a CD afterwards, demanding to know which was the one with all the songs about trains on. This sentence sounded much funnier in my head than when released into the wild.
Here's a YouTube video. She was using that guitar strap with stars on last night; I covet it.