Monday 29 May 2017

Glen's poignant farewell

There's a real poignancy in knowing that Glen Campbell's shows in Ireland next week will also be his last in this country. The 75-year-old music legend was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease earlier this summer and so will retire from performing after he concludes his farewell tour.

The week before his illness was made public, I was granted a phone interview with Campbell from his home in Malibu, California. I had a list of questions prepared scanning his illustrious 50-year career in the music biz -- ranging from his time playing with Elvis and fronting the Beach Boys to his session work with Frank Sinatra and Phil Spector.

Alas, it quickly became clear that Campbell's recall of events was hazy to say the least. I initially put it down to natural wear and tear, but when he seemed unable to answer even basic questions about his new album, I sensed something more serious was afoot. Although still charming and gregarious, he would have to hand the phone over to his manager and wife of nearly 30 years, Kim, who would patiently fill me in.

So it made a grim sort of sense to me when the press release confirming his illness was released the following week in August.

For those of you worried about what kind of shape he will be in for the gig, the good news is that his London show last month was well reviewed. Campbell has a strong support network around him with four members of his family in his backing band and if he does forget the lyrics to some of the songs, there's an autocue in front of him to help him out.

Happily, science tells us that music is one of the things that is most embedded in our memory, and consequently resists the ravages of Alzheimer's.

Certainly, those who saw him command the stage at his last Dublin gig in 2008 in Vicar St will know just what a presence he still exudes as a performer: looking fit and lean, his guitar playing was exemplary and his instantly recognisable voice was still smooth and warm.

His new album, Ghost On The Canvas, was also rapturously received, inviting comparisons with the American Recordings of Johnny Cash's late-career revival. Campbell's comeback began three years ago with his Meet Glen Campbell album of cover versions of younger, trendier rock bands.

The new collection continues in that vein, containing two songs by The Replacements' Paul Westerberg ('Any Trouble' and the title track) and collaborations with Jakob Dylan, son of Bob ('Nothing But The Whole Wide World') and The Dandy Warhols ('Strong'). There are also guest appearances by Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan, rockabilly veteran Brian Setzer and Chris Isaak.

And producer Julian Raymond has also written a number of tunes especially for Campbell, giving it a personal touch not always evident in his most recent work.

Campbell also squared a circle last year when he duetted with Jimmy Webb for the first time, the man responsible for writing some of Campbell's biggest hits in the 1960s.

The pathos at the heart of 'Wichita Lineman', 'Galveston' and 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' was brought out beautifully by Campbell's Southern everyman lilt, making them timeless classics of the music canon.

No doubt that pathos will be heightened by the knowledge of Campbell's illness when he comes to sing them, as the saying goes, one last time with feeling, to Irish audiences.

Ghost On The Canvas is out now. Glen Campbell plays INEC, Killarney, Co Kerry, tonight; the Royal Theatre, Castlebar, Co Mayo, tomorrow; and the National Convention Centre, Dublin Docklands, November 19

nkelly@independent.ie

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