There must be some sort of unspoken rule that all American singer-songwriters with the surname ‘Friedman’ have to be hilarious. Although unrelated to the Jewish country singer and postmodern crime writer Kinky Friedman, Dean and Kinky share a flair for showmanship and a wicked sense of humour.
Friedman comes onstage at The Green Hotel in Kinross with a glint in his eye and a Freshman guitar in hand before launching into the first song from his eponymous 1978 debut album. The song’s chord progression, by his own admission, is just The Beatles' ‘Blackbird’ in reverse. However, Dean holds on to each fingerpicked chord a little longer, and the personal lyrics and James Taylor-esque vocal melody give the song a life Friedman begins a long, relaxed monologue, taking in everything from his early childhood, fencing stolen goods for his mum’s mafioso boyfriend, to his songwriting techniques.of its own.
After the conclusion of the first song, Friedman begins a long, relaxed monologue, taking in everything from his early childhood, fencing stolen goods for his mum’s mafioso boyfriend, to his songwriting techniques. He even gives a poetry reading of Ogden Nash’s epic poem ‘The Bronx’. It’s funny stuff, and I reckon that if the music gigs ever dry up then he could make a good living on the stand-up circuit. On the strength of tonight’s performance and the reception of his loyal and vociferous fanbase who are out in force tonight, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Friedman’s debut is well-represented tonight by the aforementioned set-opener, the slight but fun ‘Funny Papers’, and the break-up ballad ‘Love Is Not Enough’. The break-up song has become somewhat dominated in recent years by serial monogamist Taylor Swift, but over the years some of the best songwriters in the business have turned their hand to this much-maligned sub-genre. Everyone from McAlmont and Butler (‘You Do’) and Ben Folds (‘Song For The Dumped’) to C-Lo Green (‘F*ck You’) and Curtis Mayfield (‘So You Don’t Love Me’) has offered hope and support to the recently single.
‘Love Is Not Enough’ isn’t the usual audio pep-talk though, but rather a poignant, honest, and at times, a painful postmortem of a relationship that has reached the end of its natural life. At 41 years old, this song is the same age as I am. Although Dean must have played this song a hundred times, as he plays it tonight it is almost like he is reliving the events from the song. I’ve never seen a performer quite so present and, at its best, his voice seems unaffected by age.
My plus one for the evening is my best friend Paul. He is a man with a remarkable knowledge of music and as we drive through to the gig he asks me if I've ever heard of a band called Half Man Half Biscuit. I was vaguely aware of their name, having been an avid reader of music magazines like 'NME', 'Select' and 'Q' when the band reformed in the early '90s. Paul goes on tell me that on their 'Back in the DHSS' album they had a song entitled 'The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman'. It is a topic that Mr Friedman addresses tonight, vehemently denying any relation to Biscuit songwriter Nigel Blackwell. Turns out he was actually seven years old the year Nigel was born: "I was a precocious child", he says, "but not 'A Baker's Tale' details the dubious origins of a British singer born as the result of a forbidden union between man and pastry.that precocious".
In the intervening years, 'The Scotsman' newspaper arranged a meeting between Dean and Half Man Half Biscuit and in 2009 Friedman exercised his right to reply in song form, writing and recording 'A Baker's Tale'. Like the Johnny Cash classic, 'A Boy Named Sue', it is a country and western shaggy dog story. Unlike the Cash song, 'A Baker's Tale' details the dubious origins of a British singer born as the result of a forbidden union between man and pastry.
Another food-based song is served up in the form of 'McDonald's Girl' which was bizarrely banned by the BBC. "That's right", Dean quips, "me and The Sex Pistols". It's a shame that this song from the album 'Rumpled Romeo' didn't get the exposure it deserved at the time because it is a beautiful song which combines the teenage innocence of early Brian Wilson with the humour and pop sensibility of Nick Lowe. Friedman isn't bitter though as the song has achieved success in later years being covered by Canadian pop-rockers The Barenaked Ladies and a version by The Blenders featured in its own actual McDonald's advert. Now Friedman is Friedman is rolling in that sweet Big-Mac money!rolling in that sweet Big-Mac money!
All these deep cuts don't mean that the hits are being neglected, as the show ends with two of Friedman's best-loved piano ballads, the lilting 'Lydia' and the poptastic 'Lucky Stars'. The latter song was originally a duet and tonight the audience provides the Denise Marsa vocals. I've never heard so many members of an audience sing so loud, so in tune and for so long - it's remarkable stuff. Remember, this is Perthshire where a slight nod of the head or an almost imperceptible arrhythmic tap of the foot is often the closest we come to audience participation. But hey ... we're dancing on the inside!
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