Dean Owens and The Felsons, performing live at The Soundhouse regular Monday night music slot at The Traverse Theatre Edinburgh - the show that no one thought would ever happen, actually happening.
Formed in 1995 by Dean Owens (guitar/vocals) and Kevin McGuire (bass), the band expanded to include Calais Brown (guitar/mandolin) and Dave Stewart (drums), The Felsons were a much loved part of the Scottish music scene at the time, and their albums, “One Step Ahead Of The Posse”, "Lasso The Moon" and “Glad” (Glad is still available on CD tonight), had some fine songs on them that have obviously remained fondly in the memories of the many Felsons fans at this sold out show over the years. Although The Felsons have not played together as a band for over 15 years, the individual members have all worked together in various combinations many times as The Felsons are forever tied to one another by bonds of not only music but friendship. Perhaps it is that obvious friendship more than even the music that made this such a special event for not only Felsons fans but everyone at the show tonight as this unexpected re-union brought back memories of happy times of their younger days to so many people.
I have to make an admission here though folks – at the time, I completely missed The Felsons as a band (they were simply not on my musical radar at the time) and, unlike many people here tonight who followed the band and later on Dean Owens through his later career as a song-writer and performer, I discovered The Felsons by going backwards through Dean’s writing and career, and this show for me was a side of Dean Owens that I had not really seen before on-stage as this was definitely a Felsons gig far more than a Dean Owens one.
I have always suspected that just below Dean’s veneer of musical misery there is another thicker veneer of even deeper misery, but here that deeper layer was cracked open to show a band full of joy, light and humour that I now wish I had seen in their prime. This performance, complete with Dean Owens without his trademark hat on-stage was a little bit like stepping into an alterative reality, particularly when we go back in time even further to the pre Felsons days to the very formative years of the far more “pop” orientated youth of a band called Smile with even the original vinyl record and a T-shirt proving that such an event actually happened (there’s even you tube videos out there folks). Scotland’s “musical maestro of misery” fronting a band called “Smile”- oh, the irony of it all. Perhaps, that hat of Dean Owens has more power than we give it credit for in creating songs of misery and woes.
Everyone on-stage was so obviously having so much fun here and as always, time only allowed for a selection of Felsons songs to be in the set list, but the ones played, including “Boomerang Boy”, “Heart is Home” and the very funny “David” have obviously been lovingly remembered by the faithful. For me though, “Joseph Black” is one of the hidden gems in the band’s back catalogue and a great song to perform live.
Watching and listening to the band tonight was a bit like watching many bits of the jig-saw pieces that have led Dean Owens on his road to becoming one of Scotland’s most respected singer-songwriters come together into the bigger picture. Yes, there are many songs here that show the many formative roots in Dean’s music, but these are often songs of a young man dreaming of what might happen one day rather than someone writing out of personal experiences. A very early song, dreaming of country roads and Nashville, “ I Ain't Been Anywhere Yet” owes much to the Johnny Cash classic “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Thoughts then of recording his music in Nashville one day or even being on the front cover of a new book about his hometown of Leith (A-Z of Leith) were perhaps not even serious dreams at the time. Although there are many fine songs in the musical back catalogue of The Felsons, there is a clear development and maturity here as a songwriter of where Dean Owens was at this point in time and where he is now with his latest album “Southern Wind”.
Dean has for this special event written three new songs (all performed here) including the very reflective “Hayride” and it is another song in his classic self-penned style. The Felsons as friends and individuals have, as we all have, experienced as many highs and lows in their lives, and it is this odd balancing of the scales of life, this weighing every triumph on one side with tragedy on the other side that Dean has the ability to express in words that touch so many of us. It would be interesting to hopefully hear soon some new Felsons songs as the passing of time and experiences will have left so many new avenues of personal emotions for them to explore as musicians. Who knows, somewhere in the band there is that “The Rise and Fall of Eddie Felson” album just somewhere out there waiting to be written.
Dean Owens of course could not get away from performing some of his own solo works and “The Man From Leith” simply had to be in this set. More than a few musical surprises along the way too from the opening acapella version of The Beatles “Nowhere Man” to a return towards the end of the show and the band’s country blues/rockabilly roots with a great performance of the Elvis classic “Hound Dog” complete with an audience wondering if the poor old souls will get back up from the floor again without serious injury to themselves. A rock’n’roll classic, but for me the original Big Mama Thornton version with the original lyrics (that Elvis changed for the worse) will always be the one for me.
It has been a long journey for everyone in the band to where they are at tonight, and perhaps time in this review to reflect that no one ever walks life’s paths alone and that family and friends need to be there with them too. Also, any band/musician needs one extra person, a very good manager who is always there working away for them, unseen behind the music. For Dean Owens, that very special manager is the lovely Morag Neil.
Live music does not happen on its own without a lot of work, organisation and planning from a lot of people, and a night like this one makes you appreciate just how important an organisation like Soundhouse is to our local music scene with regular Monday night events at The Traverse and events at other venues. So, a festive thank you to Douglas, Jane-Ann and everyone at Soundhouse for their hard work all year round in bringing live music to us all.
Review by Tom King