Live Reviews

Still Pulling No Punches and Pulling the Crowds

1997

Audiences remain faithful to this unique performer who can sting consciences with his songs one minute, and undermine bladder control with his lunatic mirth, the next. This dexterous balancing act, on full show in Perth recently, reveals more depth than the Vin of old.

The years of experience have sharpened the edge of both the humour and the penetrating social enquiry of the songs. These include two of his recent best ‘Darwin To Dilli’ and ‘When Oppressed Becomes Oppressor’, both featured on his album Plugged! They show that he is a force to be reckoned with - not ignored -still pulling no punches and pulling the crowds around the world.

The Living Tradition

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Drenched In Passionate Fervour

2008

Teesside's own venerable legend of the folk scene worldwide, Vin Garbutt, is one of those performers whose work is drenched in such passionate fervour one has to listen seriously.

Rock 'n' Reel 

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Folk North West

The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal - 2012

Vin has never shied away from writing about the difficult issues in life and is not afraid to share his personal feelings with his audience. He manages to prick our consciences in a sensitive way without resorting to mawkishness.

Sam Bracken

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A Generous Live Performer

2008

Vin Garbutt’s zany humour can sometimes obscure the seriousness of his songs. He has covered every corner of the UK - and much of the rest of the world - presenting his unique mixture of folk songs, repartee and pleasing musicianship. He is admired as a generous live performer who presents a thoughtful and provocative message in his songs.

What's On Inside Cornwall

Award Winning Folk Artist

2006

Vin, for the uninitiated, offers quite the most emotionally-rounded night it's possible to encounter in the live music arena. One minute your sides will be splitting at his unabashedly comedic persona, the next you'll be jettisoning your own eyeballs in a Geneva Fountain of tears as he performs one of his characteristically heartfelt songs. An award winning folk artist, Vin transcends any of the genre's perceived limitations by the sheer power of his performances and the shining humanity that he radiates like a small sun. 

Dorset Echo

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A Sage at The Sage

The Sage, Gateshead - 22 September 2013

He arrived on stage exactly on time without fanfare. “I’m playing to a full house”, he says, “but I better explain why there are a few empty seats...” Some of his friends tell him to his face that they’ll be there and some even buy tickets. But they never turn up on the night because “they just can’t bear to hear me sing!” With that he launches into ‘Silver and Gold’ – the story of the ex-miner who takes up dress-making thus “giving up one seam for another!” He even provides a ventriloquist’s version of the chorus to allow the shy members of the audience to participate in the song without actually seeming to sing. The opener is followed by a stunning a cappella lament of the loss of 167 men who were killed in the Piper Alpha oil platform catastrophe in the North Sea exactly 25 years ago in 1988. His expression of the pain and the grief is both heartfelt and palpable. Whatever his ‘absent friends’ might really think of his singing, he holds this audience throughout. His first set concludes with the haunting ‘Darwin to Dili’ – possibly one of his finest songs. Garbutt lets rip with lyrics and music that convey the human horror, the political hypocrisy and the utter barbarism of the slaughter in East Timor: “oil on the bed of the ocean and blood on the shore…” is a line neither easily forgotten nor forgiven. “This is a good finisher… no one ever asks for another song after this one!” sighs Vin Garbutt with trademark self-deprecation as he plays out the end of the second set with ‘Linda’. Linda is the true story of the mother-to-be who refuses to abort her foetus knowing full well from the prenatal tests that the new born infant will have Spina Bifida.

Garbutt is the 65-years-old Middlesbrough-born folk musician now in his fiftieth year of playing to the crowd. His one song encore – “even if you didn’t want an encore” – is ‘Your Welcome Was So Warm’ and with that the audience applauds loudly and lovingly for a man who seems to give ever more to his art and profession as the years advance. Anyone seeing Vin Garbutt for the first time might reasonably wonder if this man is a musician who happens to dabble in comedy or a comedian who intersperses innate humour with inspired songs. Of course, he is both: the sheer grit of the lyrics and the texture of the music is leavened cleverly by the comedic yarns he kneads between songs. “Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before…”, he has a habit of saying but somehow even after the third or fourth hearing of the same story over the years, its poignancy, absurdity or sheer stupidity never wanes. Almost like Ronnie Corbett in his storytelling style, his tales go off on diversions – each with tangents on tangents – but somehow he returns in three or four minutes to where he started with his trademark toast, “all the very best!” and a gulp of wine. Then he slips effortlessly into the next song.

Vin Garbutt underplays his musical versatility on the tin whistle by saying the reel that he just played was only learned when he saw another guy called Vin Garbutt play the same tune on a DVD! The DVD to which he refers, is the recent film about his life made by filmmaker Craig Hornby. Garbutt is not just a man of music, he is a folk polymath – a man of nature, of language, of science and of art. In two hours, he not only ponders the infinity of space “well there could have been a wall up there” (pointing skywards) but also the fate of the black poplar (Populus Nigra). He’s not embarrassed at all by his recollection of private converse with his nematodes. His microscopic dissection and comparison of the dialects of Newcastle and Middlesbrough (shorts and shirts) is hilarious. His closely observed study of New Zealanders and their ritual abuse of the English language by “placing the wrong vowels in the wrong places” is worthy of a paper in the Journal of Linguistics and a personal chair.

Vin Garbutt played this stunning Tyneside venue at the end of a warm Indian summer’s day. The average age of the audience was over 60. Does Vin Garbutt have wider appeal for a younger generation in the North East and elsewhere? That’s the perennial exam question for teachers of music and professors in the University of Life. Many people under 30 years old today have not grown up with the same storytelling traditions of his youth but they would recognise the wisdom of what might be called his ‘forever’ lyrics and music. The power of Garbutt’s masterclass performance is made distinctive by the alchemy of words and music that spring from his deep well of passion for people and the innate wit that comes from his apparently casual but thoroughly forensic observation of life and love. “All the very best Vin”. No one else comes close in breadth or depth and far less in sincerity or warmth. Long may your own Indian summer bloom.

Mark Reilly

Lothersdale Live

Lothersdale Village Hall, Skipton-  7 June 2014

It’s always a bit daunting when a new venue starts. Is it the right location? Is the venue big enough? Have I booked the right artist? Have I done enough publicity? Well judging from the opening night of Lothersdale Live, I think the answer to all those questions is a resounding ‘yes!’ The location is the pretty village of Lothersdale near Skipton, the venue The Village Hall, the artist, the incomparable Vin Garbutt, publicised well as the Hall was full.

Vin has always been a hard act to characterise. He is a fine writer of songs, an interpreter of other songwriters work and someone who’s stage presence and delivery is without equal. As the man himself said at the beginning “There are two types of people here tonight. Those that have already seen me and those, dragged along by friends, who haven’t a clue what I do.” There was indeed that mix and this could be heard by the delay in some of the newbies getting the hang of Vin’s patter and humour.

On to his performance. We were treated to favourites and new material. Of his own songs we had ‘John You Are Gone’, ‘When The Tide Turns’, ‘Darwin to Dilli’, ‘Be As Children’, ‘Your Welcome Was So Warm’ along with material by other songwriters. The excellent ‘Silver and Gold’, about an ex-miner turned embroiderer which has always been a favourite of mine. ‘If I Had a Son’ another powerful song about a father’s and his hopes. A song by the late Graeme Miles, ‘I Never Found My Elderado’ had particular resonance with Vin, where he stated it was listening to Graeme Mile’s songs that got him interested in Folk Music in the first place. However the finale was a song called ‘The Fallen of Fulstow’. This emotional song about a village that refused a War Memorial because one name was omitted, that of a soldier who was executed in the First World War, despite having shell shock.

All in all an exemplary performance from the Teesside Troubadour.

Lawson Alexander

Vin Has Audience In His Pocket (The Rochdale Observer)

Playhouse 2 Theatre, Shaw - 27 April 2002

A slightly dishevelled middle-aged man meanders onto the stage - two hours later, Britain’s best folk act wanders off with the whole audience in his pocket. I was lucky enough to be part of that packed audience, at The Playhouse 2 theatre in Shaw on Saturday, when the BBC 2 Folk Awards best live folk act, Vin Garbutt, popped in.

The above description is made with all fondness - placed in a mob of the world’s greatest eccentrics, you still could not fail to notice him. Vin is from Middlesbrough, and must be one of the island’s best kept secrets. It is a tribute to his talent that I left the venue remembering his music, because his performances are as much stand-up as folk singer. He ambled onto the intimate stage with his shocks of red hair, pint, whistle and guitar and mumbled a typically warm introduction - but for a few moments I wondered whether he had been with the pint all afternoon. But no, it was a performer comfortable with his routine, which he then began with a tune he said he never began with - afterwards announcing that this merely was to shoot down any expectations we might hold of having a good night. He was unpredictable, witty and wandering in his speech, but often political in his song.

‘City Of Angels’ gives a tragic portrayal of Thailand’s millions of exploited children. And ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (one of the few songs he plays which he did not write) refers to the experiences of a Falkland Islander during the war of 1982. Throughout the routine (although that is hardly the word), he emits fantastic mock singing noises, presumably to help tune tone and guitar for the next song (but reminded me of Vic Reeves in club singer guise). And he frequently appears befuddled as to which song he has just done or what he plans to do next. He informs us that tonight he is in “random mode” and each song is a Christmas hit off his next record.

Introductions to songs become ten-minute sprawling stories. He frequently toasts the audience with his pint and is impressively quick-witted when improvisation and one-liners are called for.

Ben Turner

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"Lump-in-the-throat"
(Derbyshire Times)

Stainsby Folk Festival, Derbyshire - 2008

"Lump-in-the-throat" moment came when Vin Garbutt scored the first standing ovation in the history of the festival which was this year celebrated its ruby anniversary. This performance saw Vin back at the top of his game, cracking jokes, singing sublimely, telling stories, and even playing a whistle which a heart operation had prevented him from doing so when he last graced the Stainsby stage three years ago.

The audience hung on every word, roaring with laughter at his tales of Antipodean adventures and the differences between English and Australian pronunciation, lapping up stories of Geordies and wallowing in songs like ‘Morning Informs’ and the magnificent ‘When Oppressed Becomes Oppressor."

Gary Bolton

The Most Sought After Act on the Scene Today

The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal - 2012

Vin has never shied away from writing about the difficult issues in life and is not afraid to share his personal feelings with his audience. He manages to prick our consciences in a sensitive way without resorting to mawkishness.

Sam Bracken

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The Most Sought After Act on the Scene Today

2006

The most sought after act on the scene today. ‘House Full!’ signs are the norm. Because of his popularity, life is one long tour for Vin... doing what folk singers have done for ages and ages - presenting a different view to that expressed by the media. Vin Garbutt entertains in a unique manner. All his songs are quite serious in content, but the same cannot be said of his introductions! I cannot think of anybody, other than Mike Elliott, who can get away with fifteen minute introductions to a five minute song. Not only does he add new songs to his repertoire but he adds bits to his introductions as well. Half the fun on some of his numbers is spotting the story he has told you in the song he is singing, artistic license is an understatement to say the least!

Music World

Leftfield and Quirky

Edinburgh Folk Club, Edinburgh - 6 June 2014

Vin Garbutt’s off the wall patter is unique, his oddball humour downright infectious, and his songs pack a punch! Leftfield and quirky do not even begin to describe Teesside’s national treasure! If the folk scene had a Perrier Award, it would be Vin’s for life. 

Eberhard 'Paddy' Bort

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Grasps Many a Nettle That Others Would Rather Avoid

2005

Garbutt’s blend of outlandish humour and powerful songs (usually self-penned) turns a live performance into an emotional roller coaster ride. Not for him, songs of loves lost or the navel gazing of other songwriters. Whether he is singing of industrial workers in Britain, chemical weapons in Iraq, toxic sprays in New Zealand, or human embryo research, he grasps many a nettle that others would rather avoid. Share his opinions or not, one has to respect his diversity, intensity and integrity. These songs move the hardest of hearts.

The Real Groove

Bournemouth Folk Club

Centre Stage, Bournemouth

Even on a freezing Sunday evening, Vin Garbutt drew a loyal crowd to Bournemouth Folk Club at Centre Stage. The Teesside Troubadour may have been feeling somewhat under par (“if I stick to singing in D, I won’t cough”), but it certainly didn’t show in his two-hour performance.

He began with ‘Silver and Gold’, and, as ever, songs were punctuated with hilarious tall tales and a raised pint (“all the very best.”) The audience were persuaded to sing along to ‘Punjabi Girl’, ‘When the Tide Turns’ and ‘A Man of the Earth’, and toes were tapping when he played two tunes on his whistle.

In a world of shiny packaged pop, Vin is a national treasure who should arguably get more critical recognition. The songs – whether his own or other people’s – mean something. They all tell a story that we need to hear, and he means every word he sings. When he’d finished singing ‘Chemical Workers’ Song’, he said, “Ta very much. I’m knackered now – are you?”

He ended the show with Keith Hancock’s ‘Absent Friends’ – a powerful and poignant way to finish a fantastic night. The audience went off into the night, grateful to have spent the evening with a musician, poet, storyteller, comedian, and a thoroughly genuine man.

Rebecca Perl

Vin Packs 'Em In (Derbyshire Times)

Chesterfied Folk Club, Chesterfield - September 2012

I can’t remember the last time I queued up to get into a folk club. When we pulled up in the car at Club Chesterfield at around 7.30pm, there were people queuing across the car park. Chesterfield Folk Club closes for the summer and this was to be the first gig of the new season. Had someone not told us something? Was the concert not going ahead? Had someone forgotten to unlock the doors? I never actually found out why we were standing outside but by the time I got through the doors it was a full house with a second queue rapidly forming at the bar.

The artist who had drawn such a large crowd was Vin Garbutt. Vin has been a professional on the folk scene since the late 60s. He started off singing and playing a largely traditional repertoire becoming known, amongst other things, as a very proficient tin whistle player! These days he is known more for his poignant songs of social comment. Oh yes, and his side splittingly funny, off the wall sense of humour.

If I had to sum up a Vin Garbutt concert I would probably say it is a bit like watching one of those clowns in a circus who somehow ends up tottering along the tightrope looking like he’s just about to fall off. Of course, he never does and it is all hilariously funny at the same time. He told us rambling stories that defied logic but which led unerringly to an hilarious ending. Then his balance on the tightrope would be regained and he would sing deeply moving songs like ‘Neither Widow Nor Wife’ or ‘The Fallen of Fulstow’.

Vin put Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ to music. You had to be there really to appreciate the almost insane introduction to this part of the evening. If Spike Milligan had been around to hear it he would probably have offered Vin a part in a revived Goon Show there and then. The song itself was a masterpiece which sat on a razor’s edge between genius and music hall.


By the end of the evening it had become clear why Vin probably doesn’t know what an empty seat at a concert looks like.

Martin Sumpton

Port Fairy Folk Festival

Victoria, Australia - March 2007

The King of Port Fairy could easily be the title of a kids' fantasy tale... I could make it a rambling fable with larger-than-life characters peopling the royal court of a land and with an instantly recognisable, unforgettable man in the leading, title role at the centre of it all. What would that man be like? In most fairy stories, you have your good kings and bad kings. It's a safe bet that the king of Port Fairy would be a kindly soul, showering his subjects with wisdom, good humour, inspiration, and more than a little love as he tells his tales of the world's truths, triumphs and injustices.

He might be a little eccentric in his behaviour and in his appearance. You know, a real chatterbox; given to singing at every opportunity when he was tired of talking; that sort of stuff. He might have an unfeasibly long mane of hair despite the fact he is also as bald as a coot. He might have a strange accent and softly distinctive way of speaking that offers few clues to the power and even occasional stridency of his singing voice. He might look as much like a wizard as anything else. Can you picture him?

I met the King of Port Fairy last week - Port Fairy in Victoria, Australia, that is. The sleepy fishing port comes alive for four days every year with one of the world's finest annual folk and roots music festivals. There were larger-than-life people everywhere you looked - Luka Bloom, Ralph McTell, Eric Bibb and Danny Thompson, Habib Koute, famous peers of the folk music realm - but at the centre of it all was the King, Middlesbrough's own Vin Garbutt. He left his subjects - the thousands who crammed into the festival marquees to enjoy his two concerts during Port Fairy's four-day feast - in no doubt that he was a good king; a true musical monarch.

It's no mean feat to become king of Port Fairy. There is a hell of a lot of competition each year and the festival-goers are a pretty knowledgeable lot. But Vin Garbutt's humour, warmth, and humanity - not to mention his incredible voice, dextrous finger-picking guitar style and virtuoso tin-whistle playing - won everyone over.

I once saw Vin Garbutt in what seems like another world. I was a 22-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears rock and roller and cynical young journo who had never seen a folk gig in his life. Vin's inspired humour and gut-wrenchingly honest songs made a huge impression and stayed with me through all the intervening years. Seeing him play in my adopted country of Australia, 27 years on, was a curious experience.

It was as though those years had not occurred; there I was, back in the lounge of the Parkgate Hotel on the Wirral, wiping away tears of laughter then tears of emotion and empathy that I scarcely knew I possessed.

Those tears rolled again in Port Fairy and I loved every minute of it; every lovely melody and every poignant lyric.I wasn't alone. Songs like ‘Morning Informs’, ‘Down By The Dockyard Wall’, ‘Punjabi Girl’, and ‘The Loftus Emigrant’ ensured Vin did a cracking trade, selling copies of Persona... Grata on which they all feature.

Come back soon, King Vin, you're missed already.

Kevin Jones

A Shaman for Social Justice (Yorkshire Evening Post)

Black Swan Folk Club, York - 25 April 2002

Singer-songwriter Vin Garbutt is not a man to be shackled. Not for him the tyranny of a list of songs carved in stone for that night’s gig. Last night he told an expectant audience packed into the upstairs room of The Black Swan that he was in “random mode” which made the evening ripe for requests. And they came flying in as his fans called out song titles from his vast repertoire. Garbutt sang about the plight of the jobless, pollution, the tragedy of a teenage British soldier killed by an Argentine bullet in the Falklands and about his beloved North East. His patter between songs had the audience helpless with laughter. Yet the guffaws were quickly followed by silence as they connected with his singing and clever finger style guitar.


Garbutt believes in the power of song, which he uses to get his audience caring about the plight of those less fortunate. ‘City of Angels’ highlights the scandal of child prostitution in Bangkok, the sex capital of the world, while another powerful composition, ‘Darwin To Dili’, explores the genocide of the Timorese people. Garbutt’s humanity shines through his art. He is both funny and serious in the same breath and when he sings he becomes a shaman for social justice. Long may he continue!

Richard Foster

A Mighty Combination of Song, Voice and Comedy...

St Leonard's Hotel, Stonehaven - 5 October 2001

It’s not hard to disregard hype but it is very difficult to ignore it, and I went to Stonehaven on Friday October 5 to listen to Vin Garbutt with my ears ringing with the phrase: “he’s the best folk singer in Britain and the world!” That’s a view I had read in several different sources and, while puzzled that Britain and the world were spoken of as being distinct things, I was still expecting to see a top artist-more sources = corroboration = formative opinion.

By the time I was wending my way home I knew what I had to write about Vin Garbutt: a large opening paragraph consisted of one repeated word – “brilliant.” A second paragraph would state: “Vin Garbutt played at the St Leonard’s Hotel, Stonehaven, on Friday, October 5th.” And a third and final paragraph would read: “For more information contact www.vingarbutt.com.”

But that would have been just a visual trick that readers do not really deserve: you need to hear it properly that Vin Garbutt is an astonishing singer. His song; ‘Morning Informs’ is about a man divorced from his wife who cannot accept the reality that she’s never coming back and looks to little daily things, like car head-lamps flashing across his bedroom window at night, as marking her return. If you just for a minute think about the tragedy of such a man – he’s not living a real life is he? He’s little more than a ghost. Garbutt sang that emotion perfectly. This heart-breaking song was followed by: ‘The Black Poplar’, a song he was commissioned to write about the rarest tree in England.

There was also: ‘The Trouble of Erin’ which is about the situation in Northern Ireland. I’ve heard one other internationally renowned folk singer sing about this topic and that man could not hold a candle up to what Vin Garbutt did. Garbutt did it right – a song full of sadness.

Between each of his songs Garbutt gave this comic routine, which at Stonehaven had the hall doubling over. It seemed to stem from a personality completely bemused by the world, and especially the world of his native Teesside. He had one of those impenetrable comic personas - like Eric Morecambe or Tommy Cooper – the kind of thing that some TV stars (Vic Reeves, Ken Dodd) visibly strive so hard to achieve.

Between this comic persona of the highest order and a voice that has massive emotion and power you just didn’t get a rest at this concert – and that’s notwithstanding his musicianship on the guitar and tin whistle. You just have to see this man perform to see why there is such hyperbole as “the greatest folk singer in the world.” I can’t vouch for that (having not heard all the world’s folk singers) but what I can say is, Vin Garbutt is a mighty combination of, song, voice, and comedy.

Go and see him perform – travel as far as is necessary.

Martin Bayliss

The Attic Folk Club

The Tullamore Hotel, Chesterfield - 18 September 2004

We all get excited at the thought of birthdays, Christmas and treats as we imagine how things will turn out - sometimes it works out and occasionally it works out even better - and so it was for the opening concert of the current Attic Season. With Vin Garbutt, an almost legendary folk superstar, topping the bill the concert was sold out as soon as tickets went on sale in June.

Vin Garbutt was introduced by Jim Clarke as “The greatest solo performer in the world” which just proves that appearances can be deceptive – Vin looks like a middle aged escapee from a hippie band, who, as he claims himself, would be the person you would cross the street to avoid and wouldn't let loose near your children.

But “surprise! surprise!”, this amiable and exceptionally talented singer-songwriter will confuse your senses with his brand of humour and some of the most beautifully crafted and heartrending stories contained within his own compositions.

Vin last appeared at the Attic in February 2002 and regularly appears at other venues in the UK and abroad whilst on tour. Unbelievably Vin's first set only contained four songs – unbelievable because the chat and the stories just filled the time so enjoyably as he set the scene and built up to each one. The songs were 'The Land of Three Rivers', the beautiful lament ‘Morning Informs’, the socially regretful 'The One Legged Beggar' and a North East protest song 'Not For The First Time'. Only the intervention of Jim Clarke as MC brought Vin's first set to a close in order to take the Interval.

The second set was, if possible, even better - every song had a story, every story had its humour even when the focus included grief for the unexpected deaths of loved ones. The first three songs covered an ex-coalminer who became a famous dressmaker – 'Silver and Gold', 'Neither Wife nor Widow' and Kieran Halpin's 'Nothing to Show for it All'.


Vin's longtime friend and occasional chauffeur, Bob Fox, came on stage at this point to provoke even more humorous banter and to duet on 'Be As Children' which makes the point that in today's society even when children hurt themselves it is no longer PC, or acceptable, for a grown man to help and console someone else's child.

As 11pm neared and Vin and Bob made to leave the stage the usual demands for an encore arose, and so the evening ended with Vin and Bob singing Phil Millichip's 'In Search Of The Dirty Black Gold' and then Vin playing us out on the whistle with the jig 'Catholic Boy', the reel 'Imelda Rolands' and the last jig 'The Green Gates'.