Janis Ian and Tom Paxton

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Janis Ian and Tom Paxton

Posted: 23 Mar 2014

When you bump into someone at The Sage you never know if they’re going to the same gig as you. Last year I saw virtually all the superannuated hippies I know one night but, while most were going into Hall One to see Richard Thompson, some – including me – swayed to Hall Two to see the great Gretchen Peters. So when I ran into ‘Horrible Histories’ author Terry Deary I quickly enquired, ‘Are you going to see Janis Ian?’.  ‘No’ replied the man behind the Rotten Romans & Vile Victorians, ‘I’m going to see Tom Paxton.’ In my case I was going to see Janis Ian – but we were going to the same show.

Paxton and Ian are two veterans of the folk circuit. I won’t call it the folk tradition as both played a part in moving on from traditional material. Famously Paxton, a pioneer of the Greenwich Village scene, was present when Ian made her first public performance at the tender age of 13, Tom ushering young Janis back on stage for her first ever encore.

There were to be two standing ovations here, before and after the encores. Backed by Robin Bullock on mandolin, Paxton and Ian alternated in performing a small selection of their songs, the other often sitting quietly in the darkness like a snooker player waiting for their turn. 

On some songs they shared the vocals but as the performance progressed I wondered what Terry Deary and the Paxton camp were making of the evening. As one of the Janis Ian followers, I was loving Janis’s turns (especially on ‘Jessie’, when, alone on stage, she came away from the soft amplification and sang unaccompanied) but my mind wandered through some of Paxton’s numbers. I’m not knocking Tom. He’s rightly respected and with songs like ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ and ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ he has to be but I’d have liked to hear more of Janis than the eight or so numbers she sang.  

Paxton and Ian evidently are a mutual admiration society and overall it was undoubtedly an enjoyable evening but ultimately I think much of the audience would have liked to see more of the singer-songwriter who touches them most.


Rob Mason

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