These two old friends come from a privileged generation. They are the people who brought popular American music to the UK. The folk songs, the jazz and, above all, the blues. Without people like Wizz Jones and Ralph McTell (especially Wizz Jones, Ralph would say), Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and the rest may never have heard of Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters or all the other American legends that inspired a generation of young British people to pick up guitars and sing.
This absorbing evening at the North Wall Arts Centre was a timely reminder of just how exciting those times must have been for the young Wizz and even younger Ralph. It was a journey through the two albums they have made together since 2016, About Time and About Time Too, on which, as Ralph McTell told us, their roots are clearly showing.
They have chosen to feature some of the first songs they heard and learned to play, as well as some other favourites acquired down the years. Given that between them they have notched up 173 years of listening and playing, it's a pretty eclectic pool from which to draw, and it made for a diverse and fascinating evening. Woody Guthrie featured heavily, a reflection both of the depth of his continuing influence on modern popular music and the fact that his lyrical themes are still relevant e.g. the migrant Mexican labourers in 'Deportees', the exploited workers in 'Do Re Mi', the establishment hypocrisy of 'Philadelphia Lawyer'.
One of the many things that Ralph McTell admires about Wizz Jones is his ability to find and perform songs which deserve more recognition, and he's brought plenty of hidden gems to this duo. Alan Tunbridge's 'Shall I Wake You From Your Sleep' and 'When I'm Gone' featured in the first set, while 'Touch Has A Memory' by Pete Atkin and Clive James and Doc Watson's 'Honey Babe Blues' were highlights of the second.
There was a poignant and powerful thread of blues running through the whole evening, with songs from Robert Johnson, Blind Boy Fuller and the Memphis Jug Band, as well as Ralph McTell's elegantly eerie 'Ghost of Robert Johnson'. Country music was in there too, with Hank Williams' despairing 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' and an unapologetically cheesy sing-a-long rendering of 'Ghost Riders In The Sky'. But then, as Ralph pointed out, it is a superbly crafted piece of songwriting. And he should know.
Both men are still in good voice and the rich warmth of Ralph McTell's baritone made fine harmonies with Wizz Jones' slightly edgier tenor. But really, the singing, the songs and the anecdotes were just the support features. What this evening was about was the masterful musicianship and the interplay between these two elder statesmen of acoustic folk guitar. It was spellbinding, seemingly effortless and utterly brilliant.
You can't help envying people like Ralph McTell and Wizz Jones. They were there for the musical and cultural revolution of a kind we may never see again. But most of all, we should be grateful that they are still celebrating what they discovered and sharing it with the world.