Award-winning American acoustic musician and song-writer Doug MacLeod stayed in the tiny East Sussex village of Crowhurst on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. This 70-something survivor of child sexual abuse discovered as a young man that music could save his mortal soul and went on to found a one-man musical ministry to heal us all. Doug was staying at Nina’s “Woodside” B&B in Old Forewood Lane before giving an intimate gig in Whatlington Village Hall, the new venue for Mrs Yarrington’s Music Club, the best platform for acoustic music in the south-east of England.
Doug played at Mrs Yarrington’s back in 2016 (click here for my review of that gig). In fact it made such an impression on him that on Tuesday night he went straight back to the same venue (at The Senlac Inn in Battle), sat in the bar, and wondered where his punters might be. He made it to the new venue in time however, bringing much needed relief after the opening act, Song Box Band. While this Brighton pop-folk duo impressed with their in-sync guitar playing, the singer's musings on Mediterranean holidays and other anodyne middle-class preoccupations grated.
When Doug began his song sermons, there was an almost palpable sense of excitement as an audience that was mostly familiar with the man readied themselves to get healed. He did not disappoint. Having heard some of his blues-based gospel before, I had an idea of what to expect, but songs familiar, and ones I had not had the privilege of hearing him sing live before, were equally compelling.
Among the stand-out songs were ‘Who’s Driving This Bus?’, a musical musing on the interests that may lay behind our elected leaders, with a nod to John Lee Hooker in Doug’s phenomenal guitar playing done in his professed “gumbo” style. Another musical acknowledgment was made by Doug when introducing a song that almost stole the show, and whose title went something like “(I Believe That) The Sun is Gonna’ Shine”. It was, said Doug, a song influenced by the celebrated black bluesman (and long-time muse), Tampa Red. You had to fight back the tears when hearing a tale of hoped for redemption that came straight out of Doug’s backstory. It was truly one of the most extraordinary vocal performances I’ve heard in nearly 40 years of attending gigs.
This man is an acknowledged master of his particular art; he just played in a village hall up the road from where I live. His landlady came to the gig and joked that she’ll be putting his sheets on e bay. She hadn’t heard of him before Tuesday but knew that, somehow, she had a star staying in her guest house. If you want to be similarly blessed, make sure you check him out the next time Mrs Yarrington’s puts this huge performer on a tiny stage.