Bob Lind is popular with a large cross section of music fans if the audience for his first London gig in 5 years is anything to go by. The Slaughtered Lamb in Farringdon plays host to youngish hipsters at the front, a fair smattering of the original sixties fan base at the back and an amalgam of both in the middle. There are also a fair few musicians in attendance, no doubt keen on seeing one of the most undervalued singer/songwriters the US has ever produced.
A few days later we sit down for lunch to talk about his new album ‘Finding You Again’ as well as his friendship with Charles Bukowski, his famous admirers such as Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley but most importantly, how the music he is making now is as good as it ever was. Lind is good company – interesting, intelligent and mannered, so what he says next is something of a surprise – “I’m not a very nice person so as a result there’s not much to recommend me being on earth and taking up space, breathing air and eating food”.
You have to admire the candidness at least and I’m tempted to tell him in no uncertain terms that he is a most amiable lunching companion. Mercifully, he does believe there is a reason for him being around. “Music is something else, something that’s bigger than I am and it goes through me, so I have some value in life. I know how precious and vaunted this sounds but there’s a sacred value to me of going on stage and presenting my music to people. Sharing music together with the audience is the highest point of my life.”
This is certainly evident at Lind’s London show. There is a definite reverence in the air with Lind opting not to rely on older songs. Nor does he need to. His set is comprised for the most part by songs from his 2013 album Finding You Again, his first album, minus a few compilations, since 1971’s Since There Were Circles.
This is arguably as strong a collection of songs Lind has ever released and perfectly compliment a set which also features older songs such as Cheryl’s Goin’ Home and his most famous yet not his best song by some stretch, Elusive Butterfly. He’s savvy enough to know that some people still expect it, and tonight he is joined on stage by Toy’s drummer Charlie Salvidge and on guitar by Sam Davies from Charlie Boyer and The Voyeurs for extra backing.
This only serves to accentuate the fact that Lind’s music appeals to several generations and he has a theory on why this is the case. “The reason I can reach 18, 19, 20 year old kids is I’m pretty much what they are emotionally, most people my age are dwelling on their grandkids, their retirement plans. They’re seasoned, they’re ready, they’ve stopped putting it out there. I can’t do that, I was married for ten years, it didn’t take, no kids. I still feel things passionately the way I did when I was a teenager – I can still get my heart broken…”
A few nights later in Sheffield he will be joined onstage by Martin Simpson and long time admirer and friend Richard Hawley. The connection with Pulp goes back to the band’s final album We Love Life, which contained the song Bob Lind (The Only Way Is Down). It quickly becomes evident that Jarvis is a man who seeks permission first before name checking someone in a song title – “I get this email from this guy saying ‘my name is Jarvis and I have a group called Pulp, we have this song that is in your style and whenever we refer to it, we say let’s do the Bob Lind thing, I’m just wondering would it be alright if we called it Bob Lind?’ Sure!, I said “.
There is an obvious mutual respect between Lind and the Sheffield songwriters with Bob quick to point out that “there just aren’t many people with that level of humility and groundedness that those guys have.” During his time in the UK, Lind will also find time to appear as a guest on Cocker’s weekly BBC 6Music show.
There is more to Bob Lind than just music and he can truly be afforded polymath status. He has written books and plays including the biographical East Of The Holyland, a novel about a singer/songwriter in 60’s Denver. However, nothing trumps writing and performing his own music. “Music is more enjoyable because I get to do it, I get to be there. I just finished a play I’m really happy with but now I’ve got to worry about the right director, if it’s in the right theatre and the cast but you have to give up the attachment. With my songs, no matter who covers them, I always get to play them for somebody.” His songs have certainly been covered by a large and varied selection of musicians including Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton and Marianne Faithfull. He is happy for his back catalogue to be pilfered by others admitting “some are better than others but the fact that someone cared enough to do one of my songs is so touching and I’m honoured”.
He predominantly performs his own songs and leaves the cover versions for others, but there is time to play a Tom Paxton number. His passion for other acts is untarnished though. As we also discuss other musicians, we quickly establish that his favourite singer is Richie Havens, we agree that Fred Neil could “convey loneliness in a way very few other people can” and while Miles Davis was a genius, the saxophonist Houston Person is also, “incredible, expressive and lyrical”.
We move away from music for a while and discuss the American socio-biologist Rebecca Costa, author of The Watchman’s Rattle and someone who in Bob’s eyes is most definitely a “brilliant thinker of this century, up there with Socrates and Galileo”. Then we move on to his old pal Charles Bukowski. “What an interesting man. One of the few guys who could function behind all that booze for a long time – but I do think he started to lose it towards the end of his life, his later things weren’t nearly as powerful”.
Booze and drugs suited Bob himself less well, but he’s now 36 years sober and feels lucky to have avoided the fate that befell other songwriters such as Tim Hardin. He also feels fortunate that abstinence has helped him remain creative. “I know people who are the most creative people in the world, their imaginations are right out there in space and yet they can’t imagine a different way to live. I just had to come to a place where I said ‘anything is better than this, I can’t live that way anymore.’ What surprised me was that you begin to write better because you’re more present when you write. I don’t know why some people get that gift because that’s what it is, it’s a gift.”
It’s not just creativity that suffers at the hands of too much drink and drugs – it’s also discipline. “Your ability to shape and to discern goes and most people don’t know when that happens.” A good thing then that Bob is clean. His sense of humour and wit remain fully intact, brilliantly demonstrated in the liner notes for Finding You Again which state: “Please listen to the songs all the way through before reading the lyrics. Reading the words while you listen for the first time is like consulting a sex manual while you’re making love.”
You can’t really argue with that, nor the fact that alongside his best songs from his albums from the sixties such as A Nameless Request, Oh Babe Take Me Home and Unlock The Door, Finding You Again is a welcome and timely addition. He jokes as we part company, “Tell a friend, get me rich, tell them all what fools they are for not getting my music”. I will, I say to him – in fact I’ve been doing so for years.