The Testimony of Robbie Robertson


MOJO gave me a mere 150 words on this, but here’s my tuppenceworth on “an unengaging and soulless read”…

THE BAND’S STORY continues to beguile: how did a group so rich in talent and promise implode so hopelessly, only to pull the rabbit out of the hat with such a spectacular leaving do?

Almost a quarter century after the late Levon Helm published his own autobiography, de facto Band leader/guitarist/songwriter Robertson finally has his own say in the solemnly-titled Testimony. (Did he, one wonders, wait for Levon to go before committing pen to paper?)

The sad truth is that Testimony makes for an unengaging and soulless read. While there’s much to learn and many gaps filled in for the curious, the book is written in a clichéd style of numbing if self-regarding banality. However much sympathy one has with Robertson’s desperate attempts to herd The Band’s cats, there’s rarely the sense here of a flesh-and-blood human being behind the rote recollections.

Helm’s book may have been written by Stephen Davis, but the drummer’s irresistible voice was audible in its every phrase.

Robbie and Levon

Robbie Robertson comes in for a bit of a pasting in a Harper’s review of his autobiography Testimony (or at least on page 1 of it, the only one available to non-subscribers)… and I get a namecheck too. I’m about halfway thru’ the aforementioned tome and finding it fairly soulless, frankly.

Meanwhile here’s the (slightly sad) flipside of the Band story:


End of the Road gallery

In the Wiltshire drizzle for End of the Road: small-town-talking with Julian Mash; in the big top with Dumbo; listening to Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker with a seated Geoff Travis, book-signing with Travis Elborough; getting (two-toed) slothful with my darling wife Natalie… and harping on about the always exceptional Joanna Newsom.

mummy can I have some flowers in my hair? (a post-port eliot poem for bruce robinson)


But it’s so lovely here:

the hills that roll down to the river,

woods bedecked with lanterns,

yurts for mindfulness, the vegan carts,

the wildest meats this side of Yeovil.


And of course the glamping families:

not a chav in sight, no red-slashed crosses,

rabid Leavers from across the bay –

nor one black face unless you count the kora players

in from WOMAD yesterday.


Instead the earthy MILFS

with nut-brown feet and daughters

rifling through the vintage stalls in search of skirts

that say they would have rolled in Yasgur’s mud

had they been born in 1951.


We’re all too busy pinning flowers to our tousled hair

to listen to the lonely novelist who drifts among the trees

with shoulder bag and Sharpie pen

but who will spend more on Halloumi wraps

than he can ever hope to make by being here.


What right has he pronouncing on these boutique hippie kids,

this man forever longing to belong?

Why always separate himself and find the flaw,

why point to self-delusion and delude himself

he has some vantage point from nowhere?


He has no zany shirt, nor quirky feathered hat,

he’ll never be the weathered Trustafarian

in mud-flecked boots with wife of 34

who danced all night to raucous bluegrass songs

beneath the darting stars.


Still he’s as privileged as every other tosser here:

why can’t he just be grateful we are gathered in this paradise

to celebrate the written word and save the day –

one reading at a time –

from Trump and from Theresa May?

It’s the End of the Road as we know it

Having survived the middle-class bacchanalia of Port Eliot, I’ll hope to see some of you at the dependably charming END OF THE ROAD festival in Dorset on the first weekend of September. I’ll be small-town-talking about Woodstock/Bearsville with Julian Mash in the Literature “space” and it’s a lovely way to wind down the summer…7-Tame-NME1-1200x500