Back in 1989, Wirral singer/songwriter Dean Johnson staged the first ever Neil Young tribute night. It took place at Stanley's Cask in Wallasey.  

This was long before the days of tribute acts, and the event was even given the blessing of Mr Young himself. Dean went on to have his own successful recording/performing career, but the Canadian-born troubadour has remained his major influence.  

He will pay tribute again next month by performing Young's classic ‘Harvest’ album in its entirety. Its performance will be a very rare chance to hear the complete album in a live setting, as Neil himself only ever performed key songs from it, such as the much loved number 1 single ‘Heart Of Gold’ and the evergreen ballad ‘Old Man

Neil Young released his fourth album ‘Harvest’ in 1972. At that time, he was considered the most successful singer/songwriter in the world. The album and the single ‘Heart Of Gold’ topped both the UK and US charts.  

This commercial breakthrough followed the earlier seminal ‘After The Gold Rush’. These records represented the golden period of Young’s career.

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Dean Johnson's seventh and final album of 2017 is a homage to the singer/songwriters of California’s Laurel Canyon of the early 1970s, but more specifically the demo tapes that circulated around the hallowed portholes of the golden era of introspection and social awareness.

Many of the prodigal sons and daughters of Geffen’s Asylum community had plied their wares on the folk and coffeehouse circuit of Sunset Strip. Their raw material was honed after hours and on the floors of incense filled apartments before they dipped their toes in the anointed Jacuzzis of the soft rock elite.

Most of the starry-eyed inmates of Asylum’s greatest dynasty fell foul to conservative producers and laid-back ‘on the clock’ session plodders. Often, the edge and personal tragedies of this stable of thoroughbred troubadours was sanitised, where far from square pegs where shoehorned into the round holes of the all-powerful FM radio format.

 

But remarkable recordings still exist of exquisitely hungry fledgling eaglets, captured in bathrooms and cellar dressing rooms; a sound so convincing and earnest it informed the very air around it with only thrift-store guitars and shredded heartstrings.

Dean Johnson sees the songs on ‘The Last Of The Sky’ as demos – hopefully for a later, more realised professional release; Polaroids of his own place and time. Socially and politically, the current state of the world somehow reflects that of the turbulent 70s. Mother Nature remains on the run and people are still striving for the power to change things.

This album reflects this landscape, from the ecological requiem of the title track, to the threat of terrorism in ‘Tear It Down’, to the personal defeats of ‘It Must Have Been A Lie’ and ‘Swallows’. The rites-of-passage confessionals ‘Girlfriend’s Room’ and ‘Let Alone’, to the full-blown wine-stained nostalgia of ‘Casablanca’.

This autumn as the hills above LA burn, this album looks back warmly to dreams that went up in smoke.