The Toff is such a refined venue, and perfectly suitable for the more intimate acoustic style shows such as the one presented by Van Dyke Parks and Kinky Friedman. The crowd, generally speaking, were of an intellectual/corporate bent and there were plenty of suits to see, but the atmosphere wasn’t at all stuffy.

The likes of Parks would be unlikely to enjoy or encourage any hint of ‘stuffiness’ even though he has the credentials to warrant a generous amount of arrogance. Still, there was no hint of arrogance to be seen in the man who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Ry Cooder, Brian Wilson, U2 and other renowned performers.

Van Dyke Parks writes and arranges music, acts in and produces stage shows, has authored books and has written scores for T.V., film and theatre. This entertaining, yet humble man plays the piano and sings to the audience just as if we were in his sitting room. His conversational approach draws us in and makes us feel that we know him and the otherwise private details of his life.

Parks doesn’t play the kind of music this scribe enjoys most…he is much too sophisticated really, but you can appreciate that his music is heart felt, and therefore authentic, and that he is certainly excellent at what he does.

Kinky Friedman is no slouch either. He describes himself variously as ‘Musician, author and governor of the heart of Texas’, (he in fact came third in his race for governor), and as a ‘Jewish Texan cowboy’, or words to that effect. Friedman’s career began in 1971, and he called his unit ‘Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew-boys’. His father wasn’t enraptured with the name to say the least, and in today’s p.c. world there would be an outrage.

So has Kinky toned down his colourful take on the world? Not at all! He is a total breath of fresh air. Kinky Friedman is able to joke fondly about his Jewish heritage still, and though it’s possible that those who are orthodox in their beliefs would find his words unacceptable, it’s great to see that progressive believers of that faith can laugh at lyrics in songs such as ‘They ain’t makin Jews like Jesus anymore’.

Actually no one escapes Kinky’s jokes. He related a story about meeting a German man to whom he said, “Germans are my second favourite people. Everyone else is my first.” Canadians, smokers, non-smokers and politicians…all get the Kinky Friedman treatment. His style of singing and playing is a blend of folk, country and rock, which demonstrates the influence that Bob Dylan had on him. (Friedman toured with Dylan extensively.)

While this style of music is not unique by any stretch of the imagination, his clever lyrics tell pertinent stories. Friedman’s songs are funny but they have us thinking about the absurdities of life. His songs and tales incite restlessness within us because we know that beyond the jokes, the sentiments are true. Many have lost the ability to laugh at themselves, but Kinky Friedman shows us all that laughter and a sense of irony actually keeps us human and sane.

– Sharon Brookes