Kirsty McGee and Mat Martin

Comment | The Regent, Doncaster | Comment by Allan Wilkinson

When Kirsty McGee and Mat Martin are on tour, they mean business. The pile of assorted instrument cases by the stage at the Monday Music Club at the Regent in Doncaster tonight resembled that famous ‘pile of suitcases’ sculpture on Hope Street in Liverpool. With a variety of stringed instruments from the banjo, ukulele and mandolin families, all stacked neatly on their respective racks, the duo were ready to play gig sixteen of their current twenty-five date UK tour. The duo fully intended to play two sets tonight, presumably utilising each and every one of these weird and wonderful instruments and armed with a set list that covered the best songs from all of Kirsty’s recorded output, which now runs to three full albums no less and a couple of EPs. Sadly this wasn’t to be. Kirsty has been suffering from a dreaded cold recently and tonight in Doncaster, her voice finally disappeared towards the end of the duo’s first set, despite vigorous efforts to fight it off. It was not only pointless to go on, it had the potential of causing unnecessary damage to Kirsty’s voice. Despite the premature end to the duo’s concert tonight, the nine-song set they did manage to get through was certainly worthy of a few words. It was just long enough to be considered ‘festival-length’ after all. In keeping with the vaudevillian theme of their current tour posters and hand bills, the duo appeared on stage looking very much the part. You get the distinct impression of either American vaudeville or Old English music hall. I loved the quote in Maverick magazine who described them as the Tim Burton version of Simon and Garfunkel. Whatever period in history the duo choose to adopt in order to feel comfortable on stage, one thing cannot be changed or contrived and that is the sound of Kirsty’s voice and the manner in which the duo arrange their songs. They have an instantly recognisable sound and their delicate arrangements and multi-instrumental accompaniment forms a perfect backdrop to Kirsty’s unique voice. Even though the concert was reduced to just the one set, the duo managed to perform material from each of their three albums and a couple from the new Hobopop EP, which they are promoting on this tour. Opening with “Lamb” a new song with a distinctively Appalachian feel, courtesy of Mat Martin’s frailing banjo accompaniment, revealed to anyone used to Kirsty’s voice some sign of frailty. Anyone who was in the audience experiencing Kirsty for the first time wouldn’t have noticed I’ll bet. “The Profit Song” and “Killer Wasps” provided some jaunty rhythms which are fast becoming the duo’s trademark, the latter reminiscent of the Hot Club of France, with its Djangoesque guitar accompaniment played beautifully by Mat Martin. Of the older songs, “Bliss” from Kirsty’s 2002 debut Honeysuckle has been resurrected after requests from the audiences they’ve been playing to this year and the popular “Coffee Coloured Strings” and “Plane Vapours” from the second album Frost. Kirsty performed three songs from her latest album Two Birds, “One Star”, “Thank You” and “Freshwater”, with it’s desperately bleak chorus of ‘the body knows nothing till the soul cries out, the soul knows nothing till the body burns’, before realising that her soul was crying out for her to stop singing and rest up before it indeed burned out! Kirsty and Mat gave each member of the audience a copy of the Hobopop EP as a gesture of goodwill and as compensation for the shortened set, although in reality, the evening was still very much a success. With a bit of re-shuffling, Bob Chiswick opted for the traditional ‘show must go on’ avenue by inviting some friends to step in. So with an impromptu set from regular support John Law and another set by the visiting support duo James Meadows and Steve Lacey, who had incidentally kicked off the night, the audience hopefully went away having had another good night at the Regent.