Megson

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Bob Chiswick continues to bring both new (or should that be ‘nu’?) as well as more established acoustic acts to the Regent and tonight was an especially inspired choice. Megsons’ reputation has been steadily growing over the last couple of years, with help coming from the likes of Seth Lakeman, Bob Fox and Karine Polwart, for whom they have provided support on their respective tours and appearances. In all fairness though, establishing that reputation really comes down to the fact that they are so thoroughly brilliant. Stu Hanna and Debbie Palmer took their Northern roots and temporarily re-planted them a little further south to establish a base in London where their reputation was given time to flourish. A few years and a couple of highly recommended albums later, that move has proved to be highly successful and their fan base grows stronger daily. Tonight at the Monday Music Club, Megson came along to perform songs exclusively from their two albums On the Side and Smoke of Home and in doing so, picked up a few more friends from the Doncaster area. If your thing is anthemic power ballads and thrashing guitars then you would have come to the wrong place tonight as Megson deal almost exclusively in gentle understatement. A Megson song normally begins with an almost inaudible brush of strings, on either guitar or mandola, which Stu alternates between throughout the set and steadily builds to a favourable climax once their two voices are added, and maybe the addition of a penny whistle every now and again. They each share singing duties, which is perfectly fine, but it’s when those two voices meet that the fireworks start, and believe me those fireworks were far more entertaining than those fizzling and splurting outside tonight. Harmonies as good as this are normally reserved for siblings but of course Debbie is shortly to become Mrs Hanna, so unless that sort of thing has started to happen in Teesside, we can take it as read that such harmonies can be found outside the family unit as well as in it. Megson kind of remind me of a younger version of Gregson and Collister, during the days when Richard Thompson advised the duo to ‘do the folk clubs’ during a break from the band. They have the same sort of freshness and tightness that Clive and Christine once possessed. Megson excel in the specific area where many tend to fail, in the gentle tip-toeing songs that require the audience’s complete attention. They would probably struggle with songs like “Follow it on” or “Just Stay” in a noisy pub. They have the ability to bring the volume of their voices down to absolute minimum where you could literally hear a pin drop. Should the future Mr and Mrs Hanna become mum and dad, they would find no difficulty in providing feasible lullabies for the little Megsons. Take the coda for “Every Night When the Sun Goes In” for example. Could harmony humming ever be more beautiful? It’s not all emotive gentleness with Megson though, and occasionally the up-tempo foot-tappers break through spectacularly well. “Smoke of Home” is an exuberant celebration of ‘upping sticks’ and leaving home, to which you can’t help but shuffle in your seat. Likewise “Freefall”, another Hanna led song, makes good use of the percussive qualities of both guitar and mandola in the hands of one who knows his instrument well. The traditional songs sit well beside the self-penned material, so much so that the difference between the two is difficult to distinguish. There is a unity of style that seems to make everything Megson touch flow evenly throughout the set, whether it be the traditional themes of “Butternut Hill” or “Lambkin”, the blues-inflected “Flood Water”, the jaunty confessional of “I Lied” or just great story telling such as “Grace Darling”, the overall performance consistently maintains a unified sound. Megson finished the night with the only song that doesn’t appear on either of their albums, the traditional “The Sheffield Grinder”, which invited the normally reserved Regent crowd to sing their little hearts out. I think this was simply down to the fact that tonight the audience was universally pleased with themselves for having the good sense to come to this gig.