Megson

culture music

We went to see Megson at the Red Lion Folk club in Kings Heath this week, and it was a great experience. I don’t know why I’ve never been to one of the Red Lion gigs before, given that I love folk music and the venue is quite close to my home, but somehow I had never got around to it. I’ll definitely try to go along more often, because it is a wonderful, intimate venue, with a very friendly crowd. I first heard Megson a few years ago when their third album — ‘Take Yourself A Wife’ — came out, and I’ve followed them since. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, Megson is (are?) Stu and Debbie Hanna: a husband and wife duo from the North-East of the UK, who sing a mixture of traditional folk songs and modern compositions in a contemporary folk style.

I love their recorded work, but if anything they were even more impressive live. Debbie has a wonderful voice, and Stu’s guitar and mandolin playing is sharp, energetic and glorious. They sing harmonies a lot which are really beautiful and one of the things I enjoy most about their music. Another thing I like about them is that they use their own accents. That sounds a bit daft, but when you think of all the British singers who have a great regional accent but sing with a bland, mid-Atlantic accent, it’s quite a rare thing. Since the whole raison d’etre of folk is its regionality, I guess it’s more common for folk musicians, but still striking when you encounter it.

They — like many good folk musicians — are also wonderful, emotional storytellers. The title track on their latest album, ‘The Longshot’, is about the pain of supporting your local football team, even when they are doing appallingly. Now, I have absolutely no interest in football, but I found myself getting a bit of a lump in my throat when listening to them singing about it. If you can make me care about a football team scoring goals, that’s real talent.

It’s quite a small venue, so everyone is close to the performers, and it generates a very warm, friendly atmosphere. Debbie and Stu seemed to thrive on that, and had some great banter between songs, including some affectionate digs at one another. At one point, Stu was having trouble re-tuning his guitar, and she said that he’d been having a lot of problems with ‘his equipment’ (the quote marks were audible). There was a pause while Stu continued to tune his guitar and smile sweetly. Then he looked significantly at Debbie’s belly (she’s fairly heavily pregnant) and said “Well, it worked once!” There was another pause as Debbie shook her head with a sad smile and said to the audience, “He thinks it’s his”, which got a great laugh.

It was a great night, and for the rest of the week I’ve had the song ‘Fourpence A Day’ (a bouncy song about child labour) in my head as a superior kind of earworm.

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