Following on from their equally thematic album (Take Yourself A Wife) Megson’s Longshot takes another topic as its key – this time it’s working life that is played out in the polished narratives and well-crafted arrangements.
For an album dealing in such a potent subject it would be tempting to flavour it with dark, brooding and melancholic arrangements but Megson typically present their honest, emotive and well-told stories both with sincerity and humour. ‘Two Match Lads’, for example, is a sweet opener about poverty rich in soft melodies delivered tenderly by Debbie.
The following track, ‘The Cabman’, is a sprightly interpretation of Tyneside’s own Geordy Ridley’s 19th century composition of the same title. The song presents what is essentially a Victorian concert hall song but delivered with modern sensibilities with a strong country-rock guitar.
Throughout, the album is a fine mix between angry songs on the instability and unfairness of working life whilst lamenting passing traditions and industries. ‘Working Life Out’ is a punchy version of Chris Foster’s ‘The Working Chap’ and mixes Debbie’s classical voice with a rocky rhythm into a feisty and resilient declaration.
Humour is evident throughout. ‘Time to get up’, a jokey narrative on the problems of a wife trying to wake her lazy husband, is delivered with some sharp guitar work from Stu who also accompanies his wife in the duet (a perfect track to illustrate the strengths and complimentary differences of Stu and Debbie’s vocals). ‘Working Town’ in an equally rocky and hardy beast; a narrative on resilience in the face of adversity particularly in the death of the working towns of the north during the 1980s and 1990s. A similarly durable attitude is felt in ‘The Handloom Weaver and the Factory Maid’. One of the highlights of the album, it is a blistering track on the subject of love between the classes with a strong sing-a-long chorus.
There are songs rich in melancholy too; ‘The Old Miner’ is a tender ballad on the passing industry of the north delivered sensitively and melodically with pertinent emotion whilst ‘Last Man in the Factory’ is a tragic affair on the passing of industry and ultimately on the passing of traditions generally, but Megson never leave their listeners on a pessimistic note and Stu’s retort “is there another way?” promises hope.
The traditional ‘William Brown’ is delivered as a mellow warning on the fickleness of employment and the vagaries of management. Megson reject the humour and resilience of the traditional climax to quietly loop the chorus: “And keep that wheel a-turning, keep that wheel a-turning, keep that wheel a-turning and do a little more each day” suggesting the repetition and drudgery of the worker’s predicament.
The final track, ‘California’ is an equally subdued and retrospective end to the album. A touching lament on the nomadic hunt for employment. Beautifully sung by Debbie and softly accompanied by Stu’s guitar and tender harmonies.
Stu and Debbie are always at their best when they meld old and new. Whilst the majority of the tracks are from the 19th century their subject and emotions remain relevant for the modern age. In terms of production, all the traditional Megson ingredients are here; sweet melodies and pitch perfect harmonies, sparkling guitar work and polished vocals.
Megson make no attempt to present themselves as a rough-and-ready folk combo, preferring to deliver well-crafted and highly polished songs which reflect both Stu and Debbie’s backgrounds; mixing classical and punk inspirations into a sharp acoustic folk-pop duet. Those familiar with Megson’s earlier works will know what to expect and those new to the duo – where have you been?