Edinburgh singer/songwriter Ewan McLennan has an incredibly vulnerable-looking stage presence which couldn’t be further from the truth and is quickly dispelled as soon as his confident voice and precise guitar playing mixed with his easy-going manner take over.
He has been the subject of rave reviews from some of the most respected commentators on the folk circuit and deservedly so. His wonderfully mellow, yet broad Scottish, singing voice, and the incredible harp-like sound he produces from his upright guitar is just a pleasure to the ear and which seems to slow down time.
The Radio 2 Folk Awards nominee brought his soft warbling voice to the upper room of the Newhampton Pub in Wolverhampton and opened with the instrumental Jer the Rigger and Flowers of Edinburgh.
As soon as his instrument vibrated to the mellow sound of his strumming, the audience knew they were in the presence of someone with a special talent.
With Jute Mill Song, the single malt mellowness of his voice seemed to contradict the tale of the harshness of life of which he was singing but, combined with his beautifully precise fingerwork he still managed to convey sadness and empathy.
He moved into an instrumental of the old classic Auld Lang Syne and the almost medieval sound he created was so restful and easy on the ear that it lost all connotations of New Year and revelry, it was like listening to the familiar tune for the first time.
There have been many versions of Tramps and Hawkers but once again his strong accent, warbling soft tones and pinpoint finger picking gave it a fresh lease of life. The strange thing about McLennan is he has this eerie ability, with everything he sings, to give a sense of storytelling; of history; of an entire world attached to every note and word.
McLennan has such a pure voice he is almost Siren-like but instead of lulling ships on to rocks he lulls his audience into the world he disappears into once he is playing and singing and his version of Les Rice’s 1940s song about the exploitation of workers although soft and gentle still conveyed the pathos it deserved.
He mixed up his own renditions with traditional songs which have been done many times and in many ways but still he managed to make it seem as though it was the first time they had been played even with such familiarities as Arthur McBride and I’m A Rover.
The late, great Ronnie Drew did a fantastic version of Old Man’s Tale but McLennan’s version was more than a match for it. He put down his guitar and sang A Capella with such passion and his rich and laser-like tones telling the story to a hushed room.
He picked up his guitar again to give a Scottish folk interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Blues song and his guitar seemed to develop a sitar-like quality which is all down to his ability to manipulate the strings and the sound with a skill worthy of a craftsman.
It wouldn’t have seemed right had he not pulled out at least one Burns offering and A Man’s A Man was another of Ewan’s soft ballads and one of the first songs he learned.
When he sang, the ultra-traditional Scottish song Jock Stewart it was like it was being composed as the words came out of his mouth such is his ability to add a whole new dimension to whatever he sings.
With more storytelling in Joe Glenton, and an almost ethereal instrumental inspired by the West coast of Ireland and a more modern rendition, Whistling the Esperanza – inspired by the plight of the Chilean miners trapped underground, McLennan could have kept his audience there all night, hanging on every chord and word.
He finished with the Coorie Doon (Miner’s Lullaby) written by Glasgow artist Matt McGinn.