Megson are in a buoyant mood. Reception amongst folk critics for their latest album ‘Good Times Will Come Again’ has been universally positive, including a four star review from The Guardian. ‘Skill, sensitivity and class’ was how Peter Shaw summarised the album for Folk Radio UK (read it here).
Such positivity was evident for all to see on Friday night at Cambridge Junction when Megson (aka Debs and Stu Hanna) took to the stage mid-way through their UK tour to mark the release of ‘Good Times Will Come Again’. They were joined by The Megson Band; John Parker, one of the most sought after double-bass players in the business and guaranteed to light up any stage with his animated musicality…and Cliff Ward from The Willows adding some wonderful accompaniment and texture on banjo and fiddle.
From the opening bars of ‘Generation Rent’ it’s clear that Debs and Stu are thoroughly enjoying the experience of being on stage with the band. As wonderful as Megson are as a live duo (and they really are wonderful), John and Cliff’s presence provides not only added depth of sound, they bring a ‘group vibe’ to proceedings with Stu and Debs bouncing off them both musically and in between-song banter. There’s nothing more engaging for an audience than watching a group of people clearly enjoying themselves on stage…
All the new material is aired including ‘The Bookkeeper’ (a personal favourite) and the captivating lament for the British Steel industry ‘Burn Away’. While there’s sensitivity expressed throughout the evening in the explanation behind the new songs…many of which tackle challenging social subjects…there’s also ample humour including Debs and Stu’s trademark ‘husband and wife’ banter. Stu’s copious use of hairspray is a running joke throughout the gig; at one point Debs asks if anyone in the audience works for TRESemmé as the band are looking for sponsorship!
At points throughout the set, John and Cliff leave the stage leaving Debs and Stu to perform songs in their stripped back duo style. The emotional ballad ‘Bonny Lad’ and the wonderful title track from their 2014 album ‘In A Box’ benefit greatly from the change in dynamic. The shift is even more noticeable when John and Cliff reappear for a performance of ‘Take Yourself A Wife’ with John’s bass adding a driving bottom end to proceedings.
After a brief interval (where many copies of the new album are purchased), the band reappear with ‘A Prayer For Hope’; one of the most striking arrangements from the new material, John’s haunting bowed double-bass creating a perfect atmosphere for the song about the current migrant crisis.
With a sizeable back-catalogue now stretching over ten years, there’s no shortage of quality material to intersperse with the new songs. The light-hearted and popular ‘Dirty Clothes’ benefits from the band sound and no Megson show would be complete without a duo performance of ‘The Longshot’. With their beloved Middlesbrough having enjoyed a successful season, Debs instead dedicates the football supporter’s fable of woe to Newcastle…an announcement that prompts a feisty response from the audience. As it invariably does, ‘Longshot’ marks a highlight in the evening.
The band take things back to 2007 for the final ‘Smoke Of Home’ before reappearing on stage for a well-deserved but inevitable encore. “It was a bit of a giveaway” Debs announces when they reappear on stage, “We haven’t played the title-song from the new album yet!”. An uplifting and audience participatory performance of ‘Good Times Will Come Again’ rounds off a wonderful evening.
There’s something about seeing Megson live that just makes you feel good. Even the sociopolitical subject-matter of the new material doesn’t take that shine away when it’s delivered with such sincerity, humour and talent.
Good Times indeed.
Good Times Will Come Again is out now on EDJ Records.
Tour dates: www.megsonmusic.co.uk/shows
Photo Credit: Rob Bridge