Megson & friends: Cecil Sharp House, London, October 18 2012

I’ve never been to a gig anywhere other than the main hall at Cecil Sharp House, but downstairs, the rather more intimate Trefusis Hall played host to Megson, who had invited along two guest acts for the occasion.

Trefusis stag
One of Trefusis Hall’s many pairs of antlers

Suitably nourished with tea and cake from The Nice Green Café, my friend Emily and I ducked into the curiously-named hall (a connection with socialite Violet seems unlikely. Is it something to do with the antlers everywhere I wonder?) and took our seats.

First up were The Willows, a group from Megson’s adopted hometown of Cambridge. A young, jolly and slightly raggle-taggle group built around the vocals of the strangely familiar Jade Rhiannon (where do I know her from?), they played breezy, upbeat Americana. Songs like Absent Friends were pleasant and sweet – as, oddly, were the group’s many death-related ditties – but it didn’t really grab me. Still, they obviously have plenty of talent, and ought to benefit from the canny guidance of Stu Hanna.

The (extremely) familiar Lucy Ward– her personality as big and bright as the sun – greeted the audience with a beaming smile, a full-on “Ey up!” and a series of banjo jokes. I’ve seen Ward before and while her charming stage presence and talent has never been in question, I had a few doubts about her sensitivity. But she dismissed my misconception within seconds of self-penned opener F for Love: her gentle, clean picking and pitch-perfect delivery really bringing out its thoughtful lyrics.

Lucy Ward 2
Lucy Ward: a snappy dresser

And she kicked on from there, confidently strong-arming a slightly reluctant audience into accompanying her on the excellent Alice in the Bacon Box, and on her cover of Pulp’s Common People. She even managed to sideline my cynicism about ukuleles, bringing out “Carlos” to accompany her for a jaw-dropping, uproarious finale I can best describe as ‘Formby-esque Hawaiian smut’. It’s not a sub-genre I thought I’d enjoy, but you could have knocked me down with a palm leaf.

On to the main event, then, and after a slightly odd introduction from Stu (“please welcome… The Legsons!”), Megson kicked off with Take Yourself a Wife, maintaining the joyous atmosphere created in the first half. Debbie and Stu Hanna have been Megson for eight years now – and in that time, they have married and produced a baby daughter, as well as five albums and an EP. So while their close dynamic is to be expected, it’s still a delight to witness.

The set-up is simple, with Debbie on vocals and accordion, and Stu singing and playing guitar, banjo or bouzouki. Two instruments and two voices are all they need to create a full, direct sound – Debbie’s classically trained voice is a match for Stu’s energetic, frenetic playing, as highlighted by the poignant Old Miner and the light-but-strong New Fish Market.

Between songs, Debbie proved a tough taskmaster, good-naturedly telling her husband off over his choice of shoes and for pinching her bottle of water. “When I first saw them five years ago they were doe-eyed and sweet,” noted Emily, a long-standing Megson fan. “But their bickering is just as adorable, if not more so.”

Megson 2
Megson light up the stage

The duo’s music is closely aligned to their personal lives, so it’s fitting, with a new baby on the scene, that new album When I Was a Lad is a collection of children’s songs, designed to give parents and kids an interesting and well-produced playlist. I didn’t spot any little ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House, which is perhaps why the duo only played a few songs from it, but the adults present certainly enjoyed the new songs. All The Shops Have Fallen Down mixed a knowing political aside with an entertaining lyric about “Grandma’s feet”, while Debbie’s voice shone out beautifully on the moving Riddle Song, and a lovely, harmony-rich version of Dance to Your Daddy (also performed by Nancy Kerr & James Fagan at my last social sharing trip) were particularly enjoyable.

I’m a relative latecomer to Megson, and hadn’t heard the bluesy Everynight When the Sun Goes In (from 2007’s Smoke of Home) before, but it was a highlight of the gig, with Debbie in perfect control of her voice, gently balanced against Stu’s graceful strumming. The change in tone to the stomping Four Pence a Day was immediate and impressive.

A little more spousal chiding – this time based on classic ‘issues’: shopping and packing clothes – and the show raced to its conclusion. The Stu-led Longshot is one of Megson’s finest achievements as songwriters, and it was performed as sensitively and delicately as it was written, before an energetic finale of Working Town and a mass singalong encore, in the shape of Tally IO the Grinder, brought an immensely satisfying evening to a conclusion. Their happy smiles suggested that Debbie and Stu seemed to enjoy it too…

Megson are on tour for much of November, and whether you’ve got kids or not, I heartily recommend checking them out.

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