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MEGSON - Megson Live

MEGSON - Megson Live
EDJ Records EDJ018

For several years now, these have been the hottest young duo on the British folk scene. Being a bit of a soccer nut – indeed some would say, an anorak – I remember thinking when this duo first arrived, that it was impressive that a group had named themselves after a famous soccer player/manager. What next? Would there be a band named after Jose Mourinho, or Sir Alex Ferguson?

And then someone disabused me of my notion. They told me I was barking up the wrong tree, with the accent on the barking: for Megson was the name of Stu Hanna's then recently deceased – and much loved – dog, which they had adopted as their stage name when they started out in the early noughties.

Strangely, far from cooling my interest, this new information only served to heighten my desire to one day review an album of theirs. And now that day has arrived.

Megson Live was recorded in the duo's regular haunt, Hitchin Folk Club. It contains 16 tracks from across their career and sees Stu Hanna on vocals, octave mandola, banjo and guitar, and wife Debbie on vocals, accordion and whistle. Half the songs are traditional, and the other half from their own pens.

This is their sixth album (not counting an EP) and their last was a collection of folk songs for children When I Was A Lad. A few of the songs from that album find their way into this one, including All The Shops Have Fallen Down, a somewhat scathing comment on the state of the UK high streets. This is a curious number in that if this is their idea of a kids' song, then they must be breeding kids now who are a lot tougher than they used to be, because I promise you that this song would give many a small independent retail trader, permanent nightmares! (Well, I jest, but only slightly.)

But gosh, they perform these songs so well. Beautiful harmonies with convincing accompaniment. However, what about the songs themselves?

Well songs like Working Town (where work dries up, as the factory moves production from Teesside to Leigh-on-Sea) are okay-ish, but most don't pull up any particular trees. Follow It On is a bit of an exception: it genuinely moved me with its message that the only thing worth leaving behind when we leave this world is the love that we show others in our lifetimes.

If I am honest, I have to say that Megson the accomplished performing duo, impress me far more than Megson the songwriters, or Megson the choosers of traditional material. But then of course, having just said that, I immediately slip on a giant banana skin and encounter one self-penned track on this album, that makes me want to breathe all my words back in, or else I be immediately identified as a dunce. I refer of course to that remarkable song The Longshot, surely one of the greatest songs of the last 20 years.

I cannot remember when I last heard a song with a British soccer game as its subject. Indeed, I doubt if I have ever heard one... other than James Curran's 19th century song Fitba' Crazy (the one that Jimmie Macgregor is often credited with).

I guess the Hannas are - nominally at least - Middlesbrough FC supporters. I say "nominally", because from a football point of view, there is the odd sign that suggests that these lyrics are not really the words of the true soccer aficionado.

For instance, there is something wrong with "penalty BOX" when "penalty SPOT" would have been more apposite. And it is not as if the word "box" was needed for rhyming purposes.

And I have been a guest of a folk-singing friend for two Premiership matches at The Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough this past few years, and I did not notice any of the faithful eating scones! Surely, scones are more for the Henley Regatta!

But hey, this is nit-picking. Not least because in a very real sense, this is not a song about soccer at all.

It is a hugely uplifting song Telling ME at least, that HOPE should never be abandoned when it comes to the worst of life's vicissitudes.

And one adores Debbie's harmonic line here. Particularly that note she hits on the word "gone" in the chorus. Puts a frisson through me, even if the rest of the album only leaves me feeling gently satisfied.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 99 of The Living Tradition magazine.