Concert Review by Toby Wood
Well what a coincidence! The last time Anna Massie and Mairearad Green played at Baston was on 28th April 2016, six years ago to the day! And previously they had played The Barn on 24th April 2014. So, with regard to Anna and Mairearad, or A&M as I shall hereafter refer to them, April is the happiest month.
Convivial host Woody warmed up the audience with his usual wit and bonhomie, including attempting to give the audience a choice of songs whose subject matter included a ghost, chicken or bible story. Follow that! Well A&M certainly do, Anna playing guitar and fiddle and Mairearad playing accordion, bagpipes and small pipes. They win us over straight away with their no-nonsense charm and Scottish down-to-earthery.
It was lovely to see and hear them again. On one level nothing has changed, they both look and sounded broadly the same but, on the other hand, the passing of the years (albeit complete with enforced Covid-19 break) has meant that their stagecraft and demeanour has matured. Anna in particular is able to tell a tale about working with a group of primary-age children with all the humour and affection of headteacher raconteur Gervaise Phinn or the verve of a Victoria Wood/Billy Connolly mash-up. Mairearad too contributes tales of the road, in a far more confident way than six years ago. I chuckled at her anecdote in which ‘Phil The Box’ turns out not to be an accordion player but a funeral director.
What is most striking is the duo’s ability to deliver chatter and banter between songs and then produce melodic, sensitive music a mere few seconds later. Their light-fingered (no, not that sort) musicianship is captivating – a look round at the audience’s faces is enough to confirm that view. Their playing is affectionate and delicate, they clearly love playing, performing and being in the presence of a close-up-and-personal 3D live audience once again. They are not afraid to belt it out as well and Mairearad’s quick blast on the bagpipes just before the interval ensures that we are raffle-ready!
I normally rankle slightly when I see microphones and wires, which can often obscure the look of the performers against the plain white Baston wall backdrop but, on this occasion all is forgiven – the sound balance was superb, every note and breath was enhanced for the better. The balance between vocals and instrumentals is pretty good too. Although much of the playing has a traditional sound, A&M are careful to include original material as well as songs from eminent contemporary songwriters, their version of Dougie MacLean’s She Loves Me (When I Try) being a perfect example. They recorded this on their 2015 album Best Day. Another corker is Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. Cormier’s My Life Is Over Again, a jaunty number despite its maudlin content – “my dog ran away with the keys to my Chevrolet”. Get the picture?
Another favourite is Molly May from their 2019 album Farran, a wonderfully evocative song about the life of a Scottish fisherman and the encore was another sweet song with audience accompaniment – “richer, poorer, young or old; some of us carry a heavy load’.
Yesterday A&M played Cecil Sharp House and tomorrow they’re in Stirling, a mere 326 miles away. Future gigs in the next few weeks for Anna include Perth, Inverness, Ireland, Newbury, Alnwick, the Isle of Skye, Bradford on Avon, Whitehaven, Settle, Orkney and Stirling again. Wow! Private jet needed! Perhaps their next visit to Baston will once again be in exactly six years’ time, on 28 April 2028. Form an orderly queue – I’ll be there!