Belshazzar’s Feast – 26th May 2022

Concert Review (Including photos) by Toby Wood
Belshazzar’s Feast at Baston Barn

Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson have been here before, exactly eleven years ago to the day (26 May 2011) and as part of their Christmas 2012 tour. Now, in 2022, they have decided to hang up their touring boots. As they say on their website, “You’ve already had too much of a good thing. We’ve long outstayed our welcome in the Travelodges, service stations and garden centres of the world, so it’s high time we headed for new pastures/put out to grass. Catch us while you can!” And that’s exactly what Baston’s audience did this evening, enjoying accordion, violin, oboe and even swanee whistle playing of the highest order.

Belshazzar’s Feast’s music and overall performance is dexterous, charming, funny, intricate yet simple. It would be largely pointless for me to try to name, outline and unravel each piece they played. One minute you’re hearing Mozart, five seconds later a snippet from The Teddy Bear’s Picnic or Rock Around the Clock. From the sobering message contained in Doll Thy Ale to the delicate, intricate and musical jigsaw of Die Deutsches Washfrau, it is clear that we are listening to a veritable musical soup, a minstrel minestrone. One particularly fine moment came when Sartin tweaked his oboe to sound like shrieking bagpipes in a clever, gentle parody of Scottishness. Another highlight was their rendering of Can’t Help Falling In Love combined with Music For a Found Harmonium.

The Pauls see a camera and pose

Even during the interval there’s mirth and merriment as the Pauls slink back onstage and accompany the raffle with musical tricks and flicks like some sort of game show pastiche – very witty indeed! Sit-down comedy!

Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson are folk music’s Morecambe & Wise or Ronnies Barker and Corbett. Their performance is a complex mixture of high-quality musicianship and humour. But don’t be fooled, their performance is not just thrown together – it is a masterclass of choice of material, timing, asides. Make no mistake, being able to put together a perfect five-minute piece that includes snippets of different tunes takes skill and practice. Even the apparently spontaneous asides must surely be planned and practised. Producing such a polished hour and a half is no accident. Their brilliant wordplay has the audience roaring. ‘Je ne regret Ryan’ – delicious! Further word play follows – who else could connect (Neil) Sedaka and Sudoku!

Perhaps the duo’s finest skill is their ability to be jolly and upbeat and then, moments later, performing a sombre song that reminds us of war and sacrifice. Cicely Fox Smith’s Home, Lad, Home, first recorded by the Pauls on 2011’s Find the Lady, is a case in point, sung by Paul Sartin in his clear, distinctive voice. It’s just beautiful, particularly poignant considering 2022’s dreadful war in Ukraine, mentioned by Paul Hutchinson, himself a volunteer driver doing his bit to help the situation. Later Gethsemane/De’il Take The War ploughs a similar furrow.

Belshazar’s Feast drag Woodie on to the stage to help in their second encore

Belshazzar’s Feast only have three gigs left after tonight. By the end of the month they will have returned home and put on their carpet slippers. This break will be well-deserved (until their Christmas tour). By then I may even be able to forgive the cruel jokes about Peterborough – just!

Earlier in the day there was a news item about a new show called Abba Voyage, in which avatars of the four now mid-70s members of Abba are recreated in concert. Now there’s a thought for Messrs Sartin and Hutchinson in forty years’ time, avatars of them in performance that can be captured and watched for generations to come. Go for it!