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!

Anna Massie & Mairearad Green – 28th April 2022

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!

Barn Concerts Getting Bigger

We started with just 50% of our normal seating and very simple set up on stage.

We continue to monitor the Covid situation but have already started to gently increase our audience capacity while trying to ensure a reasonably safe spacing. We are prepared to adjust the capacity and seating plans as the situation continues to, hopefully, improve.

Kathryn Tickell & Amy Thatcher – 24th March 2022

Concert Review by Toby Wood

Crikey! It’s exactly five years and one day since Kathryn and Amy performed at Baston so their welcome return seems like some sort of Wood anniversary. Get it? Now that the Covid-19 situation is hopefully easing, Kathryn and Amy are back on the road, gradually heading south, tonight in Lincolnshire, tomorrow Guildford and then darting down to Dartington in Devon.

Kathryn is THE foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes. In short, nobody does it better. Amy is what the Guardian describes as the ‘accordion star’ and the paper also describes a live performance as “a sophisticated, unexpectedly emotional set.”

Tonight’s two sets are interesting and varied – some old tunes, some new, even some not yet tried out before a live audience until tonight. Kathryn and Amy are expert at connecting with an audience and serving up a balanced diet of everything from toe-tappers to lilting waltzes. From the moment the concert begins we are firmly rooted in Northumberland and the north-east, the openers setting the mood being Between the Piers and Millennium Bridge.

As the set progresses it’s evident that Kathryn and Amy work increasingly well as a duo. Five years on their partnership appears to have matured. Amy is no longer the junior member but an equal. And, as with five years ago, Amy puts on her best Dolcis clog shoes in both sets – last time she was at Baston she was heavily pregnant and the yet-to-be-born bairn was kept wide awake by her public jigging. Presumably this time the little ‘un was tucked up in bed at home, oblivious to Mum’s stage thumping.

I was particularly taken with one of their latest projects, investigating, collecting and showcasing women composers and musicians. As Kathryn pointed out, nearly all of her repertoire has hitherto been composed by men. Recently she has accumulated a thousand pieces by women and tonight they performed some, including by Heather Woodbridge (Lurand) and Martha Wooding.

Kathryn and Amy’s musicianship is exemplary. They are dancers, not in the Strictly way – no, it’s not their feet that move (apart from Amy’s dancing), it’s their fingers, Watching both perform in our tight, intimate Baston space it is easy to become mesmerised by their lightning-fingered skill and dexterity. We are so fortunate to see such skill up close.

The evening included tunes with titles worthy of obscure craft beers – Too Cute To Correct, Emergency of the Female Kind and The Wild Hills of Wannie. They even played a Ukrainian tune, not only as a timely nod to the dreadful situation in that country, but also as acknowledgment of that universal sense of place. Walksburn Waltz, Shepherd’s Hey, The Rothbury Hills and many others followed, a particular favourite of mine being Kathryn’s recitation and interpretation of Jackie Kay’s poem Margaret’s Moon. In fact, so much varied material was packed into the two sets.

At Baston we are regularly treated to musicians and singers of the highest calibre. Tonight was no exception. Kathryn and Amy, our friends in/from the north, would be welcome back tomorrow, let alone another five years and one day’s time – 25th March 2027. As Kathryn herself noted, it was great to be back in front of live audiences, something that she and Amy do not take for granted. The feeling and sentiment is mutual!

One last thought – if there were to be a queen of the north-east, a modern musical Boudicca, it would surely be Queen Kathryn Tickell of Tectoverdi. Now there’s a thought!

Jack Rutter – 24th February 2022

Concert Review by Toby Wood

Well, we could do with something to cheer us up. No sooner had the Covid restrictions been largely lifted than Vladimir Putin decides to invade Ukraine, thus putting Europe on high alert. We certainly needed an evening of high-quality songs and musicianship to lift the spirits. And that’s precisely what we got!

The stage is set – guitar cases, instrument stands and a sheepskin jacket casually draped on a chair. Jack sits at the side of the hall reading ‘101 whiskies to try before you die’. Just as well it’s not ‘101 whiskies to drink before you go on stage’. After Woody’s statutory two-song warm-up, we’re straight into it – The Lancashire Liar, an obvious opener for a proud Holmfirth, Yorkshire man who immediately reminds us that he has hightailed it to Baston down the A1, one of his favourite roads. Nothing like mentioning a road to get the audience on your side. This is immediately followed by the acapella Down by the Derwent Side, sung with feeling and clearness. Two songs in and we’re putty in Jack’s hands!

Jack plays three instruments, guitar (a very nice Gibson), bouzouki (described by Jack as ‘wonky’) and voice. I deliberately include the voice in this list because it deserves recognition as an instrument in its own right, such is its clarity and strength. His playing style is as light and fresh as a rippling Yorkshire stream.

It’s not long before this Yorkshire lad with checked shirt and trucker’s cap veers off into the country sound of Bakersfield and delivers an accomplished version of Dwight Yoakam’s It Won’t Hurt. Jack’s not afraid to sing something a little leftfield, as he does later with Fourteen Corners’ Small Northern Town and Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. He also gives full credit to those who have influenced him over the years, The Watersons and Nic Jones, the latter so tragically injured just a few miles away from here at Whittlesey in 1982. He also sings songs with intriguing and evocative titles and words, Young Susan on Board of a Man-Of-War, The Banks of Sweet Dundee and the Dalesman’s Litany – “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the Lord deliver me”.

To my ear Jack is at his strongest when he sings grand, sweeping ballads such as Fair Janet & Young James and Ammon Wrigley’s The Hills of Longendale. As Jack himself notes, they could easily be used as the basis for Hollywood epics – come on Coen Brothers, now’s your chance!

Jack is currently crisscrossing the country and is soon to hurtle southerly to Somerset, South Wales, Staffordshire and South London. No doubt many new roads will be featured as part of Jack’s stage patter.

I heartily recommend Jack’s excellent 2019 album, Gold of Scar & Shale, whose cover features Jack looking straight ahead at the viewer, beaming broadly. The image of Jack is just like the man and his music – open, warm, straightforward, uncomplicated and very high quality!