Meghann Clancy and Jonny Absolute

Octagon Theatre, Grassington

GRASSINGTON Town Hall staged a concert by two local musicians in the first of what it is hoped will become regular musical events to be known as Octojam.

The concert was a sell-out, partly because the two artists are both well-known locals, so curiosity must have played some part in ticket sales. More than 100 people packed the Octagon, and all were amazed by the brilliance of both performances, which illustrated that the recent highly successful Grassington’s Got Talent show barely scratched the surface.

Meghann opened the show with her wonderfully clear voice singing a mixture of her own songs, and a few covers in which she almost upstaged the greats like Karen Carpenter and Carole King.

She was joined on stage by her partner Paul Emmett who immediately established a relaxed and humorous banter with Meghann as well as accompanying her on guitar and singing. Both demonstrated superb skills on keyboard and guitar, which may not be surprising as Meghann currently teaches music in Newcastle as well as pursuing her stage career.

After the break, Jonny Absolute came on. Most people know him as Jonny Jowett, and his main claim to fame has been building a fish farming business that is now the main live trout supplier in the north of England, with a total of nine sites.

As relaxation from this stressful business, Jonny has always turned to music, and amazingly has found time to turn even this into a business. With his business partner, Nigel Mullaney, he has created a successful company writing music for films and documentaries (Phoenix Creative Media Ltd). Not surprisingly, all this has left him with no time to perform.

On Saturday all that changed, as Jonny Absolute dazzled us with his unique keyboard skills, strong singing voice, and beautiful lyrics. He also surprised us with some very moving poetry, which even some of his best friends didn’t know he produced! Provided that he is not reclaimed by the fish farms, it seems clear the world is about to see much more of Jonny Absolute as he joins an elite group of musical fish farmers that includes Jethro Tull and Roger Daltry!

Dave Tierney

Pianist Angela Hewitt

Skipton Town Hall

IT was good to hear a piano recitalist begin her programme with Bach. In days gone by, it was customary for pianists to use Bach so that they could get the measure of the piano, but Angela Hewitt’s performance of the Partita No. 2 in C minor was in no way a warm-up item. It was a beautifully controlled presentation of this great music.

Her transcription of the music from harpsichord to piano was not only academically sound but extraordinarily beautiful as she shaped Bach’s exquisite filigree of combined melodic lines with delicate sensitivity. The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor was stunning with an interpretation which would have delighted Bach and it certainly charmed the Skipton audience.

Three Scarlatti Sonatas rippled from the instrument with a wonderful combination of grace and vigour. Scarlatti was something of a show-man and his audience was entertained by his ability to cross his hands and to play scales and repeated notes very quickly. When he got too fat to cross his hands, sad to say, his popularity waned somewhat but Angela Hewitt found more depth than trendy gimmicks which bestowed both substance and sparkle on her performance.

After the interval three of Liszt’s Sonnets to Petrarch were given the required treatment for the lush Romantic texture; but the recitative-like outpourings were sometimes stretched beyond the tolerance of the musical framework. This was the least successful part of the programme.

Angela Hewitt was more at home In Ravel’s Piano Sonata where she fastidiously extracted each delicate line and drew the audience through the glassy framework of the music. It was the epitome of ethereal French elegance.

Chabrier’s ‘Bourree Fantasque’ was a splendid romp with which to end a recital and was a showcase for technical brilliance. But it was Angela Hewitt’s Bach that was so wonderful. My friend said, ‘That Bach should be on prescription’. Amen to that!

Adrienne Fox

Jez Lowe and Steve Tilston

Victoria Hall, Settle

JEZ Lowe and Steve Tilston are probably two of the best-known acoustic folk songwriters in the country and certainly proved the adage that sometimes an event can be more than the sum of its parts, for in this case two such fine halves made far more than a whole!

Their styles are very different yet they complemented each other well and it led to a very varied programme, with plenty for the audience to sing along to. Where I felt the evening fell down slightly was in the lack of rapport between what are clearly two solo artists. The posters promised an evening of "music, chat and banter and intimate insights into their approach to their craft" but there was actually very little beyond the individuals talking briefly about their own songs and, of the two, Jez Lowe was certainly the far better at scene setting.

There was, however, a very immediate connection with the audience which meant that from the outset the audience was singing along and became part of the performance, producing some very striking harmonies at times.

For the most part, the programme was made up of alternate songs from the two artists, some new and some well known from their back catalogues. Consequently we had Tilston's familiar Here's to Tom Paine - the story of the lad from Thetford who went on to write the pamphlet that powered the American revolution - alongside Lowe's Jack Common - a tribute to the Newcastle born Marxist writer.

Mixed in with the reflective musings of Tilston's song such as The Road When I Was Young and Grass Days were the more lively nostalgia of Lowe's Big Meeting Day , recalling the high days of Durham Miner's Gala, and The Wrong Bus, a witty story based on fact reflecting on the events of World War One.

Both songwriters are keen observers of human nature and this was shown in songs such as Tether's End" and the cynical Pretty Penny.

The evening finished in fine style with an encore of Tilston's Slip Jigs and Reels, in which they were joined on stage by Mike Harding on harmonica, to round off a truly enjoyable and thought provoking evening.

Gill O'Donnell

The Lindisfarne Story

Victoria Hall, Settle

FOR those of a certain age, the mention of Lindisfarne doesn't conjure up ideas of a tranquil island off the coast of Northumbria so much as memories of a misspent youth and Christmas concerts in a packed City Hall and raucous singing all the way home! Therefore the chance to relive those days and find out more about the iconic rock/folk band that shaped my formative years growing up in seventies Newcastle was not to be missed.

The show was devised, written and performed by founding drummer Ray Laidlaw and closing lead singer Billy Mitchell, who replaced the late, and songwriting great, Alan Hull after his untimely death in 1995, and mixes anecdotes with nostalgic video clips and photographs simple acoustic performances of not only the band's hits but also the songs which influenced their music in the early days.

This approach meant that there were many strange diversions - whoever would have expected to hear Michael Row the Boat ashore, as well as humorous revelations about the band's early years?

Part of the strength of the evening lay in the way in which these two great raconteurs were able to make it feel as if you were simply sitting in a pub discussing old times with mates of long standing, there were asides, in jokes and lots of nostalgia. But there were also moments when you gained a real insight into the band and its philosophy, clearly the group was never about the whole "rock-star" lifestyle, being far more concerned with the actual content of the songs and ensuring that they did reflect the times on the native Tyneside.

The band was also not about fixed line ups, with the number of performers in the group changing on a regular basis as members took time off to explore other areas.

It is perhaps through this care about the music which made it so memorable - many of the songs are now so closely associated with the area that they have become local anthems and the catchphrase - Fog on the Tyne is hijacked to promote all kinds of items and events.

The music, of course, was superb. Acoustic versions of the great hits, Meet me on the Corner, Lady Eleanor and Fog on the Tyne as well as some of the more politically-motivated songs rang out once more and the performance of Winter Song was spellbinding and its message as relevant now as it was at its conception.

However, as always the band saved the best till last and the closing version of Run for Home, beginning as an acoustic number and then blending into a fully orchestrated version was unforgettable.

Gill O'Donnell