For the sake of transparency, I gladly nail my colours to the mast and admit that I once described Reg as 'unequivocally, quite simply one of the finest singer-songwriters of our, or any other, times'. I am also happy to say that after tonight's performance, not only do I stand by that assertion, but that I have also spoken to many people, previously unaware of his music, present at the performance, who also agree. (Happy that is to see new converts, not that they agreed with me.)
However, to merely describe him in this way would fail to do his performance tonight justice. Yes, he is a consummate and accomplished performer of songs, but he is also an adept raconteur and creates a heartily warm rapport with his audience through both humour and humility. That he is also a keen observer of life and a person of profound compassion shone through as he entertained the packed hall this evening.
Amongst the many attributes that help to mark Reg's song-writing out from the pack is his unbridled ability to address such a wide range of topics and subjects, be they inspired by real-life individuals and characters, events, imagined or real, or reflections upon life, whether they be related to elements of injustice and inhumanity or of a more straightforward autobiographical nature. This evening's performance contained the range, with both sets featuring songs which engendered and prompted a range of emotions and responses.
Fresh from the recent announcement that Reg had been named Soloist of the Year in prestigious Folking.com Awards, a high standard was immediately set with the opening song 'What Would William Morris Say?'
'We used to see farms from our town
But now it's all warehouse, industrial ground
Radio screams fill the air their lame electric lungs
And liars all spit politics with poison on their tongues'
A revelation relating to Jeremy Corbyn accompanied the introduction to 'Tony Benn's Tribute To Emily Davison', before 'Nurse - Angel in a Blue Dress' a song inspired by a letter received by Reg from a friend who was a nurse, in which her account of hospital conditions, and a particular occasion when she arrived at work to find her workplace in a state of emergency as a result of financial cutbacks, was beautifully delivered, demonstrating perfectly that messages of indignation don't have to be vitriolic.
Light relief was never far away, and 'Phil Ochs & Elvis Eating Lunch in Morrison's Café', the true story of Reg & Hank Wangford catching a quick bite following a gig in Epworth, (yes, Reg it is in Lincs, and once home of Sir Ian Botham), when a chap wearing an Elvis wig and dark glasses walked in and sat at the table next to them and was then joined by Phil Ochs look-alike.
In what might just be a first, the harmonica introduction to 'My Name Is London Town', from the Leaves & Feathers CD, somehow morphed into 'Feed the Birds', from Mary Poppins, before the first set finished with 'The Band Played Sweet Marie', the delightfully-told tale about the violin given by Maria Robinson to her fiancé, the bandleader on the Titanic, Wallace Hartley, and a song which really showed what a wonderful singing voice Reg possesses.
If Reg's first set had been superb, then his second was nothing short of sublime. Opening with the intensely catchy 'Worry No More' from Short Stories, with its references to the difficulties involved in being, or perhaps more relevantly, given the age-profile of the audience, raising teenagers, ensured a high level of empathy.
A pair of songs from 2016's December release followed. A fascinating account of his 1944 017 Martin guitar, including its discovery in San Jose, it purchase, thanks to the generosity of two fans, and its subsequent renovation in Doncaster, preceded the majestic beauty of 'Hands of a Woman', the first song composed on the said instrument. And yes, Reg, I believe that many, even non-musicians, understand the 'magic' and that a guitar can indeed 'speak &'sing'. Following this with 'Smarter Than Me', a somewhat self-deprecating song written around his first girl-friend, Reg continued to enchant the attentive audience.
What we could not have been prepared for, however, was the unbelievable treat of the airing of a new, as yet unrecorded, song, 'Row Ida Row'. If the audience reaction tonight is a barometer, this will become a firm live favourite.
'Lizzie Loved a Highwayman', the sole song played this evening from the Dragonfly album, and written during a Rural Touring programme, told of Dick Turpin, albeit from a perspective at variance from the usual portrayal of him as a gallant, dashing highwayman of legend, once more had the engrossed audience marvelling at the quality of what was being presented.
'Leaving Alabama', Reg's account of an imaginary meeting between Hank Williams and Dylan Thomas in a bar saw the audience in full voice, as, once more, they attacked the chorus with great gusto, as indeed they movingly did on the sublime 'England Green & England Grey', the song of comparing the grey of our fractured society of NHS dismantling, factory closures and corporate greed against the green of cultural folk traditions.
The rapturous demands for an encore could not be ignored, and Reg returned to the stage to deliver FATEA 2017 Song of the Year Award winning 'Faraway People', which is both a lament for and a principled panegyric to some of the multitude of people who have fallen victim of the government's benefits system, (or lack of), some of whom have taken their own lives. Received by those present with the dignity that the lyrics and sentiments warrant, once again the mastery of Reg's word-craft emphasised that moral outrage and disgust can be expressed without having to resort to maleficence.
Thus concluded a memorable evening, with those attending no doubt enriched by the experience of having the gamut of their emotions well and truly run, whilst at the same time being entertained at the highest level.
Reg is a very special talent indeed, and, as with his recorded work, getting along to one of his live performances cannot come highly recommended enough.
Words, photo & videos David Pratt
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