The Hall Brothers' 21st Anniversary Concert

Venue: Otley Courthouse
Town: Otley, West Yorkshire
Date: 22nd December 2012
Websites: At end of article

In December 2011 I attended one of the best concerts I have had the fortune to witness. The Hall Brothers were celebrating 20 years of performing together and had brought together a line up of friends which included some of my other favourite local performers. A front row seats ensured that I was fully immersed in the experience (and the copious dry ice!). The night was, quite simply, sensational with the venue packed to capacity, the musicians on top form and the audience warm and receptive.

It was little wonder, then, that the Courthouse asked for a repeat performance in 2012 and, as previously, this took place the Saturday before Christmas and was a perfect start to the festive season. Once again the concert was a sell out and the line up remained the virtually identical to the previous event. If it ain't broke don't fix it was obviously the mantra of the night!

Jon Harvison, who as always did an excellent job as MC, opened proceedings with three of his most memorable songs 'Smile', 'Daughter don't you weep' and 'Turning of the Year'. The latter of these showed the audience to be in good voice as they belted out the uplifting chorus.

'Plumhall' (Nick Hall and Michelle Plum) have rapidly become one of my very favourite duos. Both Nick and Michelle write thoughtful songs and perform them in a manner that captivates their audiences. FATEA readers may have heard their contribution to a recent Download Session and seen my review of their live EP recorded at the 20th Anniversary Concert. Tonight the duo were augmented by Chris Bunyan on drums, Dave Mastrocola on bass and Charlie Daykin on keyboards. This trio added something just that bit special to the Plumhall sound and reconfirmed my belief that this band should be playing main stages at major festivals in the not too distant future.

All the songs in Plumhall's short set were hugely enjoyable, particularly Michelle's compositions from her days with 'Waking the Witch' - 'Silence Can be Gold' and 'Nothing To Do With You' - but set closer 'Never Forget My Name' always makes the most visceral impact. Written in South Africa whilst Nick was on tour as a member of Magna Carta this tells of a slave's resistance to oppression through his expression of his individuality. It also has a belting tune!! Plumhall are embarking on a tour this Spring and if they come anywhere close I would really urge you to go to see them - and when at last their long awaited CD is released later this year it will be an essential purchase for me at least!

Dave Vermond is a well kept secret here in West Yorkshire but deserves a wider catchement. A writer of phenomenally witty and moving songs as well as a spirited performer of (particularly American) blues, folk and rock he inevitably brings delight to audiences on his too rare appearances. Personal favourite 'The League of Desperate Men' depicts those men whose enthusiasms include pub quizzes, railways and real ale and surely must be the only song in which the publisher of transport literature Ian Allen is mentioned! In a slight change to last year's concert Dave is accompanied by Johnny Hardcastle whose slide guitar brings an added dimension to the sound of 'The Old 333' which amusingly points up the lack of romance of modern rail travel, specifically the electric multiple units used on the local Airedale and Wharfedale lines.

After an interval which gave us the chance to refill our glasses with bottles of the tasty Skipton Brewery and Czech Budvar beers the Hall Brothers take to the stage. The band tonight is the full electric line up which includes Nick, brother Duncan, fiddle player John Carey, Chris Bunyan and Dave Mastrocola and they open with another favourite of mine 'Bierley Hill' which is a reminder of the destruction to our cities' communities that was the outcome of 60's and 70's redevelopment. An exciting set of tunes that feature John Carey's virtuosity on fiddle keep the energy levels up until a moment of calm is reached during Duncan's ballad 'Annabel and the Great Conquistador', a particularly well crafted song which I always enjoy. 'Mortal' a moving and powerful ballad about the brothers' grandfather follows and is well juxtaposed with one of the two covers of the set, the Finn Brothers' 'Disembodied Voices'. Duncan's new song, 'Roaringwater Bay' is a beauty in waltz time and Nick's mandolin and Jon's soaring and swooping fiddle provide perfect decoration.

Michelle Plum joins the band for a performance of 'Undertow' and this for me is the highlight of the highlights - the song is both beautiful and slightly disturbing and this particular rendition is probably the best I have heard (and I have heard a lot!).

As is now almost traditional, John's daughter Sarah Carey performs a couple of solo songs next - her own 'Books' demonstrating that she has a clever way with lyrics and will be someone to watch out for on the acoustic scene over the next few years.

The Hall Brothers return to play a magnificent version of Ralph McTell's Hiring Fair where the quality of the sound in the theatre over the evening is exemplified with perfectly judged reverb enhancing the voices and the amazing sounds coming out of John's fiddle effects chain. All too soon the set is over but there is just time for a well deserved encore - another set of electifying tunes before the main part of the evening ends with the rousing anti fascist 'How Deep is This Valley'. A song that should be made compulsory at school assemblies in my opinion!

Before we drifted out into the teeming night we spent a little time listening to Nick and Duncan playing an acoustic set in the bar to bring us back down to earth after what had been another enjoyable and memorable night in the company of musicians who I am proud to be able to call friends.

Joe Grint

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