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Shifting venue, as the Roots Music Club occasionally does, the Doncaster Brewery and Tap on Young Street in the town centre hosted tonight's appearance by Manchester-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Kirk McElhinney, playing his first ever Doncaster gig. The Rochdale-born musician arrived at the venue with guitar in hand, the lone figure very much reminiscent of the arrival of the folk troubadours of yesteryear; the likes of Wizz Jones, Michael Chapman and most notably on this occasion Bert Jansch, one man, one guitar and a bunch of impressive songs.
The name Bert Jansch seemed to resonate with the audience tonight, this being just a few days after the fifth anniversary of Jansch's death in 2011. Tonight Jansch was not only remembered for his influence upon this particular musician, but also for the songs that Bert was most associated with, such as the traditional Blackwaterside, which Kirk performed towards the end of his first set.
The small stage in the upstairs function room was illuminated by a set of brand new lights, the boxes they came in stacked in the corner of the room. These lights joined the familiar standard lamp, which is a permanent feature on stage at this venue, to provide illumination in an otherwise darkened room. It doesn't actually stretch the imagination to compare tonight's stage set-up with the romantic vision of the Soho clubs of the 1960s, such as Les Cousins, or that well-known film footage of Big Bill Broonzy entertaining a late night audience in a 1950s Belgian cellar. Tonight the room had that sort of Bohemian atmosphere; just a handful of discerning music fans huddled together on a chilly night, with the sole purpose of enjoying good, well performed music.
Performing songs from his debut album WORLD GONE BLIND, Kirk McElhinney sat centre stage, with just two speakers at his feet providing the amplification, a single microphone and guitar perched upon his knee. With an assured finger-style guitar technique, together with a relaxed vocal delivery, Kirk performed a handful of self-penned songs such as Circle, Tune for Luce and Shelter From the Rain. Midway through his first set, Kirk surprised the audience with his arrangement of Randy Newman's Toy Story hit You've Got a Friend in Me, complete with guitar solo played with his teeth; a bit of acoustic Hendrix thrown in then. "It's the only part of the show that this works" he quipped.
With another nod to Bert Jansch, Kirk played Jansch's arrangement of The Old Triangle before closing his set with the exhilarating Price You Pay, a song about Kirk's brother, featuring some of the best guitar playing of the night, which is slightly obscured by other instrumentation on the album version. It was worth coming out tonight to witness just that.
Sharing the evening with Kirk McElhinney was Ciarán Boyle, whose songs, both unaccompanied and accompanied by his highly skilled bodhran playing, brought a very distinct taste of his own Irish roots to the stage. Songs such as I Wish I Was in England, The Granemore Hare and Step it Out Mary. Ciaran's traditional Irish songs, learned from his own family, brought a very different and contrasting element to the evening, which was rewarding in itself.
The only drawback to an otherwise interruption-free night was the fact that the chap feasting on a packet of pork scratchings throughout Ciarán's second set couldn't keep in time with the bodhran! Other than that, a top night in Donny.
Listen to an interview with Kirk McElhinney before the show: