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Paul Handyside

Doncaster Brewery and Tap, Doncaster
Sunday 12 June 2016

The dimly-lit low stage that occupies one end of the upstairs function room at the popular Doncaster Brewery and Tap was this afternoon suitably equipped for the second visit to the town in recent weeks of the North East-based singer-songwriter Paul Handyside along with guitarist Rob Tickell. So informal was the stage set-up this afternoon, that the twin speakers were simply perched upon chairs on either side of the stage, whilst a single standard lamp appeared to provide the only illumination as if creating a sense of ambience in a post-Victorian living parlour. Dressed in black from head to toe, Handyside resembled the gaunt figure of Harry Dean Stanton circa Paris, Texas, minus the red baseball cap and pent-up anger, strolling into a dusty middle-of-nowhere town. 

Confident and assured, Handyside delivered a broad selection of songs from his back catalogue, each hand-picked from all three of his available solo albums plus one or two brand new songs. The audience was already fuelled and primed by the time Handyside took to the stage and was prepared for one or two choice heckles, each of which were suitably fielded by our man in black. From the very beginning, there was a call for anything by Abba, quickly followed by a broad Irish accent calling out for some Daniel O'Donnell, to which Handyside rather sensibly responded "I'm afraid I don't and never have done any cover versions unfortunately." It wasn't long before Handyside grew aware that this audience was definitely on his side, albeit through some good humoured banter.

Starting the first set with The Slow Road, the two musicians soon found their form and pretty much stuck to it for the remainder of the afternoon. Handyside stood in the spotlight throughout, whilst his musical partner remained seated by his side, embellishing the songs with some empathetic Weissenborn slide, together with some tasty electric guitar solos. The first time the two musicians swapped their acoustic for electric instruments, to accompany Let Me Down Easy, the first song of the afternoon from Handyside's new album, TIDE, TIMBER AND GRAIN, a perfectly timed "Judas" heckle was successfully delivered, much to everyone's amusement.

It might be due to the fact that this afternoon's concert took place in a brewery, that the atmosphere was pretty positive throughout both sets, the rapport between artist and audience enjoyed equally by all.  If the Johnny Cash inspired Careless Love, chugged along rapidly as if a streamline train just rolled into town via Doncaster Railway Station, the beautifully tender Rose of the Street saw Handyside leave the stage to perform acoustically amongst the small audience, moving from one table to another; a well-timed gesture, which featured some audience participation during the whistled chorus. "I asked for whistling not the fucking Clangers" Handyside quipped midway through. 

After a short break, the two musicians returned to the stage to pick up pretty much where they left off, delivering more songs from the new record, including a solo performance of the tender love song Should I Leave Your Side and the more conventional folk-styled The Whaler's Lament. The friendly heckling continued to the very end as Handyside introduced the final encore song, the lullaby Goodnight Lover, to which one male voice from the audience enquired "are you a good night lover?" The 'Judas' man immediately responded with "picked a right time to come out there didn't he?"  

Such was the banter at Doncaster Brewery this afternoon, which really did help to transform what could have been a flat lazy Sunday afternoon in an upstairs pub room, into a vibrant music venue with a real sense of community and involvement.  If things continue this way, then Sunday afternoons just might become something completely different in Doncaster.   

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky