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Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin

The Live Room , Caroline Street Social Club, Saltaire
Friday 30 October 2015

After the applause for Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin had finally died away you would have heard lots of comments like superb, wonderful, fantastic and more than a few Wows. All justified and deserved. The occasion on a sub tropical Yorkshire night (seriously!!!) was a celebration in many ways. It was the clubs 100th gig, The Live Room had just won Outstanding Live Music Promoters 2015 in the  Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Awards. Phil and Hannah were also the first artists to appear three times. The hall had silver, helium balloons spelling out 100 and free drinks and nibbles were supplied by Ron and Hilary. A party atmosphere was supplied by artists and performers.

Events were started by a solo outing for Nick B. Hall, possibly better known as one half of the duo Plumhall. His other half, Michelle Plum was in the audience enjoying Nick's solo performance. Nick very ably commanded the stage on his own. Starting with a new song South for Glory and then following with songs from Plumhall's first CD THUNDERCLOUD, the Hall Brothers back catalogue, traditional Bob Dylan cover. Demonstrating great stage presence Nick quickly got audience participation with a  song about the Yorkshire Dales How Deep Is This Valley. Powerful vocals and great guitar technique throughout demonstrating why in the past he had been lead guitar for Magna Carta. Nick got the very attentive crowd fully warmed and in the mood for a celebration. Nick finished his set with a powerful Plumhall song Never Forget My Name, the song being about slavery , strong lyrics and at the end you also felt for his guitar strings as they were being worked overtime. Again it was obvious from audience response that the party mood was in gear.

Phil and Hannah took the stage opening with title track of their new CD WATERSHED. The CD features a full band but the duo performances were so breathtaking so I would love to see the full band performances. Opening song featured Phil on harmonica and stomp box with Hannah playing banjo. It's difficult to categorise Phil & Hannah. They won Best Duo at the 2014 Folk Awards but there are hints of  many genres in their music. A Folk root but spreading out in all directions from that root. Their playing seems effortless and can be delicate or so driving that if your feet aren't tapping you are either severely over medicated  or not conscious. The first set featured songs from several CDs with Phil playing harmonica, stomp box, beat box and Dobro and Hannah on Banjo and Fiddle. Both shared lead vocals and harmonised to great effect. Phil got the feet tapping and hands clapping with a solo performance of Underground Railroad from SINGING THE BONES or LIVE AT CALSTOCK. In keeping with Nick's earlier song about slavery this tune was inspired by the escape routes used by slaves. A very gentle Irish lament  on Dobro preceded a song about a gardener who continued gardening after her death, Miss Wilmott's Ghost. I can't think of many other artists who play laments or even English folk on Dobro but that just emphasises the unrestricted nature of their music.  They changed the tempo completely to finish the set with  a dedication to Ron and Hilary, a very driving song Tonight featuring Phil on Harmonica and Stomp Box and Hannah producing some great bowed two string effects on Fiddle.

The second set opened with two songs from MYND , the very delicate Silbury Hill and Song For Caroline Herschel before an instrumental Attingham Waltz/December. The instrumental gave both full range to demonstrate beautiful interweaving  of the Dobro and Fiddle again taking them to a new realm of Folk, similar in some ways to the interplays demonstrated by the late messrs Renbourn and Jansch in times long gone. As well as their own excellent compositions Phil and Hannah are not averse to a cover or two. The first being Gillian Welch's Wychita, very ably sung in harmonies and musicianship that David Rawlings and Gillian Welch would appreciate. Lead instrument effortlessly shifting from Dobro to Fiddle and back again. The pace and party atmosphere really went into gear and overdrive  with the final three songs of the set. A solo Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning by Phil on Harmonica and Beat Box, barely pausing for breath this went into The Nail Makers Strike, again Harmonica and Beat Box with Hannah playing some energetic Fiddle. At this point a Conga Train circulated the room. Not easing back on the throttle they finished the set with The Boy Who Wouldn't Hoe Corn which started based on Alison Krauss and Union Station's version but has evolved way, way beyond the original. The Dobro and Fiddle interplay reached new heights on this performance with what looked like Phil urging Hannah on to play faster and faster as they built a crescendo that had you wondering just where they would take it. It was obvious that as well as the crowd Phil and Hannah were really enjoying the night.

What do you do for an encore after exhausting the audience, simple, play a sublimely beautiful cover of James Taylor's You Can Close Your Eyes, one of those songs that haunts your mind long after the last notes have finished. In stylish manner Phil finished with a very nice flourish of harmonics.

An amazing night, perfect for celebrating the 100th gig, 3rd appearance and Outstanding Promoters award. Here's to the next 100 gigs and the fourth appearance. Well done Ron and Hilary.

Keith Belcher (Words and Pictures)
Northern Sky