Friday, January 20, 2012


Mikey Kenney aka Ottersgear, here performing solo, opened tonight’s Now Then Manc evening. He played an intense acoustic folk that felt quite traditional in many ways – songs about snowbells, phantoms of the fog, huntsmen and nature's armies – but he could also up the tempo to lost-in-the-moment thrash or shift his voice from deep burr and off-mic yodel to a crisp falsetto on a song about frozen Michigan (a cover I thought but later discovered was an original composition). He finished with a celebratory fiddle reel that was neither Christian rock nor about paedophilia (as had unkindly been suggested). Captivating stuff.

We’re Samson and Delilah and we’ve come all the way from....Whalley Range”. Somehow I’ve managed never to see Manchester-based Samson and Delilah (or hear their two albums) and, duped by the name, I expected a duo. Here they performed as a five-piece: upright bass, keys, drums, acoustic guitar and accordion with flute thrown in too. They played dark, dramatic folk which from quiet beginnings took off to a steady processional marching beat. A little too earnest at times (“this is about genocide in Africa”) they deserved better than the disrespectful and overly chatty crowd gave them.

For tonight’s headliners, the nine-piece Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, the distracting chatter seemed to vanish. They weren’t a particularly intimidating group but as the roll call of names and home towns showed they were an eclectic ensemble and not, it has to be said, looking like they were all in the same band. Opening song ‘David in Cedars’, all Eastern shimmer and mystery punctured with the barked name “David!”, however showed just how cohesive they were from the off. There was a loose jam-band vibe to proceedings, not the least from a Korg synthesiser player sat cross legged on the floor rug and bongo drums throughout, all overseen by the loose-limbed band leader signalling changes with a nod or a waved hand, even consulting the crowd (“shall we finish here or go round again?”).

Players often doubled-up instruments during a song - Paddy Steer on both lap-steel and bass pedals - or swapped them swiftly – the mandolin alternated for electric bass. The set-list appeared to be decided on the hoof and songs were often preceded by a leisurely tune-up that almost casually ushered in songs. But what songs. And what lush delivery. If you were over-awed by a triple-vinyl 32-track debut album, this 11 song set was a fine introduction that added a fiery spontaneity to the album tracks. Dan Haywood’s odd tales of the incidents and characters encountered during a year living in rural Scotland can be a curious and expansive listening experience on first encounter – as well as epic - but in a packed upstairs pub room it made perfect sense whether gentle country ballad or folky hoedown or any of the many points in between. The final two songs – a space-jam ‘Smiley Patch’ into dance-along ‘Superquarry’ may have been the two best closing songs I’ll hear all year. Shame not to get an encore but what a way to go out on a high.

The Set List:

David In Cedars
Spate River
John’s Shoes
Farewell Comeback
New Wool
Fear of Lightning
My Heart Was Set On Xmas Eve
Killer Of Men
Smiley Patch

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