Lancaster Songwriters Night at The Gregson

I haven’t previously reviewed Open Mic nights simply because they are an ad-hoc event, often very informal and an opportunity for experimenting, new songs etc.  Last night at the Gregson, however, saw one of the genuine musical highlights of the year.


The theme for the night, curated by Idiot Johnson, was Lancaster Songwriters, with each act rising to the challenge to cover another local artist.  It could have been an incestuous mess, but instead it proved a glorious celebration of Lancaster’s wide talent base.


Idiot Johnson himself set the ball rolling, and raised the bar, with a breathtaking piano rendition of Jess Thomas’ ‘Northern Rain’.  Part of the fun was watching the faces of the covered writers as their work was performed, which might account for the huge turnout, though it was far from being all musicians.


I just did a quick run down in my head of artists covered: almost 20 of them, which in itself says much for the ‘scene’ around Lancaster.  More significantly the source material ranged from Stuart Anthony’s folk to The Adventures Of Loki’s alt-punk via indie rock (How’s My Pop) and comedy material (Kriss Foster) including current faves such as Ponies and the gone but not forgotten The Wind Up Merchants.


Highlights are almost too many to mention, but The Low Countries’ superb harmonising gave Kriss Foster’s Morecambe a completely new sound, and went down a storm.  Wes Martin experimented with looped banjo and vocal effects on EFTM’s Onion whilst Niamh Starkey took The Adventures Of Loki’s stomping Feminine Side and gave it a ‘Lancashire Hotpots’ twist.  There was rock, as Moll Baxter gave a Rubber Soul feel to Niamh Starkey, folk (Stuart Anthony covering Dan Haywood with genuine love), and pop (Kriss, Tristan and Robin) in the mix.

People got together and produced new combinations, some unplanned but successful, such as newcomer Ewan Scarlett adding guitar support to Kish’s cover of Hazel by How’s My Pop? 


Most covered act of the night was Ponies (three times) but perhaps the surprise of the night was Paul Rhodes bringing his inimitable electric rock stylings to Stuart Anthony’s Good Tension and bringing out a genuine tension in his performance.  Stunning. 


In the end there were almost too many who wanted to participate in the fun, Joanne Levey, Gaz, Banjomania, and more that I apologise for not noting down.  Other covered artist included Goldmundo, The Wisemen, The Lovely Eggs, Ottersgear and Marc Nellis.  Finally though it was full circle, with Jess Thomas closing the night with a rousing rendition of  New Zealand Story’s I Was Feeling Alive (which may not be its proper title, sorry Dave) a perfect showstopper.


So, Lancaster Songwriters write some fine songs it seems, and its performers add their own twists, and the result: great entertainment, and who can ask for more.  Definitely one of the best nights of the year.


Reviewed by Kev McVeigh


6 Responses

  1. Indeed it was a magnificent evening from the core of the idea to the execution, and many thumbings-up go to Wes & co for giving it to us. In a room positively bristling with talent , I also found it quite touching – possibly because I’m getting old and weepy – the amount of respect and genuine enthusiasm the performer’s showed for each other’s songs. Had nothing else added up, this alone would have made the night a gem, and it spoke volumes for the solid, mutually respecting, friendly and approachable foundation of talent here in Lancaster.

    I know Kev’s not one to blow his own bugle, but I greatly enjoyed his recital of Ottersgear’s ‘Where Ottersgear Lies – making a good point that Mikey Kenney is also as good a poet as he is musician, something I hadn’t quite realised until I worked with him; and his evangelical Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordian by The Lovely Eggs.

    Looking forward to the next one. (Is there a next one?)
    Great night, great vibe and great company to keep.

  2. Thanks Paul. Mikey’s lyrics bring WB Yeats to mind for me, so the idea was to recite it as a poem. Anita’s flute was a last minute idea, and didn’t she do well…
    — Kev

  3. Yes, Yeats also puts you so far ‘in there’ that you can almost smell the wood, the earth and the leaves and Mikey’s do that for me too. Sorry I ommitted to mention Anita, it was a grand idea and made a splendid background to it.

  4. Ball rolling, bar raising and breathtaking, all in the space of one sentence, huh? I think I might just get that framed and hang it on the wall where the neighbours can see it.

    I’m pleased you enjoyed the evening. Warm and fuzzy was the mood I was hoping we’d achieve and I think it pretty much turned out that way. I’m certainly glad not to have curated over an incestuous mess: it’s not the sort of thing you want your name associated with for all eternity on the internet.

    The realpolitik of organising a running order was a lot more challenging than I’d anticipated.
    What with half of Lancaster showing up unexpected, it’s to the performers’ credit that they agreed to cut their planned sets – lopping a song here, an anecdote there, an annotated lecture on the history of the acoustic guitar over there – in order that everybody might have a fair pop at making a contribution, in the limited time available. My own rambling reflections on why I love Ponies’ “If I Don’t” quite as much as I do will have to wait until another time.

    The curating gig certainly makes you appreciate what a fine job Nige and Wes do month in, month out, on top of their hairy-arsed roadie duties. It’s as mind-boggling as it is exhausting to recall that they used to sail The Good Ship Gregson Open Mic on a weekly basis.
    And I’d definitely recommend the curating-curious, anyone with a bright idea for what else might make a fun evening – to put their names forward. It was a blast.

    As for holding a similar event next year – sure, I’d be up for it, even hosting it if nobody else wanted to. We might want to think about starting earlier next time though. Two o’clock in the afternoon, with a couple of breaks for meals and naps, probably seems reasonable.

  5. I was away in Manchester, and Mr Haywood was up in Scotland, otherwise I’m sure we’d have been there, sounds like it was a blast!

  6. I’m very pleased this went well. Wish I could have been there.

    I’m sure it’s done the Open Mic itself a good service too. See you next month!

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