Havin’ a blast in (Chetwynd) Aston..

Tonight was one of those pseudo-logic nights out – I work in Solihull, I live in South Derbyshire – so it wasn’t too tough a sell to myself that it was kinda on the way home to pop to Chetwynd Aston (not far from Telford) to see Paul Henshaw and Nick Parker at The Wheatsheaf.  It’s not the most ridiculous example of this in my recent gigging history – earlier in the year I’d decided since I was already 30 miles in the right direction from home I might as well plough on to Glastonbury to see Nick along with The Leylines!

So with Ella training in to Solihull upon getting my Powerpoint presentation finished and sent we hit the road reaching the pub really early – soaking in the last of the sun in the beer garden, before Nick and Paul arrived in time for a good natter in the frankly excellent Wheatsheaf.  A proper pub – they’d dedicated the front room to the gig which had a stage and PA set up in the corner – and as the locals wended out landlord Tosh started laying out chairs for what would be a really intimate little gig.

Paul Henshaw was up first – playing a mixture of older songs and some from his very imminent new album Fishing for Owls (more on that next week, I’ve had a sneaky peek at this!).  He kicked off his set with Dancing in Lay-bys, and then on to a new track Wild Turkey – amusingly Tosh was busy behind the bar framing a photo of him with a bottle of the aforementioned whisky in the foreground.  I Declare Shenanigans is one of my favourite song titles ever – and was up next!

You Really Just Want to be Me is another song from the forthcoming album – it’s got a really nice melodic intro (it reminds me of the start to Patience of Angels oddly!) before some self and other-people scathing lyrics kick in.  Churches of Rome gave the crowd an opportunity for some rather impressive participation in the form of la la las – it worked very well.  The awesome thing about this night was the 30 or so people actually sat and listened to the music (until invited to join in) – it was frankly wonderful and a privilege to have been amongst such considerate folk.

It’s Not About You came with an amusing backstory about a rather complicated (in travel arrangements at least) breakup and a misunderstanding about the subject matter of another song, and then we moved on to a really moving part of the set.  Fay’s Song is a beautiful tribute to a friend and fan of Paul’s who sadly passed away – it’s really moving, and I’m sure for those mutual friends must be an extremely fitting tribute to somebody who clearly had a huge impact on their lives.

To keep the mood low he moved on to Kid on a Bridge, another moving lament – this time to somebody who couldn’t see a reason to carry on living and well, I guess you can imagine the rest… and so to finish up his set he livened us all up with I’ll Never be a Pirate which gave the crowd lots of opportunity for contributing pirate type noises and phrases – which they did with gusto!  An ace set – Paul is a brilliant performer, and when I get around to reviewing it, you’re going to want to listen to his new album.

We popped outside for a vape break between sets and a natter – returning to find a mighty platter of chips and buttered bread for the interlude.  Wow.  All gigs should have a chip butty break, I’ve decided!  Just one of the many awesome things that has ultimately left me wishing The Wheatsheaf was a lot closer to home, an amazingly welcome place from Tosh and Sarah to the locals already in there when we arrived to those who arrived for the gig later.  Wonderful place.

So Nick Parker was next on – immediately swerving starting with a song from the new album he kicked off with I’ve Never Been to Dublin Before to (unnecessarily) get the crowd warmed up.  Then it was on to new songs – Departures opened the set and then Down with the Yoof (a few folk in the crowd were in double-denim, it was unclear whether this was in honour of Nick or not, haha!  Behind the stage Nick had set up a United Colours of Benetton array of merchandise behind him, along with the painting his dad did for the album cover hung on the wall.

Kenny the dog’s song An Open Letter to my Human was next – one of my favourites, particularly the line ‘me-eared pad’ rather than ‘dog-eared pad’ which jumped out at me.  Probably because it was an example Gaz pulled out when I saw him in Ashby and it popped back into my head.  Next up was a lovely surprise though, he was considering I Guess I’ll Never Know as a solo, before remembering Ella in the crowd and coaxing her up (without too much difficulty, it has to be said!) to join him to make it the duet it should be.

I know I’m horrendously biased but it was pretty spellbinding.  Nick’s album is a frequent one on Ella’s playlist and it showed – once the mic had been adjusted to pick her voice up from considerably beneath it it sounded amazing – for the harmonised bits Nick sang from the back of the stage without the mic.  LJ live-streamed it – so it can be watched back should you so wish (and I really think you should)… this could be a neat new party trick at future gigs, I hope (if of course Saoirse isn’t available!).

Make Yourself at Home was up next, and then the mandolin was out for Simple Song.  Then a bit of crowd participation for Es Tut Mir Leit – with two folks doing a fine job of holding the placards up a the right moments, and some lusty singing from the crowd.  Then it was on to older songs, Terry and June was dedicated to LJ (it was an in off the pink kinda night), and followed up with Come On Jump Over Your Shadow complete with the phone-game of phoning the person next to you, putting it on speaker phone and holding them together so that the feedback creates birdsong type noises – particularly during the sections Nick whistles.

Could we at Least Try was up next giving the crowd a chance to try out a bit of falsetto accompaniment which sounded surprisingly good, and then Another Journey Home is normally accompanied by the crowd humming the ground bass (check me out with musical terms that I in no way learned from Nick tonight. Ahem) whilst the song plays over it, this time we ‘la la la’ed it since it had sounded so good in Paul’s set earlier – it worked really well, and brought the set proper to a splendid end.

An encore was, of course, loudly demanded.  When somebody quipped for an Ed Sheeran song it prompted an amusing initial impersonation – but eventually Piano Man was requested and it was a bloody amazing rendition – Nick changing the names in the song to those of the assorted people in the venue which was a charming touch.  After a tuning adjustment to drop down a bit he played the lullaby-like Not Fooling Me with delicate finger picking and utilising the dropped strings for some bassy notes.

Finally he launched into his reimagining of Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby – a slow acoustic build up into the a full speed ending, which I was happy to sing along with (misspent youth).  An amazing couple of sets in a wonderfully friendly venue – I’ll definitely be visiting there again given half a chance, well worth what in reality was a pretty hefty diversion on a night when I’ve got to be up early in the morning.  I’d do it all over again though!  An up close and personal night with lovely folk – one of those ‘can you remember that time in The Wheatsheaf?’ kinda nights.

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