Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, Neil McSweeney: The Greystones, Sheffield

The Greystones is a homely pub hidden on the outskirts of Sheffield, and tonight its ‘Backroom’ plays host to Newcastle-based folk duo Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, returning to Sheffield after their show last year at the Lantern Theatre.

Opening the show is a familiar face on the local scene that seems to have been around forever. “It’s not enough to just survive” sings Neil McSweeney on the shimmering ‘Rope to hang’, peering over his glasses at the hushed crowd.  Given his vast back-catalogue of songs, McSweeney has the advantage of tailoring his time on stage to suit the mood.  Very much a traditional sing-songwriter, his songs are based around basic acoustic guitar patterns which allows his classic baritone voice to soar, breaking into more impressive instrumentation as he steps away from the microphone.  McSweeney is a tad restless between songs, but he can be forgiven as he quickly moves from song to song, sometimes covering political subjects; “I’m tired of these lectures from millionaires” he sneers just two days shy of George Osbourne’s budget.  The majority of the time, McSweeney’s lyrics are far more honest and personal as proven on set closer ‘London Road’; an upbeat homage to the street just a stones throw from the venue.

Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell take to the stage armed (peacefully) with a guitar and a fiddle.  Their demeanour might suggest they don’t do this often, but they are no amateurs; spending over three years as a duo, they have crafted their body of work into delicate songs most of which were recorded for their stunning album ‘Kite’ last year.  ‘There’s a disease’ immediately showcases their impressive talent, interlacing their delicate vocals.  Nursery rhymes tend to juxtapose playful melodies against rather bleak lyrics, but the duo’s sequel to ‘Jack and Jill’ has a much happier ending suggesting that all Jack needed was a kiss on the head. Away from the music, Jonny is as charming as he is bashful; “Writing this song was a condition of my tenancy” he quips before ‘Dixon Street’; seemingly a very British and amusing brother to Tom Waits’ ‘Kentucky Avenue’.  Not everything they sing tonight is sweet and innocent.  Jonny slips a borrowed train ticket between his strings as he begins ‘Just like the old days’; creepy and unnerving, complete with staccato fiddle and circus melodies as the pair’s haunting voices resonate through the room.  Jonny and Lucy end the night with album favourite ‘Call yourself a friend of mine’  and leave the stage to rapturous applause that, although they’d be the last to admit it, they truly warrant.

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