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  • Miles Hedley


Contrasts matter. Bad weather helps us appreciate good, sadness joy, chaos calm. And the banter between folk legends John Tams and Barry Coope was the perfect counterpoint to underscore the beauty and autumnal melancholy of the songs they played in a memorable concert beneath the hull of Cutty Sark on Sunday night.

During a two-hour set, the award-winning pair played a dozen of the most gorgeously emotion-charged songs imaginable.

But they also gave us a couple of wonderfully silly ones, including a version of Lionel Richie’s Hello in which the refrain was mischievously swapped to “Let me start by saying that you’ll do”. And Tams, in particular, regaled us with stories, jokes, reminiscences and observations covering such diverse subjects as Brexit – “Don’t get me started!” – industrial desolation, women’s rights, the deadly toll of commercial fishing, film director John Ford, Andy Murray’s fist-pumping, Derbyshire’s scenery, post-traumatic stress disorder, Richard and Linda Thompson and the Gulf War.

When he wasn’t making us smile with his skills as a raconteur, guitarist Tams was shredding our emotions with a selection of his own compositions and a few he had learnt from old musicians during his six decades as a performer.

He opened with Only Remembered from the score that has guaranteed him immortality, the unforgettable War Horse, which keyboardist Coope accompanied with stunning vocal harmonies.

They moved on to the elegiac Snow Falls, took a brief comic diversion with Nowt To Do Wi’ Me, broke our hearts again with Sorrow, lifted our spirits once more with Hello and and ended the first half with the fabulously mournful All Clouds The Sky.

After the interval they went back into the folk canon to sing a lovely acappella version of Pretty Nancy Of London followed by Amelia and a set of seas-songs as a tribute to Cutty Sark - Bound East For Cardiff, Till The Spring Comes and Hold Back The Tide.

The duo ended their dazzling performance with a pair of leave-taking tunes - Will I See Thee More and Over The Hills And Far Away – and a similar-themed encore, Rolling Home. Before leaving the stage to rapturous applause, Tams earnestly urged us all to look after one another. But he couldn’t quite suppress his inner imp and added: “Remember, there’s always someone better off than yourself.”

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