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Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage

The Greystones, Sheffield
Saturday 25 September 2016

There seems to be a clear understanding once you enter the Backroom at the Greystones, in fact once you actually enter the pub itself, that the venue takes its music seriously. If artists of the calibre of Nancy Kerr, Cera Impala, Otis Gibbs and Rob Heron don't necessarily rub shoulders with one another on stage, then their posters on the walls certainly do. Attending a gig at this very much established South Yorkshire venue not only allows you to hear some great music, but it also gives you an opportunity to fill up your diary with seemingly unmissable future dates. A Saturday night at the Greystones can either be a pretty packed and noisy affair, a sparsely attended quiet night or something in between. Tonight, it was very much the latter, with a medium-sized audience ready to greet Hannah and Ben as the duo continue their current UK tour. No strangers to the Greystones, Hannah having previously opened for Ben's band The Willows a few months ago, the two musicians seemed very much prepared for their first bona fide appearance at the venue as a duo.

A line of fairy lights illuminated the front of the stage as tonight's support act picked up their instruments to play their opening set. Manchester-based David Bentley and Draft made their first performance in front of a live audience, playing a handful of introspective self-penned songs with such titles as Home, Death and A Night Like This, together with the title song from their forthcoming debut album Time Takes Time. It has to be said that David's distinctive voice was the main focus of the performance, whose range fits somewhere comfortably between post-motorcycle crash Bob Dylan and Jeff Buckley falsetto, with a pinch of Neil Young in the guitar stylings.

With no introduction and little fanfare, Hannah and Ben opened their first set with Woody Guthrie's Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, a familiar song from Hannah's previous live appearances, when Ben would act purely as Hannah's accompanist. These days it seems that Ben plays an equal role and instead of the duo sitting, the two musicians have taken to standing before a single vintage microphone, which serves to lift the volume slightly, otherwise it was a totally acoustic set.  There's always been something uniquely intimate about their performances and the fact that they both now stand alters this little if at all.

The intimacy of the performance continued throughout the two sets, with each of the songs treated to gentle arrangements on guitar, dobro and mountain dulcimer, with each of Hannah and Ben's voices shared almost equally. The co-written songs such as The Fall (Hang) and What's It Tonight My Love, stand shoulder to shoulder with the traditional fare, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme and Lady Margaret, each song evocative of the past. Even the arrangements of songs by other writers such as Gram Parsons' Song For You, John Martyn's Hurt in Your Heart and Bob Dylan's timeless Boots of Spanish Leather sound fresh and new, the latter performed as a dialogue for two players.

So relaxed was tonight's performance, that there was a tendency to believe you were in a much more intimate setting than a popular Sheffield pub; even the usual Saturday night bar din managed to keep from filtering through during the set. Every single note and syllable was delivered on cue, which made for a most pleasant and enjoyable musical experience. After the applause for the engaging reading of Boots of Spanish Leather, the duo returned to perform one last song, for which Hannah and Ben encouraged the audience to join in, despite the song having no actual chorus. Deep Blue Sea was actually equipped with enough of an effectual refrain to encourage some communal warbling. With that, the duo rounded off another highly enjoyable night at the Greystones. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky