Megson – What Are We Trying To Say?: Album Review

Megson – Debs and Stu Hanna – combine poignant storytelling with off-kilter observations on What Are We Trying To Say?

Release Date: 24th March 2023

Label: EDJ Records

Format: digital / CD

The first studio album in four years and an impossible-to-believe, thirteenth album! In disbelief, a quick check took me back to In A Box and Smoke Of Home and resulted in the startling realization of how long the duo have been around. The line of Megson CDs on the shelf confirms the fact. Doesn’t help when they look like they’re still in their teens…

Housed in Jess Morgan’s poignant artwork, What Are We Trying to Say? sees Stu and Debs finding much food for thought with the concept of ‘the media’ at the core. Both constructive and destructive forms come under scrutiny, highlighted by the need for information throughout the recent pandemic. It comes with eight Megson originals and two traditional songs and features Debs Hanna on vocals & accordion and Stu Hanna on vocals, tenor banjo, octave mandola, guitar and fiddle. Serial sessionista,  John Parker joins in on double bass.

The first video sees them declaring “Before I know it, I’ve lost a whole morning,” and “all I can do is keep scrolling.” Oh yes, a familiar feeling and typical of their trademark blend of astute observation, witty and tongue-in-cheek lyricism and ability to hang them on an alluring tune.

However, aside from the clever wordplay and irreverent views, there are darker moments. Most notably, both the title track (one that hints, not for the only time, at a Lakeman-esque riff) and the following Keeping Him On address the more salubrious side of the media topic. Check the line “watching the prince and his bride, bound to make a good story and must be something to hide.” Biting but true – but that’s the name of the game. The sprightly arrangement of the former gives way to the minor key menace in the latter; musical wolves in sheep’s clothing.

With Megson, you’re never too far from their North Eastern roots, either in the hard-to-hide dialect in their phrasing or in their reading of songs and characters from their native area. Canny Old Blind Willie reeks of Tyneside storytelling, with a stark accompaniment to the tribute cum lament to the concert hall entertainer William Purvis. It’s a touching performance given a new breath of life sourced from the 8142 Newcastle Songbook. It’s paired with The Barber’s News where discussing sea monsters in the Tyne is probably a more interesting alternative than the usual “what are you doing later?” you’ll get when sat in the hairdresser’s chair.

Anastasia And William finds them uncovering and making us aware of the fascinating story of Northumbrian news editor William Stead. An arrangement where the ring of mandolin and banjo strings or dance of accordion are forsaken in favour of a sombre double bass prominence. Resilience and determination also raise their heads – the empathy and optimism expressed in Next Year will be acknowledged by many as will the sentiment of We Are Better Than This. The latter gets a swinging acoustic guitar accompaniment and earworm – read ‘audience participation’ moment for their upcoming gigs.

And finally, on And Finally, the duo sign out in traditional News At Ten style with one of their trademark ditties inspired by randomly odd news headlines. You know the ones; Jasper Carrot used to base his stand-up on similarly bizarre insurance claims while fellow North East topical magazine, Viz Comic, has made a living from suchlike. “We just had to work ‘Psychic show cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances’ into the song,” says Stu. You couldn’t make it up. Megson prove as reliable as ever when it comes to finding a good story.

Megson online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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