Luke Jackson/Nick Harper
HOOTANANNY on a busy night can be a rather unforgiving environment for a performer.
Scottish Album of The Year winner for 2013, R.M. Hubbert, recently described attempting to compete with Friday night drinkers as one of the most soul destroying experiences of his life.
There are some performers, however, who can take on a busy bar and stamp their authority with a confidence that demands attention.
That is the case with Kent songwriter Luke Jackson, who took on a busy Thursday night barroom in a manner that belied his 19-years, but helped explain his two nominations, in both the adult and youth categories, in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
A different crowd might have heard a very different set, one drawing more from his debut album, More Than Boys with its reflective songs about growing up.
Instead the circumstances demanded something a little more lively and he admitted afterwards that he enjoyed the challenge as a change from playing to all seated venues where the crowd hung on his every word.
He stepped up to the plate with an inventive crowdpleaser where the chorus of Hit The Road, Jack formed the spine of a song that cheerfully borrowed verses from anyone from Leadbelly to Mumford and Sons.
Even a broken guitar string failed to throw him.
"I don’t think that’s an important one," he said, shrugging off the mishap and pressing on with the set.
The broken string did lead him to set aside the guitar and finish the first half with an unaccompanied version of Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem, A Change is Going to Come. A bold choice for a skinny white boy, perhaps, but Jackson and his clear vocals nailed it.
Perhaps as a concession to the crowd, there were quite a few other familiar numbers in Jackson’s brief set, including the traditional Wayfaring Stranger and Man of Constant Sorrow, which might be most familiar from the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but there were enough of Jackson’s own songs to hope for a return visit in a more sympathetic environment.
Upstairs in Mad Hatters, a songwriter with a few more miles on the clock was holding court.
For some it will probably come as something of a shock that Nick Harper, son of musical maverick Roy Harper, is himself a singing veteran, sharing tales about his own grown up son’s probably more sensible career.
If Jackson’s main weapon in his musical armoury is his voice, then with Harper it just might be the guitar, performing solos that left some of his fellow players in the audience visibly green with envy.
With an entry fee at the door, Harper did not have to win over his audience in the same way as Jackson, but that did not mean he was any less passionate in his performance and being among friends also meant that he was able to relax a little and enjoy some banter with the audience.
Two superior examples of the singer-songwriter’s craft. Just a shame that music fans had to make a choice.