BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST – The West End Centre, Aldershot – 15th December 2011

There are some people who don’t get Belshazzar’s Feast. One on-line reviewer wrote: “they humorously shamble their way through a mix of traditional and original tunes, only using the minimum energy required to play their instruments. Mistakes are laughed off and forgiven by the friendly crowd. There’s no bells and whistles here, just two blokes with an extraordinary quantity of facial hair playing some decent tunes.”

For the record Paul Sartin and Paul Hutchinson are excellent musicians. It takes great skill to play as badly as they do on demand and snap back without losing the thread, morphing one tune into another. They proved the point with their first set of Playford tunes which incorporated their deliberately atrocious version of ‘Hunt The Squirrel’ – a tune they got bored with playing night after night on tour. By this time Paul Hutchinson had managed to insult people from Suffolk, the French, the Germans and the Irish – par for the course.

Contrast this with ‘The Cherry Tree Carol’ where Hutchinson produces such a delicate sound from his big piano accordion behind Sartin’s vocals. Then he drops in a deliberate false note, a C# against D, which jolts you out of your reverie before the oboe comes in sounding rather middle-eastern and mysterious. This being December, they drew heavily on their repertoire of carols and I have to say that the first half was rather downbeat at the end.

The second set was rather jollier with ‘Beethoven’s First Piano Accordion Concerto For Oboe’ as its highlight. Other sets started out as sensible tunes but then ran the gamut of music hall songs, carols, ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘White Christmas’. Their final number was the Swedish/Portuguese ‘Hashbaz’ (don’t ask) which produced as dazzling as display of fingerwork as you could wish for. Yes, there was comedy, but there was also some wonderful music.

Dai Jeffries

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