Review: Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson at the Queen’s Head, Belper

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By Ed Sills

It’s a Saturday night and those who survived the first BBQ’s of the year have turned outto watch Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson with support from Chris Butler.

Folk-punk protester Chris Butler, armed with only his acoustic guitar and threechords, touched on a wide range of political issues with songs like ‘The Seagull and theSkinhead’, ‘The World According To Bono’ and crowd pleaser ‘Celebrity Bus Crash’.

It’seasy to be downbeat about protest songs, but in a world where many people live feelingvoiceless and powerless, who can blame Chris and his fellow compatriots for speakingout against injustice.

Never keeping things too heavy the songwriter always manages toinject a good dose of humour into his gigs, delivering his lyrics with great comedy timingand honesty.

Most people here, though, were waiting to see Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson,formerly of Re-entrants fame.

Now you may be mistaken for thinking that two middleaged bald guys playing the ukulele would be boring, but that’s where you’d be wrong.

From the introduction of their scoreboard of mistakes to Ian’s serenading of a certainlady in the room, the banter with the audience throughout kept the mainly instrumentalset from ever getting too introspective.

Starting with ‘The Re-entrants Rag’ the duo then deftly flicked between different genreswith Django Reinhardt’s ‘Limehouse Blues’ and the up-tempo folk of ‘Fetch the Biscuits

Barbara’. Mistake board aside,

Ian and Phil played their ukuleles at a virtuoso level thatwas often jaw droppingly fast and made you question how fingers that big could moveso dextrously on such a tiny instrument; the pinnacle of the display being when Phil, ‘theGyles Brandreth of the ukulele’, played a solo of ‘Beauty Is But A Painted Hell’ by the16th Century composer Thomas Campion.

Ian definitely had the patter and only in a Sunderland accent could you get away withsaying ‘I can’t stand audiences, but you’re alright, you’re beautiful,’ as he did duringa break between songs. His ‘Fair To Middlin’’ was a standout track for me, set to thelaidback fingerpicking sound of both a guitar and a ukulele, Ian’s voice just glided over itas he sang his wry ode to mediocrity.

Near the end, a medley of the hornpipe themes from ‘Blue Peter’ and ‘CaptainPugwash’ were turned into a round and then the duo finished the evening with acheeky cover of Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe through the Tulips’, ‘Piper’s Frustration’ and the jazzstandard ‘Honeysuckle Rose’.

Instrumental heavy sets might not be for everyone, but tonight’s show proved that Ianand Phil’s new, rootsy direction is surely one worth sticking with.