REVIEW: Paul Rhodes’s verdict on Son Of Town Hall, Ripon Arts Hub, December 4

Son Of Town Hall’s Ben Parker and David Berkeley at Ripon Arts Hub. Picture: Paul Rhodes

AS first impressions go, this transatlantic close-harmony duo make an almighty one.

With their well-worn schtick about being water boatmen on a junk raft, and laugh-out-loud turns between songs, they make friends and admirers easily. Fourth time around? Not so much, but even through a hungover ennui this was still life affirming.

Son Of Town Hall’s Ben Parker, from London and David Berkeley, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, are familiar winter visitors, playing before lockdown in Pickering and Grewelthorpe and York.

Yes, many of the jokes and the songs were the same and to the uninitiated sound similar, but they were delivered with such panache and obvious enjoyment that misgivings were soon swept aside. By the time the concert finished, the rain had passed and the sky was starbright and clear.

Lockdown hasn’t given the pair extra pounds, nor it seems a glut of new material. Instead, they spent the enforced down-time plotting a podcast that they have a Kickstarter campaign for. It would be great to see how their short stories develop.

“At their best, Son Of Town Hall combine their almost brotherly harmonies with the spirit and oomph of the music hall,” says Paul Rhodes. Picture: Paul Rhodes

Of the new tunes, Mutiny was a rum thing, but New Orleans was one of their finest. A tale of their love for a trapeze artist, they prefaced the song with a very amusing skit about their time as gofers for the jealous circus master.

Guilty of the charge of all sounding a bit the same, at their best, Son Of Town Hall combine their almost brotherly harmonies with the spirit and oomph of the music hall (akin to “a much-outdated ruin from a much-outdated style”, as Nick Drake once sang) but the better for ignoring the obvious.

Their one full-length record, The Adventures Of…, was featured extensively, and highlights included The Man With Two Wives and Holes In A Western Town (“sing it like you mean it,” they quipped). And sing we did under the friendly eyes of the operatic society serving at the bar.

Over one hour 45 minutes and 15 numbers, Parker and Berkeley, now recast as George Ulysses Brown and Josiah Chester Jones, spun a soaked web of intrigue and 19th-century bromance so real you could touch it.

The two are showmen, not just singer-songwriters (albeit world-class ones). Over five years into their voyage. you wonder how far they want to take it, or whether it’s all about the getting there that matters.

Review by Paul Rhodes