REVIEW: Billy Bragg & Joe Henry at New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

Billy Bragg (left) and Joe Henry on their railroad tour from Chicago to Los Angeles
Billy Bragg (left) and Joe Henry on their railroad tour from Chicago to Los Angeles

Experience some rarely played chamber pieces at Portsmouth Guildhall

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As musicians Billy Bragg and Joe Henry have clocked up nearly seventy years on the road between them. That travelling spirit inspired their recent collaborative record Shine A Light.

Recorded over four days at stops along the American railroad it explores the folk heritage of familiar traditional songs highlighting their ongoing relevance.

It’s apt then, that to tour this material, the duo have chosen equally significant venues. In my opinion Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal is notable among them, and Saturday’s show lived up to its memorable surroundings.

The set, including solo performances, was book-ended by the pair performing folk standards together. An early outing for John Henry, which has been popularised over the years by the likes of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, demonstrated the chemistry between Bragg and Henry as they put their own unique stamp on the song.

Their harmonies sounded wonderful all evening as the acoustics in the building enhanced the atmosphere and rapport they built with the crowd.

Politics and the events of recent days featured heavily in the solo moments, but it all drew together into a narrative that ultimately underlined the importance of these well travelled songs in the world we now find ourselves in.