Stu and Debbie Hanna, the married duo from Teeside known as Megson, have been charming the British folk scene for nearly 10 years now. Their music always sounds as though it is sung from the heart, even on the traditional numbers that make up part of their repertoire. Over three albums, Megson have won acclaim (and awards) by taking old music and making it sound new, fresh and relevant. So perhaps it’s not surprising that after taking a year off when their daughter Lola Wren was born, they have returned with an album of old and new children’s folk songs.
The idea might sound twee, but the resulting album is surprisingly full of light and shade. There are references to drunkenness in “Dance To Your Daddy” (a piece that dates back to 1840), while the Megson-penned “All The Shops Have Fallen Down,” is about how the local shops on our high streets have been replaced by chains.
But there’s also the absurd joy of “Baby & the Band,” the soft lullaby refrain of “Bee-o,” and the rough and tumble of “Jenny Jenkins.” No children’s album would be complete without a riddle song and the one here (“The Riddle Song”) is a tender little teaser that dates back to 1430. “Oats & Beans & Barley Grow” is a fiddle-led hoedown, complete with a seed-shaker backing beat, while “My Father’s Farm” is a possibly a variation on “Old MacDonald.”
There’s genuine joy in every performance, as the two voices wind around each other playfully over a collection of acoustic instruments, from mandolin to shruti box. When I Was a Lad brims with childlike energy and joy. It’s children’s music for grown-ups, too.