Review: Ian McNabb, Selby Town Hall, June 1

PLAYING with fire in his soul, Ian McNabb was, in every sense, in a good place in Selby on Saturday.

Having skirted the jagged edges of fame in the Eighties with the Icicle Works, then gained solo plaudits for his Crazy Horse collaboration, Head Like A Rock, his subsequent albums have never reached beyond a passionate few.

Having treated a sold-out Liverpool O2 to a three-hour tour de force with the Icicle Works the previous weekend, here he was back into his never-ending tour, on his tod in Selby (he joked, truthfully, that his crew were in the pub watching the football). Fortunately, Selby turned out to be a modest hotbed of McNabb fans, and not for a moment did this feel like a throwaway gig.

McNabb walked on stage playing his harmonica and didn’t let up for nearly two and a half hours and 22 songs. The sound balance was wonderful, and McNabb looked like he could take on all comers.

Vocally, he was magnificent and, as ever, funny between and during songs. His scruffy charm, mimicry and self-deprecating humour have all been polished over the decades.

On stage, he was in complete control. The solo format showed the strength of the material and McNabb filled the stage. He may have pressed the audience chorus button once too often, but this was a night where his music shone out.

It was a well-chosen selection from past and present. Like his fellow Liverpudlian, Mick Head, from Shack, McNabb’s songs are probably compulsory listening in some better parallel place.

As a songwriter McNabb has drunk deeply from the likes of The Beatles, Neil Young and Jacques Brel. If this debt is occasionally writ too large (Star Smile Strong’s Carabella is too swept up in Dylan and Our Future In Space is Costello clever but annoying), he has produced more than his fair share of gems.

Liverpool Girl was wit and melody; Love Is A Wonderful Colour all burning Norwegian wood and pluming choruses; Understanding Jane was so much more than just a Squeeze (number). The recent Making Silver Sing escaped its 10CC piano to strike deep into the heart; a more reflective style.

In his element, and with the stars in alignment, McNabb may yet become the godfather of song. In this form, hope springs eternal.