An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, 5 August 2008
THE BEAUTY of An Tobar is that if you live on Mull, or are even just there for a few days, chances are you’ll get to hear something special when you least expect it. And, what’s more, you’ll hear it close-up in an environment that city venues would find hard to beat.
There are some artists so perfectly suited to An Tobar it’s almost as if the venue was built around them, and Jo Mango is one. The story goes that one of her CDs had found its way to An Tobar some time ago and had become such a favourite in the café that a live appearance was becoming a must.
I too was handed a promo at Celtic Connections three years ago, and still play it, so here were many worlds aligning perfectly. Of course that’s not uncommon on Mull, nor is it I suspect all that unusual in the magical constellation of Mango.
I’m going to avoid comparisons to describe the Jo Mango sound, though it’s no surprise she has collaborated with Vashti Bunyan and is a contemporary of one of Glasgow’s most melodic and innovative bands, Zoey Van Goey. Her voice is stunning, her songs are deeply poetic and moving, and she clearly just lives and breathes music like no other.
But it’s the compelling aura of quirky innocence and fun that sets Jo Mango and her band apart from many, many others. It took two songs for me to get it and, truth be told, at first I wasn’t even sure I liked it. Then, by ‘The Moth And The Moon’, I loved it, it being a kind of story book world that gradually beguiles you and washes away any weary cynicism that may somehow or other have crept into the room un-noticed.
Band members are introduced as Jim Mango, Calum Mango and Alan Mango. Only Jim is really a Mango, but clearly in tonight’s context they all are, and between songs we hear about some of their adventures – like the time Jim got Jo some caterpillars for her birthday and the day the kitchen caught fire.
They take a fascinating array of magic instruments with them on their travels too: harmonium, concertina, kalimba, a toy piano and a white electronic autoharp called an omnichord. Apparently you don’t get omnichords these days, but as Jo says, “that’s probably because we don’t live in the eighties anymore, though I like to think that’s not true.”
I can just hear an earnest presenter on Tomorrow’s World declare: one day, all autoharps will be played like this.
The band Mangos don’t play all the time, often sitting patiently and quietly waiting for their turn to join in, and when they do it counts. None attempt to dazzle with virtuosity, what they do is sympathetic and the right thing for the song with an appropriate, tasteful eccentricity.
Certainly a poignant version of Tom Waits ‘Innocent When You Dream’ sums up the mood, but there is depth to this world of theirs as ‘Waltz With Me’ and ‘Black Sun’ more than hint at, both great songs superbly done. And just in case I’ve overdone the whimsical story book thing, have a look at Jo’s web site and consider some of her very considerable achievements in recent years. This is a serious artist by any definition.
Big mentions also to opener Ben TD, a young Australian singer song-writer now resident in Glasgow with a refreshing take on subtle, reflective lyrics and sure handed acoustic guitar. A combination of finely crafted songs and engaging personality is likely to win Ben many fans in coming months and we’re certain to hear more of him.
© John Saich, 2008