- George Monbiot
- & Ewan McLennan
- The North Wall, Summertown
How does this sound as way to spend your Friday night: a Guardian columnist talking about issues of loneliness, while a folk singer riffs along earnestly with songs about isolation and alienation?
Granted, it sounds about as much fun as a wet night out in the suburbs (which, is exactly what it was – albeit a very nice suburb), but George Monbiot and Ewan McLennan’s collaboration was uplifting, engaging and, perhaps most surprising of all, full of laughter.
The show, Breaking the Spell of Loneliness, sprang from an album of the same name, made in response to an article written by George.
George, who lives in Oxford’s Rose Hill (and is best known as a swashbuckling environmental campaigner, champion of wildlife and indigenous people and fervent opponent of global capitalism), had a life changing experience while queueing up for a packet of screws in an Oxford hardware shop. While standing in the queue he became impatient with a lady in front of him who seemed intent on telling her whole life story to the shop assistant.
On leaving, George realised she may have been intolerably lonely, and that the exchange in the shop was her only contact with other people that day – and he felt guilty. It inspired a poem, which, after hooking up with Ewan, of whom he had been a fan, became a ballad.
That song, These Four Walls, was among the highlights of a mellow evening, which saw Ewan performing tunes from the LP, on guitar, banjo and unaccompanied (“it’s a folk concert; you didn’t think you’d get away without one unaccompanied song, did you?” he laughed), interspersed with George’s delicious unscripted banter.
Ewan’s delivery is crisp and his lyrics clear and pointed without feeling preachy. His warm Scottish accent added warmth and texture, aided by the venue’s pin-drop acoustics. The cosy North Wall was the perfect venue for a show of this nature and content.
It culminated, horror or horrors, with George getting us to do our own bit to break down barriers by introducing ourselves to the strangers around us. How un-English, uncomfortable – and fun!
TIM HUGHES 5/5