Wil Sargisson & Margot Pierard: Margot and Wil Time A Part
Hygge, Te Awanga; HB
Saturday, April 3
I first heard Margot Pierard and Wil Sargisson work together late last year at a house concert in Hawke’s Bay. I was blown away. Here, two world class talents took us on a journey through some of the best music with the most exquisite song-readings. I had to see them again. I’ve seen them both perform in solo settings and with different musicians but the pairing of them worked so well. Wil is the musical glue, a faultless pianist – a born musical director; encyclopedic as a pianist across soul and blues and jazz, his boogie woogie and stride background giving him the tricks to dazzle and the skills to improvise and thread together the vestiges of an evening spent traversing music from the 1930s through to nearly the present day.
Margot is a soulful singer with a brilliant voice and a spellbinding presence. She is nervous between songs, possibly anxious but when the music starts she is lost deep inside each tune. She sells the story of the song and knows the story of the music; which is to say she connects on such a level with each of the perfectly chosen pieces that she becomes an expert song-communicator. We feel the pain that drips from the words, we know the romance and the world of these songs, the poetry of the lyrics. And we see and feel (and feel like we know) the human performing them. She makes it all so real. No tricks, just heart and soul, standing barefoot on the stage to sing the life into these songs.
Hygge is a café/restaurant and venue out at Clifton Beach, Te Awanga – it was a perfect, intimate space for this show. It was in many ways, quality in particular, a repeat performance of the house concert I saw last year (part of Hawke’s Bay’s Sitting Room Sessions, which, I should add, the region is so lucky to have) but there were new songs too, including a couple of live debuts for this duo – and of course every performance is different. So staples were remade or placed differently in the setlist, new stories were then told.
Sargisson, tonight, provided most of the banter – giving biographical details of the greats they were covering, offering up some bittersweet anecdotes (Fats Waller selling songs on the cheap just to get by, becoming angry when he found out they were a hit for someone else) and generally providing the context for the music. It gave a nice shape to the evening without ever feeling like a lecture. He started the night with two solo pieces, which is a nice way to introduce a dining crowd to the musical attraction – the evening’s actual main course. And it also put his deft skills firmly in our ears and field of vision ahead of Pierard taking the stage to be the chanteuse. (We then knew the accompanist had chops galore).
I like using that word, ‘Chanteuse’. I think it correctly captures Pierard’s aims for the delivery of the song. Add in the fact that she’s a massive Nina Simone fan (clearly, we heard at least four songs by the brilliant writer and performer) and there is, shall we say, a French connection.
Speaking of Simone, the version of The Other Woman was subtly mesmerising. The lyric is like a perfect prose-poem, the reading by Sargisson and Pierard conjured stills form a black ‘n’ white movie. Devastating and gorgeous in equal measures.
Song selection is the key – and we are giving so many gems, so many reminders of the power in a song when performed in just the right way; when both musicians on stage so clearly care so very deeply about the song, rather than wanting to show off just their own skills. In this show we couldn’t ever lose sight (or sound) of how brilliant both Pierard and Sargisson are but it was never at the expense of the song, always in fact in tribute to it and in full service of the music.
So we heard Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Feeling Good also from the pen of Nina Simone, we heard one of the best versions I’ve experienced of Billie Holiday’s immortal God Bless The Child. It’s a tune so oft-covered, but because of that fact it’s sometimes hard for a new version to even make any dent. We were treated to perennials such as Black Coffee and the wonderful I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, perhaps best known by many for its Blood Sweat & Tears rendition, but this duo took it more towards the place where Donny Hathaway liked to drape it, slower, deeper, and in keeping with the theme of so many of the songs favoured by this duo, darker.
The ribald Everybody’s Fucking But Me (which I know from the Durwood Douce version, basically a Marlene Dietrich torch-song parody) was introduced as being potentially a bit risky, a bit inappropriate. The audience waited – and waited – to find anything other than a humourous lyric, a clever song and yet another beautiful performance. No shock value for this crowd. Just lapping up the great songs and skill. And enjoying the edge when presented.
Two hours of exquisite, perfectly pitched music flew by – so many of the best ballads you could ever hope to hear. And then, the evening’s closer was Lately by Stevie Wonder. Everything was superb about this. Firstly, just a great song. Secondly, it’s nice to hear one of Wonder’s great ballads (I don’t need to ever hear another cover act strangle Superstition into vague submission) and I also love hearing a singer take on a song without changing the gender. Songs are written in stone. The lyrics at least. They are stories. We pass down stories. You inhabit the role, you deliver the words. You live in the song in the moment while it exists, become the character in it or share the worldview and philosophy of the song – with a nod to its original writer. Pierard and Sargisson know this skill, and it can’t be taught, you have to know it, learn it yourself – they know it as well as anyone I’ve ever watched delivering songs.
This was a sublime evening – yet again – from a perfectly matched duo. Justice in this country would see them on bigger stages, more often, for everyone.
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