Ken Nicol & Phil Cool - Guild Hall Foyer, Preston - 24/05/09

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LUGUBRIOUS - it's a word that fits Phil Cool like his face fits at a Rolf Harris lookalike convention.

Chorley chap Phil has never been Mr Showbiz. He never embraced glitz and glamour, not even when he was one of the biggest names in British entertainment - he did The Secret Policeman's Ball in '87, you know, alongside Pythons and Fry 'n' Laurie and Lenny Henry.

These days he's Mr Downbeat, the master of the woebegone, the

forlorn, edging towards dour; and seems almost surprised whenever he gets a laugh - which is odd, because he gets a lot.

"I've played both the Charter Theatre and the Guild Hall, and now I'm in the bar. A sign of the times..." he told the sizeable audience squeezed between the pillars in the Guild Hall's spacious foyer.

But this wasn't really about Phil Cool: Funny Man.

Yes, he did jokes and impressions - his "musical dyslexia" has Bob Dylan singing George Formby, and James Blunt morphing into Bluebottle from The Goons – but there are also his serious songs and guitar playing, both of which are pretty accomplished.

However, his fingerpicking is made to sound ordinary next to Preston's Ken Nicol. On his intense instrumentals, my old mate Ken spits notes and riffs and runs like a fretboard firework display, and has a wicked way with words on his own comedy numbers.

His playing touches on the blues, classical, jazz and ragtime but -

despite Ken being a member of folk-rock greats Steeleye Span - traditional folk is notably missing from the Nicol & Cool set.

Serious songs such as Confiding In Maria, about Dylan's "Judas" move from acoustic to electric, are spine-tingling ... although Phil takes the Dylan theme on to chuck in a side-splitting story of seeing Bryan Ferry murdering a Dylan song.

This comedy duo create a potent cocktail.

PHIL WIDDOWS