A Song For the Week: I Hate To See You Cry

For those of you unfamiliar with the name Alan Hull, you might recognise him as a member of the legendary Newcastle band, Lindisfarne. The group experienced significant commercial and critical success for a few years in the early Seventies, after which they recorded occasionally while maintaining a consistent presence as one of the best live bands in the country. Hull sang lead on many of their songs and was the band’s principal songwriter. He wrote such standards as Lady Eleanor, We Can Swing Together and their paean to their home town of Newcastle, Fog on the Tyne.

From 1973 until his death in 1995, Hull recorded several solo albums. The first of these was called “Pipedream” and was released in 1973, at a time when Lindisfarne’s future was far from certain.

Although Hull had Lindisfarne colleagues Ray Laidlaw and Ray Jackson on board to help record the album, the sound of Pipedream is slightly removed from that of a typical Lindisfarne record. It is typical of Hull, however, with plenty of humour, pathos and sharp social commentary.

There are several standout tracks, but I want to focus on the album’s final song, the elegiac “I Hate to See You Cry”.

Alan Hull always had a tremendous spirit of empathy – witness one of his best Lindisfarne songs, “Winter Song” – and on this song, it is full to overflowing.

Songs like this are often labelled spare, with few lyrics and minimal instrumentation. This is somewhat of a disservice to Hull, as there is a depth and fullness here that is striking to say the least, and for me it is utterly compelling.

There is no real chorus, but the same key lines run through the song, expressing a growing sense of helplessness. At the same time, the repetition almost acts as a mantra, as if in repeating these lines the writer might see the answer hidden within them:

I hate to see you cry, makes the sun desert the sky
Makes my dreams all run dry, can’t tell you why.”

It would be easy to interpret the song as the tale of a fragile relationship, or of one in decline.

To me however, it is simply someone offering a hand or heart to another in desperate need. It doesn’t really matter who that is, or why, only that we hear the cry for help and the genuinely human, compassionate response.

At times the lyrics are truly heartbreaking:

“Lying still and white, your face illuminates the night
Your tears are crying out for light
Everything will be, everything will be alright.”

Hull worked for a time as a nurse in a mental hospital, and although it was never confirmed by Hull, one could easily see a reference here to an anguished soul being comforted and reassured of an end to their pain.

Hull sings the song simply and with minimal accompaniment, the piano sounding like something played in some long forgotten parlour or corner pub. Alan Hull had one of those imperfect voices that could make you laugh one moment and break your heart the next. He never had the range of a Richard Manuel, but like Manuel he seemed almost to pour his heart and soul into every note. Nothing was left in reserve. When Hull’s voice breaks singing the word “sun” one can almost imagine him sitting there playing and singing directly to his subject. There is a touch of grace and humanity in his voice that is truly uplifting, and moving beyond words.

Hull was a truly gifted musician and he deserves wider recognition for his immense talent. I hope that if, like me, you make a connection with this song, then you’ll be tempted to explore his music a little further. Trust me – you won’t be disappointed.

5 thoughts on “A Song For the Week: I Hate To See You Cry

  1. I had not heard of Alan Hall either. But being in Sicily we are a bit cut out from the rest of the world. Thank heavens for the internet! And for Ryan Airways, which has put Trapani on the map! We now get visitors from all over Europe, we’re getting “modernized”:)

    • Ah, Ryan Air. I remember them from when I lived in the UK some years ago. I must admit I didn’t know Trapani until I looked it up online. Sounds idyllic, hope things aren’t too modernised! Glad I could introduce someone else to Alan Hull, great music deserves to be shared.

  2. Never heard of him, but I love it. Catchy and vulnerable. I’m glad you pointed out the “imperfect” voice, and that they had the courage to leave those imperfections in the actual recording. It really brings out the emotion. Have you heard of Davey VonBohlen? He sings for a band called Maritime (who I greatly recommend), and used to sing for a band called The Promise Ring (before “emo” became “Emo”). He has that same type of voice that is not classically great, but is expressive and endearing. Which do you prefer more, Hull solo or Lindisfarne?

    • Cheers, Dana. Haven’t heard of Davey or those bands but will take a listen. Always on the lookout for interesting music, it is always interesting to note where the emotion comes from, it can be quite surprising sometimes. I love the first 2 Lindisfarne albums, they’re more consistent than Hull’s solo output, but Hull was very much the star of the show for me regardless. Haven’t heard the word Emo used for a while. I always thought a lot of bands got unfairly lumped with that tag!

      • Yeah, “emo” became something ridiculous, but was never even really a fair term to begin with. I’ll try out Lindisfarne for sure. I think you should try the Maritime album “We, the Vehicles.” Thanks for the reply!

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