A Song For The Week: The Sea

The Sea

When Fotheringay’s self-titled album was released in 1970, Sandy Denny was already arguably the pre-eminent British folk singer of the time. Denny had spent the best part of the last three years with Fairport Convention, contributing to some of the finest folk music ever recorded. Their albums ‘Unhalfbricking’ and ‘Liege and Lief’, both from 1969, are benchmarks in folk rock that have few equals.

By the time Liege and Lief was completed, Denny had felt it was time to move on from Fairport Convention. Liege and Lief featured more traditional tunes than previous albums, and while Sandy loved these songs, she had spent the last five years singing other people’s songs and was keen to explore new territory. Denny had already shown glimpses of her burgeoning songwriting skills, in particular the exquisite and oft-covered ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’. A solo career beckoned, but Denny wasn’t quite finished with life in a band.

The band Fotheringay was named after Denny’s song of the same name on Fairport Convention’s ‘What We Did On Our Holidays’ album, which was in itself inspired by Fotheringay Castle. The band was made up of Denny, Trevor Lucas, Gerry Conway, Jerry Donahue and Pat Donaldson. While a genuine band, Fotheringay was very much Denny’s vehicle, and as such she contributes four of the eight tracks on their debut (and only) album. She also co-wrote ‘Peace in the End’ with Trevor Lucas.

‘Fotheringay’ is a stunning album and a great leap forward for Sandy Denny as a songwriter. Two tracks stand out amongst the albums many gems, both written by Denny. ‘Nothing More’ is one of the best songs Sandy would ever write, but for me it is ‘The Sea’ that remains Fotheringay’s crowning achievement.

Fotheringay

Photo: Linda Fitzgerald-Moore

For the most part, ‘The Sea’ conveys a sense of raw and beautiful power, the ocean as an enigmatic but undeniable force. Denny wrote the song in the first person, so the singer becomes the sea, embodying its mysterious nature. The words often tease, test and taunt us:

“Do you ever wonder? You don’t know

You’ll never follow and I’ll never show”

And later:

“You laugh at me on funny days, but mine’s the sleight of hand

Don’t you know I’m a joker, a deceiver”

Sandy’s songs often have a distinctly autumnal tone, warm remembrances of the best of times, but always an awareness of how happiness can be fleeting and often elusive.

This autumnal quality is best heard in Sandy Denny’s voice. Sandy’s voice had a strength and purity that would overflow with such life-affirming joy, and at the same time expressed a vulnerability that could be heartbreaking but was always extraordinarily touching.

We see both of these sides of Sandy in ‘The Sea’:

“Time? What is that? I’ve no time to care.

I’ve lived for a long while nearly everywhere”

Sandy sings of time as if she has the wisdom of one who has an eternity of memories to call upon, and the joy and abandon of one who constantly lives in the moment. In the next line we are reminded of the inevitability of our own mortality:

“You will be taken, everyone

All you ladies and you gentlemen”

What could have been a dark and damning portent is transformed by Denny’s voice – she sings of ‘you ladies and you gentlemen’ with a warmth and gentleness that is calming beyond measure.

We see these counterpoints throughout the song, an ebb and flow that reflects the mystery of the sea and how it can overwhelm us whilst cradling us to its heart at the same time.

I feel I should also highlight Jerry Donahue’s wonderful guitar on this recording. His playing complements Denny’s voice with a wonderful clarity.

Here is Sandy speaking of the song to Melody Maker in 1970:

“Whenever I sing The Sea I think about a particular beach in Wales where I sat late at night, rather sad, a long time ago when I was about 18. It was almost like watching Cinerama as the sun went down.

“I began to think how powerful the sea was, and I even got a little morbid, thinking about what it would be like to swim out and just drown.

“The sea seemed to become a sort of person, like a mind, and that’s what I have tried to convey, the power of the sea.”

As sad as this memory is, I understand the sentiment. For so many of us, modern life acts to distance us from nature. When we are lucky enough to experience moments where we do feel connected to the natural world, it can sometimes be an overwhelming experience. I think that is what Sandy experienced that day and later expressed in her song. We know that such beauty and power can be destructive, but we are drawn to it nonetheless, seeking a connection to something elemental and even spiritual in essence.

There is a timeless quality to ‘The Sea’ which I think is apparent in so much of Sandy’s music. The song is now 43 years old, but it sounds like it could have been written yesterday, or a hundred years ago. I still listen to the song a lot, and I sometimes imagine Sandy sitting on that beach in Wales all those years ago. She is sometimes smiling or laughing and often sad, but always, always singing.

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After The Thrill is Gone: A History of The Eagles

The Eagles“It wasn’t for the money, at least it didn’t start that way” – Certain Kind of Fool

It has been said many times that history is written by the winners. After watching “History of The Eagles” you would be forgiven for thinking that you’d been watching the Glenn and Don Show. Looks like we have a winner – make that two. This history isn’t so much written as smashed in your face and rammed down your throat. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Eagles, in fact I’ve been a fan since I was 15, a good 25 years now. This just wasn’t the story I was expecting or hoping to see. What I saw was The Eagles as viewed by the band’s all-conquering leaders, Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Part of me gets this and accepts it. The band is a different entity now, perhaps it needed to change to survive. Frey and Henley took the band to its greatest commercial success, so perhaps they are entitled to present the band’s story their way.

As a fan however, this is a big and bitter pill to swallow. In the 25 years that I have listened to The Eagles I have come to realise that my appreciation and perception of them has changed completely. The band I loved initially is the one you see in the doco, an endless supply of hooks, harmonies and monstrous hits. As I got older however, and my musical palette broadened, I started to appreciate a different side to The Eagles. I went back to those first three albums and found a band with four then five more or less equal parts, all adding great musicianship to terrific songcraft. Yes, they weren’t perfect, they were still learning. I liked that they weren’t perfect, and I liked that the band members were all different – it made them much more interesting, and gave much more breadth and variety to their songwriting.

My favourite of these early albums was their third release, “On the Border”, from 1974. Unfortunately, all we really learn of this period is the introduction of Don Felder to the band. The first two albums get a little more coverage, most of the focus being the band’s lukewarm relationship with producer Glyn Johns. Frey in particular clashed with Johns over what the band’s sound should be. Johns saw The Eagles as perfectly suited to country rock, with the emphasis very much on a laid-back country vibe. Frey thought The Eagles could and should be far more rock n’ roll. Frey does his best Johns impression when quoting the producer: “You’re not a rock n’ roll band. The Who is a rock n’ roll band, and you’re not that”. Johns may not have been the right fit for The Eagles but he did produce two terrific albums with them and I think he was right in this instance. For all their twin guitar attack during the peak of their success, no one ever labelled them as a great rock n’ roll band. At worst, they created or at least perpetuated what became known as ‘corporate rock’.

The best example of the Johns period is the performance at the BBC in 1973. It is fascinating to watch the group dynamic during this performance. Frey and Henley had yet to exert control over the band, and to a casual observer it would be easy to think that Bernie Leadon was the band’s leader. Leadon’s musicianship is astonishing and he shows it off to the full, and in doing so he often pushes the sullen Frey into the background. Not surprisingly, we see very little of this footage in History of The Eagles. We see very little of Leadon at all, and even less of Randy Meisner. Leadon at least gets to tell the story of how he left the band, telling Frey he needed to ‘chill out’ and then proceeding to aid him in this by emptying his beer over Frey’s head. Leadon then goes on to say how it may not have been the best way to make his point…bet you enjoyed it though, Bernie.

Meisner is seen even less than Leadon, and again most of his air time relates to his exit from the band. Like Leadon, Meisner had seen the power shift within the band, and the day to day demands of being an Eagle finally got to him. Meisner never really got his due, both as a singer and songwriter. As great as songs like “Hotel California” and “Desperado” are, if The Eagles have one genuine masterpiece then it is surely “Take It To The Limit”, and no one could sing it like Randy. Sadly, when he finally got his moment in the spotlight, it all became too much for him. Every show became like Russian roulette when it came to the song. Apparently Randy felt he couldn’t always pull off the high note at the end of the song and would sometimes refuse to sing it. To be fair to Frey and Henley, I can’t blame them for pushing Randy on this. Many people, myself included, would have gone to one of their shows for that song alone. Hell, he could have sung that one note and I would have been happy. To play a set without “Take It To The Limit” would have been unthinkable and unacceptable.

Once we get to the Hotel California phase you can begin to see the writing on the wall. Joe Walsh, bless him, arrives and tries to loosen up proceedings. In this respect he has more success off-stage than on, but you can’t blame him for trying. For all the fun he had partying with the likes of Keith Moon, the toll it has taken is clear in his interview. For all that, Joe is thankfully still with us, unlike Keith.

With The Eagles back catalogue now available on Spotify, I took the opportunity to have another listen to the Hotel California album. What struck me was how heavy and bombastic much of the album sounds. When I finally got to Randy Meisner’s lovely “Try and Love Again” I almost felt like a drowning man getting a reprieve. It is a wonderful breath of fresh air, a reminder of what the band had once been. I still love listening to the song “Hotel California”, but mainly for the intro and Felder’s solo at the end. Felder’s playing was integral to so much of The Eagles sound, it is hard to imagine the band without him.

The film moves from the party days of Hotel California to the decline of the band during the production and promotion of “The Long Run”. Timothy B Schmit replaces Meisner, and contributes probably the best and certainly the coolest song on The Long Run with “I Can’t Tell You Why”. By this point Felder was very much on the outer with Henley and Frey. Things come to a head during one performance, and we get to hear Frey and Felder posturing and mouthing off between songs. By this stage it is fair to say that everyone is beginning to look like an asshole and you can see why Leadon and Meisner wanted to get off this ride.

Part Two of History of The Eagles continues the Glenn and Don show. To be honest, I was surprised that a Part Two was even necessary. What takes 3 hours could have been covered in 30 minutes, an hour at most. Instead we have to sit through Frey and Henley’s sporadic solo output in the ’80s. We even get clips of Frey’s ‘acting career’. Really, Glenn? It was Miami Vice – enough said. From there we get a 2 hour view of a 20 year victory lap. We see more of Don and Glenn and less of everyone else, except for the third musketeer and partner in crime, Irving Azoff.

The one point of interest in Part Two is the firing of Don Felder. In essence, Don thought his value to the band wasn’t being recognised. Frey and Henley thought otherwise. Frey and Henley won and Felder was gone. Don was always going to lose this battle, he was fighting for a place in an Eagles that ceased to exist around 1975. Most bands don’t have a democratic set-up, and The Eagles were no different. What is sad in this instance is that it is clear this was a business decision, not a musical one. Frey almost sounds triumphant when speaking of it – another win for Eagles Inc. Conversely, Felder (almost in tears at one point) clearly misses the music and yes, the people too.

When did The Eagles become a business instead of a band? I’m sure Frey and Henley would argue that it is still about the music, but anyone who has listened to “Long Road Out of Eden” would know better. Henley and Frey sound (and in Frey’s case look) increasingly like corporate fat cats. It is suggested at one point during History of The Eagles that The Eagles wanted to be Crosby, Stills and Nash. I can certainly imagine Frey and Henley wanting to be like ‘Captain Manyhands’, Stephen Stills. Stills’ personality, talent and ego dominated CSN, but Stills would never have been as effective without the counterbalance of Graham Nash, a calming influence and a mediator. The Eagles never really had someone who could fill this role, and in my opinion, as a band they paid for it dearly.

Perhaps one day we’ll see a more balanced history of The Eagles, but I don’t expect to see it anytime soon. In the meantime, History of The Eagles is what we will have to take, albeit with a rather large grain of salt. I’ll finish with a reminder of how wonderful Frey and Henley could be and perhaps an omen of what they would become:

Same dances in the same old shoes
Some habits that you just can’t lose
There’s no telling what a man might use,
After the thrill is gone

The flame rises but it soon descends
Empty pages and a frozen pen
You’re not quite lovers and you’re not quite friends
 After the thrill is gone

What can you do when your dreams come true
And it’s not quite like you planned?
What have you done to be losing the one
You held it so tight in your hand well

Time passes and you must move on,
Half the distance takes you twice as long
So you keep on singing for the sake of the song
After the thrill is gone

You’re afraid you might fall out of fashion
And you’re feeling cold and small
Any kind of love without passion
That ain’t no kind of lovin’ at all, well

Same dances in the same old shoes
You get too careful with the steps you choose
you don’t care about winning but you don’t want to lose
After the thrill is gone

One of Frey and Henley’s best and most underrated songs. The truth laid bare.

One of the hidden gems on the Desperado album. Leadon’s playing on this is sublime – turn up the volume from about 4.20 to see what I mean.

A beautiful breakdown of Felder’s playing on “Hotel California”. If you don’t think Felder is essential to The Eagles sound, watch this and imagine someone else playing it.

Randy’s finest moment, and The Eagles’ true masterpiece. If you’re looking for ‘the note’, again, go to around 4.20

A Song For the Week: Sail Away

Sail Away 02I had three songs in mind for this post. Strangely enough, they share a common theme – the sea. Being a New Zealander (and an Aucklander in particular) I have spent most of my life surrounded by the ocean. In this instance however, what draws me to these songs is the response it elicits from songwriters and musicians alike. On one level or another we all still have a strong connection to elemental forms, and water is as potent an element as any. It is therefore no surprise that so many artists have tapped into this universal wellspring.

I will come to the other songs in due course, but I want to focus this week on “Sail Away” by Rick Roberts. Sail Away appears on Rick Roberts’ debut solo album, “Windmills”, released in 1972. Roberts was fresh from his time with The Flying Burrito Brothers, where he had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of Gram Parsons. Roberts brought more of a folk rock sound to the Burritos, further removed from the group’s country roots which Parsons had founded the band upon. While the band began to fade, Roberts was coming into his own both as a writer and performer.

“Windmills” has a very relaxed feel, as if everyone involved was simply playing music for the sheer enjoyment of it. The songs and performances are all the better for it. There are a number of superlative tracks, but for me “Sail Away” is the standout song. Roberts tells his story as if it was an old fashioned folk tale, giving the song an authentic touch almost without the listener realising it.

“Sail Away” is a love letter but also a farewell. Stories of the sea often tell of sailors and the choices they make between the love of a woman and the lure of the sea. The scene is a departure – hard decisions have been made, final farewells are being said. It is a gentle parting, both the man and woman trying to spare the other’s feelings:

Still he tells her it is not goodbye,                                                                                       She knows he is only trying to spare the sorrow of the word goodbye                                So she in turn spares him her crying

And if she feels the pain, it cannot be seen

The pace of the song captures the feel of the ship and the ocean. One can easily hear the guitar, drums and piano acting as ship, sea and wind. There is a deliberate pace and movement that mimics the ship’s departure on rolling seas. Roberts’ guitar is soothing, almost hypnotic in its rhythm.

Both sailor and lady stand helpless, watching their lives drift apart. The reverie is only broken by the lady’s desperate plea:

Man of the ocean, man of the sea                                                                                      She said ‘Do you ever dream of me?’

Almost as if in response to this, our sailor turns his focus to his duties and his gaze to the horizon, away from her:

So hoist the mainsail boys, I think it’s time we were away                                                  The wind is coming up, the tide is turning on the wave                                                        The sailor bends his back and shuts his eyes                                                                      All his dreams now are fading

Roberts is careful to emphasise key words as a reflection of the mood – ‘sorrow’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘(fading) dreams’ appear several times. Both protagonists finally accept their parting with grace, if not a touch of regret. Roberts gives both a moment of realisation and finality:

All his dreams now are fading                                                                                                   It’s not the last time he will say goodbye                                                                               He turns his back on the lady

And for her:

So she vows there’ll be no sorrow                                                                                      And if she feels the pain, it cannot be seen                                                                     There’ll be another ship tomorrow

As if to affirm the courage of their convictions, Roberts sings for each a touching, achingly beautiful “So sail away“. All energies are now lent to departure:

Sail away, sail away, sail away!

The wind rises and Jane Getz’s gorgeous piano carries us to the horizon and beyond.

“Sail Away” is given greater poignancy by the fact that it was born out of experience. The song was inspired by Rick Roberts’ relationship with Michelle Wood, whom he met in Amsterdam. The album title “Windmills” was also inspired by her, and such is the impact she had on Rick, the album is dedicated to Michelle.

I like to call songs like “Sail Away” intimate epics – it tells a moving and extremely personal story on a stage of great breadth and majesty. Roberts wrote many great songs (including the wonderful ‘Colorado’) and went on to terrific success later in the decade with Firefall, but I don’t believe he wrote a better song than “Sail Away”. It is a beautifully written song, and for me, a masterpiece.

                                                                                        

Remembering Pete

Pete Ham

Photo: Barry Plummer

But don’t you worry you love of ours,

They look like weeds but they’re really flowers

And they’ll soon be gone

– Dennis

This Saturday April 27th will mark Pete Ham’s 66th birthday. All birthdays are special, but this one has extra significance as Pete will be honoured in his home town of Swansea with the unveiling of a special heritage blue plaque at the Swansea Railway Station on Ivey Place. There will also be a tribute concert that night honouring Pete as well as The Iveys and Badfinger, featuring former members of both bands, notably Ron Griffiths, David Jenkins and Bob Jackson.

Like most of his many fans I can’t be there to celebrate Pete, so I thought I might write a few words of appreciation to try and show what Pete’s music means to me. What started out as a few words of thanks grew into something bigger, as it alway does when I write about something that is so personal to me.

The profound impact of Pete Ham’s music upon me was instantaneous. There was no gradual appreciation of his songs through repeated listenings. Many of the musicians I have come to love or admire have taken time to move beyond the head to the heart. This is almost impossible with Pete. His music is so direct and so personal that it is like giving the listener an ultimatum – let me into your heart or let me go. It is essentially that simple for me, there is no middle ground.

The lines that begin this piece are from the song “Dennis”. I chose these lines because for me they capture a feeling that runs through all of Pete’s music. The first line is comforting, reassuring. One of the great strengths of Pete’s writing is his tremendous sense of empathy. There is never any hint of a lack of conviction, and because of this there is always a solidity to his songs, a defined and constant backbone.

The second line reflects the beauty that Pete saw in the world – there was always light amongst the darkness. This darkness was ever present, however. The tone of the final line “And they’ll soon be gone” is a constant in Pete’s songs. I would call it autumnal, but it is almost too ominous to give it such a gentle label. It is almost as if these songs are bursting with life but so fleeting that they move from summer to winter without skipping a beat. You would be forgiven for thinking that all of these shadows would cast a pall of gloom over the music, but Pete never allows things to go that far. If there is a dark edge to these songs it is the prettiest darkness, deep and rich; warm not cold.

If there is one song that shows this best, it is “We’re For the Dark”. It is my favourite song of Pete’s, and I have come to realise, is my favourite song, full stop.

Tell me the day and I’ll set you free, what you wanna be
Show me the way and I’ll let you see what you do to me
Well, it’s not enough to live
If you’re gonna take, then you have to give
We’re for the dark, baby, you and I

As always there is a great unknown in that dark, but that is the point, and what makes the adventure worthwhile. When Pete sings “We’re for the dark, baby you and I”, you feel like behind that he is saying ‘and that’s OK if I’m with you’, that life is full of ups and downs, light and dark, that it is human to feel this way. At times Pete can come across as an Everyman, which may be a bit of an unfair label. Perhaps it is better to call his music Human, in the best sense of the word – heartfelt and genuinely compassionate.

I remember hearing Levon Helm speaking of the late, great Richard Manuel. He spoke of how Richard would raise a glass and say ‘Spend it all’. There were no half measures with Richard, and you heard that in his singing. He put himself on the line to make great music, and it came at a cost. But what music. You will never hear anything so beautiful and heartbreaking as Richard singing “Whispering Pines” or “I Shall Be Released”. Pete made music the same way. There is a leap of faith that must be made with this kind of music, an emotional investment that most music today is too scared to demand of its audience.

Artists like Pete and Richard Manuel are forever tied up in their tragedy, but I think it is unfair to view them this way. Their music more than speaks for itself, and would do so regardless of the tragedies that befell them. It may be easy to say this in hindsight, but I truly believe this to be the case for all great musicians. It is only a shame that the list is so long – for every Pete and Richard there is a Tom Evans, Nick Drake or Donny Hathaway.

This week is always a bittersweet time of year, there are now so many anniversaries of great musicians passing. It is even more so with Pete, as his death occurred a mere days before his birthday. My thoughts are with Pete and his family this week, and will be especially on Saturday, as I’m sure will be the thoughts of all his fans around the world.

Thank you Pete for the wonderful gift you gave to all your fans. Paul McCartney famously once said “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”. For me, this never applied to you, Pete. You gave far more than you ever took.

 

More Than Boys – Luke Jackson

Photograph by Sean Hardy

Photograph by Sean Hardy

Luke Jackson is a young singer-songwriter from Canterbury, England. “More Than Boys” is his debut album, released in August last year.

I first came across Luke Jackson via Bob Meyer’s weekly Folk show on Radio Wey. He first released an EP (Run and Hide) and since then has been busy performing while continuing to write, steadily building an impressive repertoire of songs. As a consequence, More Than Boys arrives as something far more accomplished than anyone would have the right to expect from an 18 year old.

First albums are often given the tag ‘promising debut’, which has always seemed to me to be a backhanded compliment, as if promising is the best we can expect from a newcomer. More Than Boys stands on its own merit as an outstanding album, one that Jackson can be justly proud of.

Jackson and his producer (highly regarded Welsh musician Martyn Joseph) have shown astute judgement in the album’s production, stripping the songs to their bare bones. There is always an inherent risk when presenting songs this way. Any flaws will be exposed, and the songwriter really has nowhere to hide. Thankfully however, Jackson clearly knows his songs inside out and in his hands the simplicity of his songs are a strength, giving them a solidity and grounding which offsets nicely the gentle tone of his lyrics.

For the most part it is just Luke’s voice and his acoustic guitar, showing off impressive technique and a touch of colour to his playing. Jackson has a warm but strong voice which he keeps in check for most of the album, in keeping with the understated arrangements.

Jackson clearly has a natural feel for songwriting, but he is clever with it too. Many young writers try to tackle life’s big subjects before they have really experienced any of them, and ultimately their words don’t ring true. Most of the songs on More Than Boys focus on Jackson’s childhood and the uncertain transition from boy to man. You can forgive the often wistful, nostalgic feel to songs like “Baker’s Woods”, “Big Hill”, “Kitchener Road” and “More Than Boys”. These are tales of the carefree days of youth when responsibility is something for others to worry about. It is sometimes comforting to look back on these moments before embarking into the unknown world of adulthood:

“Hours in our hideout, safe from the winter breeze

Yes and I, well I wonder if it’s still standing up there, at the top of old wives lees

And it’s where we’d talk about our first loves, with our hearts worn on our sleeves

It turned out we were far too young, to really know what any of that means

 

But now it seems like all my childhood songs have been sung

And it feels like all my childhood dreams are now, they’re all done

 

The things that I have done and the places I have seen

Will help me to become, the person I will be

And it’s already begun, I’m starting to see, the man in me

The man in me”

From “Big Hill”

More Than Boys will appeal to fans of folk and roots music, although you can definitely sense a real pop sensibility from Jackson, something he may choose to explore on future releases. With a little more experience and some well earned confidence, we may well see some more ambitious compositions from Luke in the future, along with some fuller accompaniment and arrangements to suit.

None of that is necessary on More Than Boys, which is just fine as it is. Very fine indeed.

For more information on Luke and info on buying the album, check out his official website:

http://www.lukepauljackson.com/

Luke also has a Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/lukepauljacksonmusic

This is a live rendition of one of my favourite tracks from More Than Boys, the infectious “Let It All Out”. It is a performance from one of the Rugby Roots series of concerts:

A Song For the Week: Galveston

Galveston Bay at sunset

Galveston Bay at sunset

This Christmas I had the good fortune to receive the recently released but long ago recorded “In Session” CD and DVD featuring both Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb. This session was recorded and filmed in 1988, but until late last year had never had a commercial release. In listening to it over the last few weeks, I have been reminded of two things in particular – for one, the almost symbiotic artistic relationship between Campbell and Webb. It never ceases to amaze me how Webb’s music is so perfect for Campbell and how well Campbell captures the essence of Webb’s songs. The other reminder is what an extraordinary songwriter Jimmy Webb is. It is easy to overlook his best known songs when you have heard them so many times, and it sometimes takes a fresh approach to these kinds of standards to appreciate just how good they are. On In Session we hear renditions of classics like “Where’s the Playground, Suzie?”, “MacArthur Park” and “Wichita Lineman”, but the song that made me fall in love with it all over again was “Galveston”.

Galveston has always been one of my favourite Webb compositions, in fact it probably sits above all others bar Wichita Lineman (how could you top a song with the lines “and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time”). Campbell’s original recording was released in 1969 to great success. Webb notes during the In Session recording that this version was faster than he would have preferred, more of a “medium march”. Three years later Webb recorded the song himself on his “Letters” album. This version was how Webb intended the song to be heard. I have to agree with Webb – I love both renditions, but Webb’s arrangement fits the song so perfectly it is hard to imagine it done any other way. Galveston’s lyrics are reflective, almost to the point of being meditative, and the music requires time to reach a depth equal to the words. Webb is in good voice on the Letters album, but I always longed to hear Campbell’s voice put to Webb’s arrangement. I don’t know how often Glen sang Galveston in this style, but the In Session recording is the only one I have heard. Finally, with the release of In Session, my wish has been granted.

As I stated earlier, Glen’s voice was made for Jimmy’s songs. Glen might argue that Jimmy’s songs were made for his voice, but either way they fit together seamlessly. Campbell has extraordinary control over a voice that glides effortlessly through pop arrangements, bringing a textured country edge or a deep and rounded gospel tinge to proceedings. On this occasion a distinctly spiritual feeling is evident. Between them Campbell and Webb turn a meditation on love and loss into a prayer.

The song’s protagonist is a soldier fighting in the Spanish-American War at the turn of the Twentieth Century, a war fought largely on the foreign soil of Cuba. His is a love song to the girl he has left behind, but it is also a desperate attempt to cling to a reality that is quickly becoming a dream. Campbell’s gentle pleas of “Oh Galveston” sound like a call to God, for help or release, or simply for some light amongst the darkness of war. The last verse in particular brings this home. Campbell sings “Oh Galveston” like a man lost to his fear, then delivers the confirming line with devastating effect: “I am so afraid of dying”. The last words are delivered like a man not knowing if they will be his last. We are left with a glorious visual imprint: “Before I watch your seabirds flying in the sun, at Galveston”. Campbell’s final note when he sings “At Galveston” is as fragile and tender as I have ever heard him.

There are precious few times a standard is improved upon. This is one of those times. The arrangement and rendition make the lyrics hit home so hard it takes your breath away. It was worth the wait.

Campbell’s original recording and arrangement from 1969. It has lost none of its impact, forty three years on.

Webb’s recording from 1972’s Letters album. For an equally good piano based arrangement, check out Webb’s recording on “Ten Easy Pieces”, released in 1996.

In my opinion, the definitive recording. Campbell and Webb on the “In Session” show, recorded in 1988. I urge you to listen to the whole recording. Other highlights include “If These Walls Could Speak” and “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress”.

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.