There are many diverse talents that pass through the pages and airwaves of Folk Radio UK, but every once in a while someone appears as a potential game changer. Fabian Holland is one such, as the young singer guitarist has delivered a debut album of startling quality, a mixture of his own songs, a couple from the further reaches of the folk canon and a blues classic, wrapped up in a concise package that has everyone spluttering superlatives. From the opening Guitar flurry of The Landlords Daughter, the CD grabs the attention and refuses to let go. Nine songs and just over 40 minutes later, you’re left wondering, “Where has this guy suddenly appeared from?”
His guitar playing is simply stunning and obviously based on years of honing skills to the point where playing becomes absolutely intuitive. It’s perhaps no surprise to find out that he started early, picking up the guitar at seven and taking lessons from his dad. But Fabian clearly developed sufficient technique to warrant attending the Academy Of Contemporary Music in Guildford, where he studied under Eric Roche. Fabians teacher was American born, but grew up in Ireland and although trained as an accountant, took to studying the guitar. His prowess led him to be recognised as one of the finest teachers around and a sad premature death saw the school where Fabian studied renamed, ACM Eric Roche Guitar School. Newton Faulkner was another notable to benefit from Eric’s tuition.
If it’s the guitar technique that first grabs, then his voice and the songs also stake their claim. Fabian appears the full package and credit must go to Rooksmere Records where Mark Hutchinson seems to have a canny knack of unearthing exciting young talent. Being based around a studio obviously allows ease of recording, with Mark taking the producers chair. To both their credit, Fabian and Mark have kept things simple for this eponymous CD.
Fabian’s early influences came from his father’s record collection of classic blues artists and that shows through the inclusion of Skip James Hard Time Killing Floor Blues. He has continued to develop, however, spending some years busking during which time he’s also travelled, spending some years in Northern Italy. All of this experience and some of the people who he has met along the way have fuelled his flourishing songcraft. It all add up to a credible maturity and lyrically this debut is very strong and varied.
Written during his time living in Italy, The Landlords Daughter draws you into a tragic tale. It’s a clever updating of the classic folk motifs of jealousy, where those with unreachable ideals are unpicked by their own obsession. Fabian refers to reading a lot of Thomas Hardy at the time, which perhaps determines that the story’s outcome as passion spills into violence and death. Despite it’s harrowing plotline the song serves as a great introduction to Fabian’s obvious talents and the marriage of guitar and voice. The song kicks along at pace and his fingers dance around the melody, pulling at the tune melody with amazing fluidity and grace.
The afore mentioned Skip James song is up next and perversely is probably as relevant for many today as it was when first performed in the depression era of the 30s. Fabian refers to this as one of his favourite blues songs, explaining “Skip James had a dark haunting sound to his music that I really like and he often used open minor tunings as well.” There is evidence here that should Fabian so choose, he would surely quickly gain a reputation as a bluesman of some note.
His own songs however display a wider palette and like some of the guitar greats who have gone before, Nic Jones, Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Martin Simpson and others Fabian seems intent on exploring the wider possibilities of his chosen instrument. Little Boy Jonny is a case in point, with Fabian joined by the mournful tones of Guy Fletcher’s fiddle creating a suitably melancholic air to the perennial soldier’s tale. Again Fabian refers to his time in Italy, where with only the radio for company, the Afghan conflict played out its roll call of death.
If that melancholic feel carries over to Like Father Like Son, then so does the sense of melodic skill. It’s a sentimental response to the inevitable ageing process and the way that we all start to resemble our parents in some way or other. It’s done with obvious affection and just a hint of the realisation of sacrifices made. In a way it’s the flipside of the coin to the opener. As Fabian says, the resentment of his transformation is tempered, “As the song goes on towards the end I come to realise that turning into my dad actually wouldn’t be all that bad.”
Home, as the title suggests, also explores the links to family. This time Fabian confesses, “When I was living in Bristol on my friends floors and sofas, I was busking to pay my way and I was feeling quite home sick, I really wanted to come back home but I felt I couldn’t until I had made something of myself. So this song is about that time and it’s also one of my few autobiographical songs because it’s very personal to me.” It’s another beautifully composed piece, packing the genuine emotional clout of being caught between homesickness and the need for independence and success on his own terms, with the lovely line, “My shoes are so worn they are walking themselves.”
The fortunes of Charlie and Mad Eric could also be taken as two sides of the same coin, with the former eventually escaping his put upon life, while the latter is subsumed by guilt, anger and tipped over the edge. Both songs add further evidence of the range of Fabian’s writing. Mad Eric in particular allows his imagination to play out the back story, life and problems that have beset the drunken ruin of a man, left railing impotently against the world. Powerful stuff indeed, but then so too is Charlie’s eventual escape and Fabian reveals “This is a song about a boy who always had one ambition in life but was always put down and bullied for it, until one day he just left and did what he always wanted to do. This was inspired by a few friends of mine growing up, and I still admire them for it.”
The six original songs really do stack up in creating this outstanding debut, but along with the Skip James blues are two lesser visited examples from the folk tradition. Dr. Price is a great song that tells the story of the titular eccentric or anti-establishment Welshman who brought cremation into modern burial practices. Hi extraordinary life is well worth a quick bit of research, as this ballad written around the time of his death in 1893 suggests. Banks Of The Dee is another somewhat overlooked gem and not the tale of lovers reunited, but the lament of an ageing miner unable to get work as, “His hair has turned grey.” Sadly this too is a song that seems to have gained relevance in recent years.
Fabian is a truly gifted guitarist that is without question, but his eponymous debut shows he has the ability to use his talent to great effect in the service of a set of songs grip you tight, holding your attention as the stories unfurl. It’s a stunning debut and the real joy is that he has his whole career ahead of him. Who knows where he might get to.
Review by: Simon Holland
Like Father Like Son
The official London Launch for the album takes place this Friday 20th September at the Phoenix Artist Club, 1 Phoenix St, off Charing Cross Road, WC2H 8BU at 4pm (invite only) Fabian then tours, supporting The Albion Band commencing a week later.
Sep 29th Sheffield Greystones supporting The Albion Band
Oct 3rd Brighton supporting The Albion Band
Oct 4th Old Cinema launderette, Durham
Oct 5th Liverpool support to The Albion Band
Oct 6th Foundry Folk Club – The Tobie Norris, Stamford