Stephen Gerrard is the kind of singer-songwriter who’s the backbone of our folk clubs. Hard working, imaginative and just as skilled in their approach to local subjects as national and world-wide issues. From Sefton in Merseyside, Stephen’s career as a social worker and teacher has provided him with a wealth of inspiration for his self-written material. His love of acoustic music, and influences such as Nic Jones, Doc Watson and Tom Paxton, have resulted in a style that delivers clear vocals, engaging finger-style guitar and a knack for finding a worthwhile story.
Following on from Stephen’s 2009 debut album, Gypsy Wood, Broken Shells is a second collection of self-penned songs that tell stories, shares dreams and wags the occasional finger. Stephen comes across as a natural story teller, in the opening Shanty Boat his finger-style guitar work shines through a summer haze as he ponders a captivating idyll. The song is interestingly book-ended by the album’s closing track, Simple Pleasures – written in celebration of some of life’s least complicated, and most attainable delights. In Love Is All That Matters he pays homage to the joys, the sorrows and, ultimately, the strength that can be found in a lasting relationship
“and when we close our eyes we see, love is all that matters to you and me”
The addition of flute from Oktawiusz Kaczor adds an extra dimension to Flame, with its strong symbolism and positive message.
Stephen isn’t content to sit back and enjoy the sunshine, though. He’s equally capable of looking at life’s harsher realities. Circle Dance charts the effect of urbanisation on rural communities while Sandgrounder takes a slightly different local perspective in a song about a sense of identity and attachment; with a rousing chorus that must be a winner in live performance. Stephen’s song perfectly emphasises the importance of actually feeling the belonging, rather than merely claiming it by birth.
There’s a soft but lively style that’s prevalent in the album, but there are exceptions. The more gentle title track, Broken Shells takes a shell strewn beach as a metaphor for the trials of life and Strangers in a Foreign Land provides a contrasting view of national and cultural identity.
Stephen’s guitar style is one of the strongest aspects of this album but he also loves to tell a story. And he tells them well; painting vivid pictures. Such as in Long Way From Timbuktu, an evocative observation of street sellers in tourist resorts; or Butterfly, which encourages us to adopt a more understanding approach to those who are unable to focus on the world as naturally as most of us do.
And as for that wagging finger? In his allegorical indictment of banking and politics, Rags and Shammies, Stephen takes first-hand experience, combines it with an irresistible hook and brings them to bear on a failing system.
“Bring the rags and shammies, Jess, the dustsheets and the brooms
We’ll have to clean the whole place up, every single room”
With Broken Shells Stephen Gerrard builds on the strong foundation of Gypsy Wood. Important messages, sharp images and eloquent story telling combine with an engaging, thoughtful performance.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Broken Shells is out now, available via: www.stephengerrard.com