Making a welcome return is Vin Garbutt who has added a 16th album to his catalogue and proved, as many of his contemporaries continue to do, that age cannot wither a folk singer’s drive.
It could be argued that Synthetic Hues is anachronistic in these days of fast-food-music and instant gratification. Forty years of song-writing allows a man to choose his subject-matter from a wide diaspora, and what’s immediately striking about this collection is the breadth of stories contained within. So much wider than love found and love lost, Synthetic Hues reprises a thirty-year old version of Kipling’s If, explores the meaning of friendship in a cave below the Mendips and weaves social and ecological history together in a tale of The Black Poplar. Elsewhere, the impacts of seeking asylum are investigated at a first-person level and the shipyards of the Tees used as metaphor for dreams found closer to home. All human life is here.
The songs are delivered with care, given flight by busy guitar melodies and expertly accompanied by fiddle, whistles and piano. Garbutt’s voice is strong, with a natural vibrato and the occasional (and delightful) glimpse of accent – listen to the chorus in My Eldorado, an opening track suffused with an arresting combination of Balearic sounds and homespun images. The Black Poplar, Latin name sung with gusto throughout, is like uncovering a dusty archive at the back of a library. The song unfolds as a time-lapse image of the tree, from its importance in myth, its practical use, its beauty and its eventual decline. Simple guitar lines are buoyed by upright piano as Vin sings the sad question ‘Will your silhouette grace English skies again?’
Teacher From Persia addresses the pains and complications of life as a stranger in a strange land through the eyes of an individual. It’s a thorny and prescient dialogue given the almost daily headlines in our papers and Garbutt’s take on the story gives the song both personal weight and an alternative angle for discussion. It also shows he’s lost little appetite for Folk’s ability to drag the issues of the day into the light where they become difficult to ignore. The album is weighted towards issue songs, but in this centenary year of battles like Neuve Chapelle (10th to 13th March 1915) and the Second Battle of Artois (9th May to 18th June 1915), the final three songs return the listener to the sodden fields and trenches of World War One – you’re never far away from the horror of war in folk.
The Fallen Of Fulstow is a lost generation tale of ten good men lost to the fighting, played at an upbeat tempo and aggressively delivered. Infamously, one of the ten deserted. The village couldn’t agree on his addition to a memorial and the issue was not resolved until 2005. This hammering home of the pointlessness of war and its impacts on those at home is at contrast with the stately approach for the Eric Bogle’s famous No Man’s Land, with its adoption of Flowers Of The Forest. Closer The College takes The Black Poplar’s chronological route through Garbutt’s own life, the key tenets of his principles and stubborn refusal to tread the path well known, backed by strident fiddle.
Synthetic Hues is a melting pot of vigorously performed tales belying Garbutt’s 67 years. It sounds fresh and wise at the same time, something only a man with years on the road can approach with any sincerity. You just hope the younger generations is listening in with an ear for the future.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Synthetic Hues is out now.
Order direct from Vin (free delivery)
Vin is on tour now, visit his website for full details here: www.vingarbutt.com/gigs