Although it seems like only yesterday, such is the impression it created, it was actually a good year and a half ago that we were fortunate enough to cover the wonderful debut album from Fabian Holland. It signalled the arrival of a supremely talented and inventive guitarist, but one with a natural gift for storytelling and a sharp lyrical pen. His gifts were all the more apparent for being well recorded but simply presented, with the minimum of extra embellishment. The new album, A Day Like Tomorrow, builds on the obvious promise of that eponymous debut, with another great set of songs and the notable addition of percussionist Fred Claridge, a young and up coming star himself, while Jacob Stoney’s keyboards add variety and texture to the bigger sound that producer Mark Hutchinson has helped Fabian realise.
The expanded instrumental palate makes a real difference, with producer Mark also doubling up on bass and guitar, this is clever without ever sounding like it’s trying too hard, with the percussion and keys adding texture and melodic invention. That said, things are otherwise much the same with a good set of songs, including a blues standard and a traditional folk song, offering thoughtful social commentary, while displaying a maturity that surprises. Fabian’s liquid licks show his mastery of the guitar, with some playing that will likely leave you slack jawed, including the odd nod towards some illustrious inspirations.
Fabian lives on a narrow boat upon which these songs were for the most part written over the winter of 2013. It’s perhaps only natural that river life finds its way into the mix of evocative narratives and social concerns that make the record so compelling. And then of course there’s the guitar playing, inventive melodic and intricate, without being fussy, with a subtle syncopation that adds a momentum to the stories, but his style bears out years of study and also years of busking and honing his craft as a performer.
From the opener Four Inch Screen onwards, you can’t help but be impressed by the ease and fluidity of his playing. The song concerns something that must be one of many a musician’s pet hates and the ubiquitous sight at gigs of people holding up their phones and filming everything. YouTube is littered with countless examples, often poorly shot and with truly awful sound. What’s the point? As Fabian points out people are so busy living their lives through their phones, they become divorced from the reality of the experience they are so eager to document as he sings, “Russia and China you’ve been, Oh and world cup finals you’ve seen, But be careful when go not to miss the things you show, You live your life through a four inch screen.” A recent review in an Italian magazine commented on how two young people became so entranced with Fabian’s playing, they actually put their phones in their pockets and watched him in amazement. It’s a shame that that is worth commenting on, but perhaps Fabian’s point will get across.
He’s equally at home with the tradition as the next two tracks show, with excellent versions of The House Carpenter and the gospel blues of Nobody’s Fault But Mine. While the former was collected in America by Francis Child and is therefore one of the Child ballads, the song is probably Scottish in origin and is also known as The Daemon Lover. In typical folksong style it all goes badly for a woman who is tempted away from her husband, so the simple moral is don’t succumb. There have been many notable recordings of this and to Fabian’s credit his is another one. The intro, with it’s mix of percussion and guitar is simply stunning, while the careful use of the piano adds a sense of gathering menace and Fabian’s voice creates a stark drama with the inevitable doom. The latter finds Fabian in blues mode with a song originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927. The wisdom of his partnership with Fred Claridge comes to the fore in the unusual way that the percussion is used to create dramatic accents through the song, rather than a simple back beat.
Returning to Fabian’s own songs we hit a melancholic mood as the keyboards add to the emotive tug of With You, a lovely song about the thwarted dreams of small town lives. At least there is hope in the relief of finding someone in the same boat, so to speak, as Fabian sings, “Stuck in this place with you, with you, And I need to escape with you, with you.” River then follows on with more minor key magic as it documents the sad stories of some of the characters Fabian has met on the waterways. It’s easy to think of a narrow boat life as being idyllic, but there are people on the river with problems like everyone else. As Fabian points out, “Oh, Down by the river, You may find nothing but tit and tat, Here at the river, We all are just a bunch of
Welcome To The Magic Show is one of the outstanding songs on the album and the arrangement by keys player Jacob, with the keyboards orchestrating the tune sounding almost like a Mellotron and giving a 70’s vibe is brilliant. The song concerns itself with vanity and greed, but also the way that businesses are set up to exploit all of our worst traits. Casinos, burger bars, tanning salons all exploit our weakness and Fabian sings of the lure of, “Our lights they shine brighter than the stars in the sky, Such a magical place, wont you give it a try?”
The mood lifts with the gorgeous Morning Mist, a lovely instrumental, with just a suggestion of Davy Graham’s Anji cleverly worked into the tumbling cascade of notes in what is a frankly jaw-dropping exhibition of Fabian’s finger style. The breezy Spring too is a lovely evocation of the joys of the season, and a sun kissed smile of a song. Fabian has described writing this on a train journey through the Alps heading down to Italy, but it’s perfectly timed to catch a sunny spell here and the video is delightful. The Old Tobacco Tin, with its bluesy riff, is another outstanding song and a lovely story of how a personal memento is lost, but reused, meaning different things as it passes through different hands, before finally making it back to the original owner.
Islay gives Fabian a chance to show his slide skills, using bottleneck and Weissenborn resonator guitar. It’s a story that comes from time spent living in Italy and the elderly woman who lived next door, a diminutive figure but tough as they come, who had worked the land since she was seven years. Although on her own the village rumours were of war time affairs with soldiers of both sides, a story that had to be told.
As Fabian counts in for the final song, the synthetic strings on The List return us to that classic feel. The song, about putting things off, was apparently inspired by a ‘to-do’ list that Fabian wrote for himself, which included the instruction, ‘write a song.’ We can all relate to the sentiments in the lines, “Quarter past ten, I’ll be up by then Out of bed and organized again, And this time, today’s my day being productive leads the way, But then again this bed is nicely made, Oh well, perhaps another time.”
Fabian is currently in the middle of a string of dates and this week will be playing both the Great Knight Folk Club in Northampton and Cecil Sharp House with Fred joining him on stage. The duo also have several festivals lined up for the summer, so there will be plenty of opportunities to discover the magic that can persuade a teenager to put their phone away, and that simply should not be missed!
Review by: Simon Holland
Exclusive Premiere: Islay
I lived in the county in Italy for a while and during that time my neighbour was this eighty-odd year old Italian woman who had been working on the land since she was seven, was about five feet tall and didn’t even speak Italian but only the local dialect.
She was a real character and tough as old boots.
There was a rumour going around in the village that she had affairs during the war with both the English and German soldiers, when I found this out I just had to write a song about her. This beautiful picture was painted by my mother ‘Ruth Holland’.
Latest Video: Spring
21 April – Great Knight Folk Club, Northampton
23 April – Cecil Sharp House, London
24 April – Meadow Folk Club, Telford
25 April – The Convent Club, Stroud (will also be streamed live. Details here)
26 April – The Musician, Leicester
01 May – Square & Compass, Worth Matravers
16 June – Sofa Sessions, Kettering (supporting Chris Wood)
Released 27 April 2015 via Rooksmere Records
Available via ProperMusic (Ltd Autographed Edition)