Ashley Hutchings – Street Cries
Talking Elephant – Out Now
Ashley Hutchings needs no introduction, the man described as the ‘single most important figure in English folk rock’ by no less than Bob Dylan continues to write, play and perform having played on a mere ninety-four albums to date.
Street Cries is his latest release and one that had me briefly confused for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, this is not a new recording. Street Cries actually dates from 2001 when it was released on Topic records. At the time it was described as ‘truly great’ by the late John Peel and rated by Hutchings himself as one of his top five. Worth a listen then.
Also, there is little physical evidence of Hutchings on this album, he plays bass on a couple of tracks and that is it. Instead, there is a shifting cast of performers which is one of the things that makes this such an interesting record. The likes of Steve Knightley, June Tabor, Dick Gaughan, Cara Dillon and the late Vin Garbutt all have their chance to shine on a collection of songs that Hutchings calls ‘dark traditional’.
So why is this a release in Hutchings name rather than ‘Various Artists’? Well, basically he has re-written the songs using traditional sources. This amounts to a re-interpreting of the songs with the intention of making them more immediate and relevant to today’s audience. Having a less than encyclopaedic knowledge of English folk songs this only really made sense to me when I looked at the original versions which are helpfully printed in the booklet with the album.
In a modern idiom, ‘The Blacksmith’ has become ‘A Drummer Courted Me’ while ‘All Things are Quite Silent’ has been transformed into ‘Cold Lips’. Hutchings has not really gone overboard with the updating, but in many respects, the world was a different place in 2001 and perhaps today he would be including reference to twitter accounts and love island. The nearest parallel lyrically that comes to mind is Richard Thompson on ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’ where he could mix up references to telephones, farm carts and dancing beggar girls without sounding like he was time travelling.
The lyrics are not strictly the main point here, what carries the album is the strength of the twelve individual performances.
The album kicks off with ‘Doing Time to Fit Your Crime’. It’s a bleak introduction to ‘dark traditional’.
‘There’s blood on me fist and a few choice words and a couple of red marks on the wall’
Performed by Coope Boyes and Simpson with John Tams this is a bleak prison song which really benefits from Hutching’s muscular reworking of the lyrics.
Steve Knightley, June Tabor and Dick Gaughan deliver the quality that we have come to expect from artists of their calibre without delivering any real surprises. Personally, I feel updating to the lyrics to a song such as ‘all things are quite silent’ loses some of the poetry of the original at the expense of a more coherent lyric. On the other hand Pete Morton’s version of ‘Damm the Day’ benefits from the more direct approach of Hutchings words.
If you put the lyric sheet to one side, however there is still much to enjoy, from the jazzy swing of ‘Salford Girls’ to the acceptable use of a drum machine on ‘He’s Young but He’s Growing’ and the unexpected ‘mashup’ of ‘ He Ran Out of Road’.
An unexpected highlight for me was Vin Garbutt performing ‘Three Jolly Burglars’. Here Garbutt takes a light-hearted song but performs it with such panache he transforms it into something more substantial. One unsung hero of the record is fiddler Joe Broughton who makes significant contributions to this song and also on his performance with Pete Morton.
The album ends with ‘I’m a poor Dressmaker’ a re-telling of ‘Four Loom Weaver’ featuring Nesreen Shah on vocals with some great sax from the late Pete Zorn.
‘I once took exception to working long hours, but they threatened my permit as they have the power.’
A powerful reminder that the underclass today is multicultural and more vulnerable following Brexit.
The artwork on the album is worth a mention being Banksy inspired which reinforces the modern idiom of the music.
It would be great to hear Hutchings now continue this project 16 years on. With this record, he has produced some powerful new lyrics and, with the help of his collaborators, has created a collection of powerful and unique performances.
Order Street Cries via Talking Elephant: http://www.talkingelephant.co.uk/product/ashley-hutchings-street-cries-cd/
Press image via Iconic Media