Winter Wilson – Far Off On The Horizon
Ashes and Dust – 25 January 2018
It has been twenty-two years since Winter Wilson released their debut album and almost five since they became full-time musicians. Husband and wife duo Kip Winter and Dave Wilson aren’t exactly in the first flush of youth, but, like this, their eighth self-released album, ably demonstrates, when it comes to performance and songcraft they can rival any of their more heralded younger colleagues.
Variously addressing subjects that range from migration, the refugee crisis, ageing and the iniquities of the benefits system, Far Off On The Horizon is among the very best and most musically eclectic of their work. It opens with Wilson taking the lead on the achingly melancholic title track, one of two on which Fleetwood Cave’s Marion Fleetwood provides strings, a weariness-laden song about the prospect of facing the future alone after the bitter end of a relationship.
Kip takes over for the simple folksy banjo-accompanied Grateful For The Rain (Billy Boy), a migration-themed song in which she adopts the voice of Stephen, a young lad seeing his sister May off to Calgary to marry and telling her new husband, sung by Dave, to treat her well. With a backing accordion drone fleshing out the arrangement, it’s actually based on a letter home by May Grayston who emigrated to Canada from Liverpool in 1922.
I Cannot Remain is a timely song in the wake of the anti-immigrant feelings fuelled by the far right and the Trump administration. Again with Kip on lead and set to a medieval-styled guitar and accordion arrangement, a migrant’s voice tells how they “travelled to this country sir, to work and pay my way”. They now find “they’re shouting in the streets sir, that I cannot remain … there’s bricks thrown through our windows.” It sounds a cautionary note as to the consequences such actions and policies can provoke and that, backs to the wall, left with no options, denied a voice and fearful for their life, “when all else has been taken sir, You have to stand and fight.”
Old school acoustic blues make an entrance with Dave singing lead and Kip on harmonies for The Freo Doctor, nothing to do with medical practitioners, but, referencing the name given by Perth residents to the cooling summer afternoon breeze that blows up the coast from Freemantle, about the healing and soothing powers of nature.
Returning to a simple acoustic strum and mandolin backing, Ghost, sung by Kip, is, to my mind at least, the album’s finest track. It’s a poignant first-person account of a young girl who leaves home at 18 with just the clothes on her back after a long, fractious relationship with her father. Her situation, declared by the government to be self-inflicted, becomes one of the invisible statistics of the benefits system. In the melodic but stark chorus line she sings “with the click of a mouse I disappeared; From a girl to a ghost at eighteen years”, the only upside being finding a new family in the homeless community.
The other track to feature Marion Fleetwood with it’s back to acoustic blues colours is The Ship It Rocked. It’s a mid-tempo shanty variant, fingerpicked and sung by Dave that sparks the theme of refugees forced to resort to traffickers trading in human flesh to escape the “bombs and rubble” in search of “the land of milk and honey.” With Kip on soulful lead, the album stays with the blues for Tried and Tested, another relationship-based number that’s essentially about a woman telling her errant man to remember which side his bread’s buttered.
Family history serves as the template for the jaunty shanty The Old Man Was a Sea Dog, Dave’s poignant account of growing up with his late father, a proud, hard-working, tough-love man who saw the world in black and white terms, his volatility later compounded by the drink. The point of the song, however, is not about accusation, but understanding and acceptance with the passing years as, now “easy on my mind”, he finds himself “singing a love song for a man I could not love.”
Sung by Kip, the catchy chorus-friendly sway-a-long St. Peter’s Gate is another moving story. It tells of a woman who, abandoned on her wedding day never again found happiness with a man. She numbs her emptiness with constant housework, the mornings spent dressing up lest someone call. Now in her twilight years, no one ever knocks at the door, the final refrain finds her asking for Jesus to phone so she can go and clean the brasses and railings on St. Peter’s Gate and escape her loneliness.
The final stretch kicks off with the bouncy Richard Thompson-like tumbling chords, chiming folk-rock strum of Dave’s What Can I Do To Make You Happy? The title pretty much telling you what the song’s about.
Time rolls back to 1966 and Wilson’s primary school days for the unassuming strum of When First I Met Amanda, a touching memory of first love and roads not taken prompted by a meeting many years later that will surely touch a chord in many hearts.
It ends in gospel style, handclaps punctuating the slow march rhythm with Winter on lead and Wilson providing chorus harmonies and harmonica for Hard Walkin’. A final rousing reminder in troubled times that “you don’t achieve nothing by standing still”, but that hatred is not the way to go, and open arms serve better than a clenched fist.
There’s nothing particularly musically fussy here, just the sound of two musicians in perfect synch doing what they do so well and, in the process, crafting what is sure to prove one of this year’s finest albums. With the upcoming Fairport tour, hopefully, they’ll also find themselves the wider audience they so richly deserve.
Winter Wilson touring with Fairport Convention in 2018
25 Jan 2018, Tewkesbury, The Roses Theatre
26 Jan 2018, Southport, The Atkinson
27 Jan 2018, Lincoln, Drill Hall
28 Jan 2018, Buxton, Opera House
30 Jan 2018, Nottingham, Playhouse
31 Jan 2018, Peterborough, Key Theatre
01 Feb 2018, Coventry, The Albany Theatre
02 Feb 2018, Morecambe, The Platform
03 Feb 2018, Settle, Victoria Hall
04 Feb 2018, Salford, The Lowry
06 Feb 2018, Milton Keynes, The Stables
07 Feb 2018 Stoke, The New Vic Theatre
08 Feb 2018 Durham, Gala Theatre
09 Feb 2018 Whitby, Pavilion Theatre
10 Feb 2018, Leeds, City Varieties
11 Feb 2018, Banbury, Trades and Labour Club
13 Feb 2018, Canterbury, The Gulbenkian
14 Feb 2018, Canterbury, The Gulbenkian
15 Feb 2018, Worthing, Connaught Theatre
16 Feb 2018, Frome, Cheese and Grain
17 Feb 2018, London, Union Chapel
18 Feb 2018, Winchester, Theatre Royal
20 Feb 2018, Farnham, The Maltings
21 Feb 2018, Exeter, Corn Exchange
22 Feb 2018, Tunbridge Wells, Assembly Hall Theatre
23 Feb 2018, Bury St Edmunds, The Apex
24 Feb 2018, St Albans, The Alban Arena
25 Feb 2018, Bromsgrove, The Artrix