Glymjack – Light the Evening Fire
Self-Released – March 2018
Glymjack is an English folk act led by singer-songwriter Greg McDonald who I first came across playing bass with The Phil Beer Band on tour last year, although his musical career stretches back to the turn of the century. He opened the second half of the show with a short solo set of his own songs, songs that have now appeared on this album Light the Evening Fire. Both the lyrics and his guitar accompaniment were enough to make me sit up and take notice so, having experienced that ‘taster’, I was really looking forward to this album and it hasn’t disappointed. To say thi album has had a long gestation is quite an understatement, Greg admits in the sleeve notes that it was in production between 2012 and 2017. During that time, he’s had encouragement from a number of well-known artists, most notably from Phil Beer who, in addition to playing on several tracks, takes joint production credits with Greg.
The extent to which all of Show of Hands have been supportive becomes apparent as you listen to the first song, the album’s title track, Light the Evening Fire. The vocal starts with a run through the chorus, Greg’s voice taking the lead but those providing the harmonies are strangely familiar, any lingering doubts removed when the unmistakable voice of Steve Knightley solos the second verse. Phil’s instrumental skills lead the middle section with a cuatro solo and help set the atmosphere throughout with swooping, slightly spooky, slide guitar. It could be thought a risky strategy to give his rather better-known collaborators such a prominent rôle on the opening track. A less confident singer/songwriter might have chosen to assert his solo credentials first. But Greg’s confidence is certainly not misplaced, the contrast between his voice and Steve’s is an important element of the arrangement and this particular song sets the framework for the entire album, it couldn’t be anything other than track one.
Lyrically, many of Greg’s songs shine a torch into corners of recent British life that it may be more comfortable to ignore. Classic protest songs that extend the long-standing tradition of folk music? Far from it, Greg’s songs take a far more nuanced approach. Light the Evening Fire (see the video below which premiered on Folk Radio) may have the feel and singable chorus of a campfire song but this is a fire that helps the homeless stay alive until morning, tents pitched on waste ground at the edge of town. As the lyrics become less literal, what does this fire burn? “unreal ideals that life could never live up to… …all of the dreams that proved unreal and untrue”. This combination of a singalong tune and lyrics that tell of shattered lives can pack a powerful punch and Greg has used it to good effect.
Hope Point is a wonderful song that, again, cooks up a heady mix of emotions, issues of modern slavery and decidedly iffy immigration practices wrapped up in a love story of sorts. The resulting song, equally memorable for the uplifting, life-affirming chorus, sketching out times spent on Hope Point, and the casual inhumanity of day to day life on the farm. In other songs Greg turns his spotlight on the war in Afghanistan, drugs in sport, in all he has an unerring knack of finding just the right hooks, both lyrically and musically, to capture your attention. There’s usually a point or two that he wants to drive home but these are songs that entertain more than they lecture yet still sow the seeds that leave you thinking.
In amongst Greg’s compositions are two traditional songs, songs to remind us that cruelty and disregard for others are certainly not modern inventions. The Sweet Trinity, aka The Golden Vanity, telling the tale of the sea captain for whom a cabin boy’s life means nothing and The Bows of London, a murdering sister unmasked by the fiddle made out of her sibling’s bones. Perhaps not quite such an obvious lesson for our times that one. For the final song of the album, Bright Sparks, Greg has again delved back in time, but here it’s to find folk heroes, John Ball, the fourteenth-century revolutionary and suffragette Emily Davison, characters who presented a radical alternative to the darkness of their ages. Despite an often cheery outer shell, Greg’s songs depict the darknesses of our own age but, with Bright Sparks, he leaves us with hope that there is another way.
The focus, so far, has understandably been on Greg’s songs, they are outstanding. However, there is just as much pleasure to be gained from their arrangements. The superb range of guests that Greg has assembled means a rich, multi-layered sound is available when needed, amply justifying the label ‘folk-rock’. Some of Show of Hands’ contributions have already been described but Phil and Steve’s voices are heard on other tracks and Phil also plays dobro, mandolin, tenor guitar and violin while Miranda adds double bass. But, for once, Phil’s rôle as the ultimate multi-instrumentalist is usurped by Greg who plays accordion, bass, cuatro, guitar, tenor guitar, mandocello, mandolin and piano. Greg’s thus able to provide the core of the Glymjack acoustic trio who will tour the album material with dates throughout the rest of this year. Alongside Greg will be musicians who also appear on the album, Gemma Gayner on violins and violas and Dickon Collinson on bass, both also adding vocals.
With this album, Greg McDonald presents songs that bring into sharp focus many of the issues that plague Britain today. But this is far from being a dour or dispiriting listen, there’s a lightness of touch that nudges you towards a more positive outlook. Greg’s is a song writing talent we can expect much more from in the future, and, hopefully, we won’t have to wait another six years.
Find out more here: https://www.glymjack.com/
Tour dates: https://www.glymjack.com/live
Photo Credit: Still Vision Aaron Karnovski