|Ashley Hutchings — Paradise and Thorns (2 Nov. 2018)
Ashley Hutchings — Paradise and Thorns (2 Nov. 2018)✹ „one of my biggest heroes; a great man.“ ~ Sandy Denny
✹ „Ashley Hutchings is the single most important figure in English folk rock. Before that his group Fairport Convention recorded some of the best versions of my unreleased songs. Listen to the bass playing on Percy’s Song to hear how great he is.“ ~ Bob Dylan. (27. 8. 2015)
Birth name: Ashley Steven Hutchings
Also known as: The Guv’nor; Tyger
Born: 26 January 1945, Southgate, England
Album release: 2 November 2018
Record Label: Talking Elephant
Duration: 38:56 + 51:49 => 90:45
01. Elegie XII 1:35
02. Kitty Come Down The Lane 3:27
03. The Meadow 0:30
04. Art Nouveau 3:01
05. St Valentine’s Day Sonnet 1:22
06. Trip To Bath 2:41
07. Sultana Cake 0:19
08. Cul~de~sac 2:55
09. Our Stolen Season 4:13
10. Has This Hotel So Many Secrets? 0:40
11. Evil~may~care In Our Dancing Shoes 4:02
12. Eugene Onegin 0:54
13. It Was My Heart 1:39
14. I Dreamed A Dream 4:17
15. Thirty~two Years And A Lifetime 4:53
16. Epilogue / French Catholic Wedding Tune 2:18
01. Avona And The Giant 4:40
02. Above The Angels 4:29
03. Aire And Angells 1:46
04. If There’s No Other Way 5:20
05. If Love Has Wings 0:30
06. The Swift 3:38
07. Such A Crazy Marriage 3:20
08. Polly On The Shore 2:39
09. I Remember Every Detail 0:28
10. I Was Thinking Of Clarissa 0:48
11. Welcome To The World 5:21
12. Notes From The Journal Os A Quick~tempered Man — Part One 6:19
13. Sykaleshe 4:22
14. Notes From The Journal Os A Quick~tempered Man — Part Two 1:10
15. Lost In The Haze 3:42
16. Romeo And Juliet Excerpt / Song From Cymbeline 3:17
by Peter Shaw, 17 October, 2018
✹ Back in 1997, I bought a copy of Ashley Hutchings’ By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept (on cassette!). I’m not sure why, other than back then, I was buying anything that had Richard Thompson written on it. Come to think of it, I still am…
✹ At the counter, the owner perused the tape and said, ‘Ashley Hutchings? You know, I don’t think I’ve heard of him…’ (This was a record shop owner!)
✹ In reply, I muttered something about him being in Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band… (neglecting to mention he founded all of them) but even this most ill~informed record shop owner would have known the convoluted lineage of those British folk~rock pioneers, and presumably assume Hutchings was just a jobbing musician…
✹ I think that Bob Dylan, as usual, put it slightly better, ‘Ashley Hutchings is the single most important figure in English folk~rock.’
✹ Gloucester Docks (released in 1987) is arguably Ashley’s first (and only, until now) solo album. It’s easy to overlook the fact that his driving creativity is behind so many crucial folk~rock masterpieces, because there are so many incredible talents involved: Liege and Lief with Thompson, Denny and Dave Swarbrick, early Steeleye Span with Tim Hart, Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy, Albion Band classics such as The Prospect Before Us and Rise Up Like The Sun with a stellar band and John Tams (seemingly) at the helm.
✹ But Hutchings was always moving in the shadows, building bands, matching talents, dreaming up masterpieces. And finally, with Gloucester Docks he stood front and centre. And it is clear why: because the album is immensely personal.
✹ Largely overlooked, the album has crept into consciousnesses as a curious work of genius thanks to a live recording (and slight reworking), and a re~release in 2012. Now we have a follow~up…? A sequel…? I think ‘companion piece’ is the most apposite.
✹ The handsomely~packaged — looking like a mini~hardback book, or a tiny wedding album — double CD Paradise and Thorns wisely recommends on the back cover that listeners ought to obtain a copy of Gloucester Docks. I’d go so far as to say it was essential.
✹ As quick a summary as I can make it: the original album charts a real~life love affair (a word I’ve chosen carefully) that Hutchings enjoyed while it happened, then lamented when it ended, during an 18~month~ish period sometime between 1985 to 1987. Hutchings has respectfully kept the identity of his paramour secret with scant personal details.
✹ But we do know her name is Patricia (Pat) — the original album’s catalogue number was PAT1, and its subtitle (also) Paradise And Thorns is another acrostic allusion. Ashley’s official biography by Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall (Always Chasing Rainbows Vol 2) throws up a few more details. Pat was married at that time, and her Catholic background meant that she was wedded permanently to her alcoholic husband. Despite this, Hutchings pursued her like teenager courting a first love.
✹ Gloucester Docks — although based on real events documented contemporaneously in Hutchings’ writings, in diary entries, letters and poems — is a mythologised account. It uses arcane language and allusions to elevate the small~town love story to sit alongside legendary lovers such as Romeo and Juliet, Tristram and Isolde (you get the idea).
✹ Both Gloucester Docks and Paradise and Thorns exist somehow parallel to our cynical, selfish age. It’s a genuinely heartfelt expression from Hutchings, who could be taken as a romantic idealist, or a bit of a fool. He may be both. But so are we all at different times, and that’s where – if you put your 21st~century cynicism aside — these albums can connect very deeply.
✹ The first CD is a continuation (and recap) of the story. Mixing new songs and old, dramatic readings and audio film clips, it starts with an excerpt from John Donne before the Ashley Hutchings All Stars (recorded live in 1988) burst in with Kitty Come Down The Lane.
✹ And what a glorious opener, a bravado performance that has much more urgency than the 1989 studio recording (on the Albion Band’s Give Me a Saddle, I’ll Trade You a Car). A song about flowers, seasons, death and renewal, the title refers to Kitty~come~down~the~lane~jump~up~and~kiss~me, an old Kentish name for the flower usually known as Lords and Ladies. Although Hutching’s vocals are a little tentative, on the rousing chorus, he is joined by Clive Gregson and Polly Bolton (the singing voice of ‘Pat’ on the original Glocester Docks). But it’s the astonishing soprano sax solos from the late and much missed Pete Zorn that make this so special. Although an ‘old’ track it’s great to hear it in this context, and it may well be Hutching’s most catchy chorus.
✹ The next song is the brand~new Art Noveau, which features the golden vocals of Barry Coope. A continuation of the flower theme, as a metaphor for both women and romantic relationships. Jo Broughton offers some fine fiddle playing here and on many of the newly~recorded tracks.
✹ A sonnet, spoken by Ashley, which recounts his experience of getting a rose tattoo to commemorate his love for Patricia, leads into another song familiar from Hutchings back catalogue. Trip To Bath (from the 1987 Albion Band Album I Got New Shoes) is a kind of re~working of Day Trip To Bangor, only much less twee. It pinches the tune and celebratory tone of the Albion Band’s version of On Christmas Night All Christians Sing. And, referring back to Hutching’s biography, it’s a true~life account of Ashley and his paramour’s visit to the city in Somerset.
✹ After Sultana Cake, a brief reading of a note from Pat (I presume…) we get to another new song. In Hutching’s biography, Pat is interviewed and describes the thinking that led her to end the relationship with Ashley, stating that she felt she was going down a ‘cul~de~sac.’ Hutching wittily turns this remark into a new song, where he, in a remarkable show of self~awareness, describes his less~than~enthralling bachelor life (and pad) back in 1987: ‘Welcome to the cul~de~sac/ Once you are in, there’s no way back/ Where the wine is red, the humour’s black/ Come on down to the cul~de~sac.’
✹ Our Stolen Season is a live take of Ashley’s band from the 2000s, The Rainbow Chasers. A more sombre affair looking back on a lost relationship, with beautiful vocals from Jo Hamilton. It is clear that, although Gloucester Docks told the story of his time with Patricia, it was neither the whole story nor did her presence leave Hutchings behind.
✹ Following another film excerpt, is another new song, this time a collaboration with Ashley’s only child, Blair Dunlop. Devil~may~care in our dancing shoes, creeps along spookily like something from Dylan’s Oh Mercy, specifically Man in the Long Black Coat. The song looks back on the pair’s first meeting at a country dance hall and brings the story up~to~date with hints that Pat is back on the scene today (‘Years passed by, then out of the blue/ The call of the road and a text or two’).
✹ After some more (as always, thematically appropriate) spoken word excerpts we get another flashback. It’s a live recording from 1988 of the opening song from Gloucester Docks, I Dreamed A Dream, with a lengthy spoken~word intro from Hutchings, whether he explains the literary antecedence of the album. It’s a tease, as we are itching to find out whether the texts have resulted in Pat and Ash rekindling the flame.
✹ Thirty~Two Years And A Lifetime, another new song, offers a half~answer. Another collaboration with Dunlop, this is a rock song with keyboards and electric guitar to the fore. The melody is reminiscent of the traditional Whiskey In The Jar. Another catchy song from Hutchings with a confident vocal. Hutchings’ singing is limited — and his use of some of the best folk singers to voice is material shows he is aware of this — but you can’t deny his passion and commitment, and always melodic, driving bass lines. It’s a fantastic closer, squares a 32~year circle and offers a much more joyous and positive ending that the original bleak Gloucester Docks closer.
✹ After a brief spoken~word Epilogue from Hutchings with more hints that love is — once more — not just in the air, but in the offing. The words are ambiguous but hopeful enough to melt the cynicism of the most hardened sceptic. Closing with a traditional French Catholic Wedding Tune surely means… I mean it must, mustn’t it?
✹ I won’t go into disc two, Other Tales Of Love, in as much detail because it is, intentionally, not as rich in its narrative. It continues the themes of ‘love,’ and by that, I mean romantic love, specifically those early experiences of falling and being ‘in love.’ There are no songs about long~term commitment and growing with a partner through life. And the story of Patricia and Ashley shows that the whirlwind of the early stages of a relationship is what fires his creative spirit.
✹ As he has done throughout his career, Ashley invites a stellar cast to accompany him and is always keen to showcase the new talent. Here he gives two songs over to the impossibly pure~voiced Kitty Macfarlane. The first is a new composition, Avona The Giant which opens and Song From Cymberline — adapted by Kitty from a Shakespeare song — which closes the collection. Both are highlights, as is Ashley and Blair’s Lost In The Haze, an impossibly poignant song where Hutchings recalls meeting his first love on a ramble to Hertfordshire in 1964. The booklet features a photograph of 19~year~old Ashley and his (unnamed) beau taken on that March ramble. Which brings the heartfelt tale all the more to life.
✹ The booklet is a treasure that dramatically enhances these very special albums. If you simply stream this on Spotify, you really are only getting half the picture. The closing image in the booklet is Ashley pictured at the door of John Fowles’ house. A sign on the door behind Hutchings says ‘Curator’ — an apt title also for this survivor who has surfed the world of folk and rock for more than five decades. Always searching, researching, and collecting and sorting experiences, songs, words and images into order. Here’s to the curator, ‘the single most important figure in English folk~rock,’ I hope he has found love and happiness, and something that lasts, like these two precious albums, surely will.✹ https://www.folkradio.co.uk/
Ashley Hutchings Chronological Discography: https://mainlynorfolk.info/guvnor/records/
|Ashley Hutchings — Paradise and Thorns (2 Nov. 2018)