For in and out, above, about, below,
'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play'd in a box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.
Alan Hull would have been 70 this year. In fact, his birthday was in the same month as mine, so he'd have been 71 in February next year. So, exactly 10 years older than me.
I'd been worrying a lot recently about how I was going to slam my funk and start writing again: this date was on my mind. I won't keep you too long but I'd love it if you checked out a few things. I've written before about Alan (checkout the Archive bit, somewhere to the right of this) but I have other reasons for writing now.
Firstly, and let's get this bit out of the way - he'll be spinning in his grave over the current state of the Labour Party. Personally, I think that had he'd survived (and hadn't passed away in his 50th year) he could have possibly been our first genuine Labour leader (PM?) that had a Rock'n'Roll background: our Bill Clinton?! Still, onwards and upwards . . .
Somehow, the fates drew together and decided that I would receive the new album by The Alan Hull Songbook today - Some Other Song. Serendipity. The aforementioned collective is really Alan's* son-in-law and another latter day member of Lindisfarne. What they've done is get together and record some songs from the huge backlog of songs Hully had demoed somewhere between 1967-69. If you read the Dave-Ian Hill biography of the band then you'll be aware that he'd written hundreds of songs by the time the band had properly formed and that he'd also recorded quite a few of them too. Now, this is in no way intended as a review - I've only listened to it a couple of times. I have a few thoughts on it, and Alan's legacy, and that's as far as it goes.
The new album is a collection of new recordings of new versions of demos Hully made all those years ago. Many of them are great. They have the feel of genuine AH songs because Dave Hull-Denholm has spent his working life keeping his father in law's legacy alive. His voice is slighter than Alan's but it works here because the songs have the air of being from the early late sixties/late seventies. Alan's voice would have had that slighter/softer timbre then anyway. There is a "Beatlesque" vibe about some of the songs (check out page 22 of Fog On The Tyne) which isn't surprising given how influential they would have been in the late 60s. I was given a little shock at the Stephan Grappelli-like influence on Little Things but given Alan's love of Classical music and strings generally, I guess I'm not totally surprised.
Some of the songs here have been given an earlier outing, stablemates Capability Brown had recorded I Am And So are You on their swansong Voices album. Mind you, I noticed also that they'd recorded Wake Up Little Sister as a B-side for a single, which was recorded by Lindisfarne for their third Charisma (and least successful Lindisfarne 1) lp. This had included Alan and an orchestra on the title track Dingley Dell - a great song that later gave the title to a fan club and fanzine. It also suggested future string-driven Hull things. It works here on this album. There are certainly "Beatlesque" moments on this album. It shows how influenced AH was. Unlike the Thea Gilmore Sandy Denny-based album of a few years ago, this smacks of a genuine knowledge of his work. I guess his son-in-law was so immersed in his work that he could not do much more than work within the ouevre set out all those years ago. Still, as I said, this isn't really a review but a chance to remind any interested parties of a lost genius.
In checking over a few facts for this, I am reminded that Alan loved Surrealism and must have seen a similar account of the exhibition of Magritte's works somewhere back in the late 60s that shocked me. I wrote about my own introduction to this elsewhere. My memory sticks it in the old time magazine Reveille but as always, I could be wrong (I'm not though!).
I'm desperately trying to keep this first new post short so I'll end on this note. There is a song on the new album that also resonates with my younger days. I sit here with a copy of the Rubyaiyat of Omar Khayyam sitting in front of me. I was given a copy of it by my uncle for Christmas back in 1976. There is a song on this album that is a version of some verses of the poem - from what I can work out it's the first translation by Edward Fitzgerald (which is the copy I own). Hully has taken a few verses from it and put them to music. It works.
So, a little psychedelic, a bit Beatlesque and quite mature for a late-60's wanderer not too sure where life was taking him. Well, I can't really rate it higher than that.
* I feel that after having met him a few times, and as the previous post explains, I am fully within my rights to call him Alan.