It’s a rarity to come across an artist who describes himself as “jester, minstrel, singer, songwriter, entertainer”. Step forward Leicestershire’s Roger Pugh, serving up a deeply personal memoir in his fourth solo album, A Colourful Journey. It’s an album that feels both celebratory and poignant, as he reflects on his life and work. In particular, the rocking ‘Final Arrangements’ where he fiercely berates future mourners, “don’t you come to my funeral dressed in black” has edges of both belligerence and pathos.
To be honest, though, ‘solo’ is stretching a definition quite a bit. There are16 other musicians lending their various talents to this set of songs. One of the dangers in having so many collaborators to choose from is that it becomes all too tempting to overwork the material to fit them all in. Whilst there’s quite a pretty tune at the heart of ‘Picking Ragwort’, it gets a bit muted by multiple layers of instrumentation. However, when it does come right, as in the thundering drums and skittish mandola of final tune ‘Witches Flight’, it’s a very pleasurable listen.
Pugh’s a storyteller at heart, drawing on a diverse range of musical genres – often within the same song. He’s written and performed (in Leicester Cathedral, no less) an entire folk opera, ‘A Minstrel’s Tale’, two tracks from which appear on this album: the lively, mediaeval-style capering tune ‘A Romp Through The Barley’ and the portentous prog-rock harmonies of ‘The Day Before The Hanging’.
‘The Busker’ is a familiar tale for al fresco musicians and its chirpy, singalong chorus of “Let’s drink a health to the busker” should be mandatory on chilly street corners everywhere. Elsewhere, though, things don’t go quite so well: a pleasingly sinuous fiddle part on ‘Run With The Moonlight’ (a song for his son) struggles against an ill-matched Caribbean-style syncopated percussion and the two fail to gel.
The production sound seems rather too sharp, and much more stripped-back arrangements might have served the material better. There are some satisfying melodies and entertaining lyrics, but it feels like there’s simply too much going on – too many styles, instruments and different parts competing for attention. It seems rather harsh to say so about such personal songs and an album that’s taken three years to come to fruition but, by about half-way through, it’s all starting to feel somewhat over-cooked and at risk of tipping over into pastiche.
Pugh clearly has an abundance of stories to tell and music to tell it with and the acapella ‘Down At The Billet On Boxing Day’ shows how good he can be. This song (appropriately enough, in the style of a revel or wassail) allows voices to harmonise attractively, lyrics and melody work well together without overdoing any single element. It’s the album’s most consistently successful track and plenty more like this would be most welcome.
Artist website: https://roger-pugh.co.uk/
‘A Minstrel’s Tale’ – live: