Boo Hewerdine’s new album Swimming In Mercury will be released on April 28th and the single ‘Satellite Town’ on April 21st. He has a pedigree which stretches back more than thirty years and is acclaimed as one of the UK’s best songwriters: ‘Patience Of Angels’ was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1995; his musical partnerships include Eddi Reader, Brooks Williams (in State of the Union), Chris Difford, Kris Drever; he is in demand as a producer; and he has written music for film and television.
Swimming in Mercury is an album of stories from his younger days, beautifully smooth in its production. On ‘The Year That I Was Born’, he takes us back to 1961 not just with a reminder of historical events (an American in space, building the Berlin Wall, the Beatles in the Cavern) but also with a language that you don’t hear nowadays “you had to count each penny” and ending with “another mouth to feed/…….that was me”.
‘A Letter to my Younger Self’ is classic Hewerdine – a lyric which captures the idea (impossible to achieve and something we’ve probably all wished for) of letting his younger self know what he’s learned as an older person. It has catchy rising lines in the verse and imagery like “On Battersea bridge with a mindful of rain” topped off in a chorus with brass and bop bop bop ba da ba driving the conclusion “After all I’ve been through and I’m still just the same”’ and the hard learned truth “Let somebody love you”.
The title track was written about David Bowie: “You were the ultra violet on our new colour TV” and “So many mothers and fathers said is it a he or a she” – if you saw the performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 you’ll know how well this takes you back to that evening.
‘The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf’ is another gem. ‘The Voice Behind The Curtain’ is about those who “never got to shine” and could only have been written by a man whose greatest hits is self-effacingly called My Name In The Brackets. ‘American TV’ references California and has Beach Boy harmonies played delicately in the background. ‘My First Band’ sings of “broken strings and cheap guitars” and “on old cassettes I find/ from time to time/ my first band”. These are all songs that recreate that period in the sixties and seventies when, for those of us who weren’t Twiggy or John Lennon et al, our lives were much harder than the backdrop of glamour we saw on the TV.
Swimming In Mercury is an album that repays more, and closer, listening. To give two examples: ‘My First Band’ has a line about the old band meeting up and “we slip into the old routine” – to no more than three seconds of crashing drums and loud lead guitar; ‘Gemini’ didn’t strike me as a stand out track as I listened to the album as a whole but when I had new music on shuffle in the car it came on and blew away the tracks that had been playing previously. It is an album crafted by, as Ian Cripps says on Hewerdine’s website, “a unique talent”.
We may not be able, knowing what we know now, to write that letter to our younger self but this album recreates Hewerdine’s youth with all the skill of his older age. His own summary of Swimming In Mercury is “Time is precious and this is the music that I needed to make”.
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Artist’s website: http://boohewerdine.net
‘The Year That I Was Born’: