51.13 is the latitude of Dover, give or take a few seconds and the name of a trio led by song-writer Nick Esson with Paul Fitzgerald of The Coal Porters and Rick Whalen of The King Bees. Tales From The Western Dock is a suite of songs about the town of Dover and specifically growing up there, mixing the essential Englishness of the location with the Americana and blues influences of the musicians.
The cover photo suggests that the guys are old enough to know better and the songs sometimes suggest that not much has changed. The opener, ‘Peculiar Dover Night’, is set in the early 80s and tells of Nick and his friends spending the evening in a gay club after being turned away from the regular ones. The subject of ‘Molly’ has sadly passed on but she might not have been pleased to find herself described as “taller when she sat down” and possessing a “rapid right hand”. These are the legends of a seaport town.
‘Snargate Street’ takes a serious turn. It was where Nick grew up but is now part of the A20 and the theme is taken a step further with ‘Dover Town’ which is about the angst of going back to a place from which you thought you had escaped, perhaps made worse by the fact that much of it will have changed beyond recognition. The song is cast as a country blues with resonator guitar and harmonica while the confessional ‘Better I Turn To Jesus’ is southern gospel led by Fitzgerald’s banjo.
‘Somme Tales From The Western Front’ reflects on the Battle Of The Somme which took place not too many miles from the Kent coast and which took many men from the county. As Nick says, he would have been among them had he lived then. ‘Coming Home’ is an attempt to Anglicise an American road song. It just about pulls it off although Kent doesn’t quite have the ring of, say, Texas.
Tales From The Western Dock is a lot of fun and with three multi-instrumentalists ringing the changes it never gets dull. I’ll even forgive them the unannounced snippet of ‘(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover’ at the end.
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