Ashley Hutchings’ Musical Star Shines on ‘By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept’

By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and WeptThe remastered re-release of Ashley Hutchings’ By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept is one of those rare albums that is so beautiful it can re-ignite a genre as it leads music lovers to  rediscover an artist.

It’s no overstatement to consider this album a true gift. Hutchings, the Gov’nor himself, has nothing left to prove in music. If he walked away today, he’d still be revered for creating more exceptional music––both under his own direction and through founding bands including Fairport Convention, The Albion Band and Steeleye Span––than almost anyone else in folk-rock, British or otherwise. As Bruce Eder of All Music perfectly stated: “In many respects, he is to English folk-rock the rough equivalent of what John Mayall is s to British blues, except that his recordings have remained interesting for far longer.”

And, let’s add, that Hutchings takes interesting music and makes it even richer. It’s impossible to separate how Docks compares with other albums in Hutchings’ voluminous catalog. How many times can one say an artist’s music is brilliant? So let’s talk about the strengths of this Hutchings’ release, which was originally available in 1987 for a limited time. As Spinal Tap proved, there’s a fine line between relevant prog rock and parody.

One has to wonder how Hutchings wrote the songs on this album in real time, during the course of the relationship––that alternate between spoken word and music––without crossing the line. Anyone who has ever been in love in what seemed a doomed-from-the-start situation, can appreciate the immense task Hutchings undertook to write and execute songs that veer from rock to folk to Morris On to reflect his innermost feelings. And he did it all without making any music that sounds tacky or trite or overly syrupy.

Indeed, the songs are almost a showcase of the many genres in which Hutchings works.

There’s “Keep You Warm,” a jaunty, pub rock song that under less expert guidance could veer dangerously into sugary pop. He then moves ahead to  blues rock on “Don’t Look Back,” with more than a bit of Eric Clapton riffs to keep the sound rocking. Just a few songs later, “Brief Encounters” puts one in mind of classical folk with more than a dollop of new age music carried ahead with vocals by Polly Bolton.

And, of course, Hutchings says he’s at his best when he taps various musicians to form groups or, in this case, bring arrangements to life. That’s certainly true here. As one would expect, Hutchings has a Who’s Who of great musicians on this album including Albion Band veterans Phil Beer, Graeme Taylor, Dave Whetstone, and John Shepherd, Steve Ashley who was in the Albion Country Band, and the much-celebrated drummers Dave Mattacks who was with Fairport Convention. Michael Pennington and Marilyn Cutts divide the spoken word tracks and Polly Bolton sings the female leads of the song.

Hutchings has passed the batons of many of his bands, including The Albion Band which is led by his startlingly gifted son Blair Dunlop, onto other world-class musicians. But one listen to this album and it’s clear Hutchings still has the musical Midas Touch with which he was seemingly born.

— By Nancy Dunham

Album title:     By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept
Cat No:            TECD236
Bar Code:        5028479023622

Track titles:

1. Prologue – I Dreamed A Dream (Died For Love) 2.53
2. Ring On Her Finger 4.15
3. Dancing Under The Rose – Again 4.16
4. What! Must I Now Make An Enemy; Under The Rose 1.34
5. Keep You Warm 4.32
6. Ten Reasons Why They Should Be Together 0.42
7. At The Women’s Institute Dance; Flower Arranging 1.28
8. We Walked In God’s Country 2.11
9. A Letter; Small Town Romance 1.46
10. Don’t Look Back 2.32
11. In The Café 1.04
12. Brief Encounters 5.56
13. Westonbirt Sonnet; T Stands For Thomas 1.03
14. My Dearest To Ireland I Made My Way – Lies 3.33
15. My Dear Friend; Dives And Lazarus – The Blacksmith 2.43
16. I Don’t Go Dancing Any More 3.18
17. Love, Stuff And Nonsense 2.55
18. Epilogue – Died For Love 0.46, 1.23

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