Brian Pearson’s Here’s To Song is a potent (and quite magical) musical journey into the heart of British folk singing, circa every folk club of the early 70’s.
Now, no one can ever emulate the performance of (the great!) Vin Garbutt, yet this album touches the very same folk root that sings with acoustic humour, history, wit, and the wisdom of a troubadour who, in a smokey club, somehow manages to captivate the audience with clever and articulate tunes.
A bit of history: Brian Pearson started, a long time ago, (thank you press release!), “as a resident at St Albans folk club, along with a very young Maddy Prior”. And “he has recorded with “Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, Frankie Armstrong, Leon Rosselson, Roy Bailey and Blowzabella”. So, with street cred galore, he, at a wise old age of 81, has gifted the world with a wonderful very first solo record which is a lively collection of self-penned and tradition tunes with folk club pint-sipping warmth.
Now (again), to cite the words of another icon, Roy Harper (from his epic ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ on the brilliant Lifemask album), “There once was a man from the old stone age/And he used to follow the weather”. Of course, our Roy “bleeds from the tip of my tongue” for twenty-odd minutes as he always does; but Brian Pearson, what with his hoary wisdom, really gets a faithful well-earned nod to sing a modern folk club commentary. And, as Here’s To Song chronicles, that “man from the old stone age” still contemplates a complex gaze into the starry skies that finds humour, joy, introspection, a lot of love, irony a gogo, and pathos to burn.
That’s the stuff of great stories.
It’s also the stuff of an equally great folk concert.
Now, is the cat alive or dead? ‘Schrodinger’s Love Song’ is a brilliant Brian penned and very acoustic tune that cautions the urge to “open the door” and “rekindle that spark” of any fragile childhood memory, which, when “linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur” (Thank you, once again, Wikipedia!), and brought “into the cold light of day”, may well shatter the comfort of “hope and the stories we tell ourselves”. And, of course, it’s a very human thing to desire for that cat (and, for that matter, all childhood memories!) to be alive.
The song boggles the mind.
Then, ‘Song Of The Leaders’ opens the door to honest history. And this song (with prominent banjo!) retells the deception of Richard II’s promises during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Of course, then John Ball and William Grincobbe were “hung, drawn and quartered at St Albans”. And a guy named Wat Tyler died, too, and his fate is chronicled in Fairport Convention’s song. This gets into (very nice) Steeleye Span territory. But the song, written by Brian, roars with truth, even after all these years.
And there are moments of light reverie. The acapella ‘If I Were A Dancer’ professes true devotional love—without a maudlin note in its songbook. Ditto for the lovely ode ‘Parting’, with its portrait of a lost love where “eternities stand between”. In contrast, ‘Summer Maybe’ is a lovely acoustic song that suggests, metaphorically, hope (which springs eternally!) will always be part of the human historical heart. And the traditional ‘Young Orphy’ ups the drama and is a traditional tune that evokes ‘elfin” mysticism and rides some road travelled by Thomas Hardy’s imagination. Then, ‘Bridget And The Pill’ is once again, acapella stuff of folk club wit and insight, that touches a nerve about a woman’s right about all sorts of things.
And then everything about a really nice folk album continues in these grooves. ‘The Navvies’ Song’ (from a play BP wrote) celebrates the Welsh workers who built the Chester to Holyhead railroad in 1847. It’s melodic history—which is a big part of this record. ‘The Toper’s Rant’, with fiddle framework, is a musical setting of a poem by John Clare, and is an ode to liquid-loving conversations with John Falstaff’s good friend, affectionally known to folk song imbibers (and fans of Stevie Woodwind and Traffic!) as John Barleycorn.
Then things get really interesting. The brief acapella ‘When The World Was Young’ is a reflective ode to lost passion that will evoke a sad silence in any folk club crowd. Dave Cousins often writes similar autumnal songs. Perhaps, a reflective glance at a youthful moment that is “drunk with love” is one of those Jungian and very human archetypes. Ahh–‘The Ride’, again framed by a violin, is a powerful song that is “as cold as moonlight, terrible as the sun” and mentions “galloping elves”. The passion intensifies with ‘Ecopalypse Now’, a fiery spoken word song with dramatic musical backing that makes a stern statement (oddly similar to the before-mentioned Roy Harper’s monologue about that “man from the old stone who followed the weather”) of humankind’s modern truth and ecological plight with no punches pulled: Put simply, greedy “dead eyed men in suits” are burning life from the face of the Earth.
It’s a brilliant broadside – similar to Bob Dylan’s ‘With God On Our Side’ – without the dry irony. The song is a big broadside blast from a cannon loaded with wisdom. And, suddenly Brian Pearson’ song is at the heart of yet another folk revival, circa, 2021,
But there is, thankfully, salvation in ‘Here’s To Song’ – which finds that “man from the old Stone Age who followed the weather” is still able to end a folk club show with the humour, history, wit, wisdom of a troubadour, and enough hope to believe that any cat and any folk song locked in any Schrodinger’s box, even when “linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur” is quite alive, thank you, in the grooves of this, to quote Linda Thompson, “fashionably late” but really great folk record.
Artist’s website: https://brianpearson.bandcamp.com
‘Ecopalypse Now – arranged and played by Crewdson’:
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