TOM HOUSTON – Gap In The Fence (IPP333)

Gap In The FenceGap In The Fence, the fourth album by Scottish Highlands singer-songwriter Houston, produced by and featuring Neill MacColl, son of Ewan and erstwhile member of The Bible, takes its title to represent both the enticing promise of adventure into realms unknown and the potential threat of what lurks beyond, and also the transition from childhood to adult.

Part song, part spoken-word, it begins with the simply strummed ‘Child On A Plane’, a reminiscence of a flight sat next you a young boy and his grandfather, excited about his upcoming trip to Scotland, but extends to the idea of strangers becoming friends. Returning to 1989, the fingerpicked ‘Backs To The Wall’, evocative of James Taylor, was the closing number in live shows by his band at the time, Bamboozle, his fellow former members Cathryn and Lucie Robson joining on vocals (as they do on several numbers) and Kate St John on piano, the warmth also infusing the piano-accompanied ‘Mud On The Doorway’, a song about the sanctuary and safety of home away from the world outside.

The first of the spoken word pieces, featuring womb sound samples, is the social commentary of ‘Not Enough Tuna’ (“too many people… not enough tuna…too much take not enough give”) and from fish to soup with the lyrically enigmatic Cat Stevens-like waltzing ‘Campbell’s Lament’, Warhol allusions quite possibly implied.

Things get relatively rocky on MacColl co-write ‘The Hook’, a Velvetsesque number about artistic frustration basically summed up in the line “ got the bait…can’t find the hook”, and then it’s back to spoken word for the drone-backed, wonderfully bleak Jimmy And The Mammoth with music by David Harper Gray, returning to folksy soul climes for the gently rippling John Martynish ‘I Am the River #33’, a number framed around the Whanganui Māori in New Zealand and their ancestral Whanganui river, afforded status of a legal person by the New Zealand government, and featuring Mary Erskine on vocals and cello with St John on piano.

‘Laughter Below’ is a slow swaying song about growing older, things gradually falling away, mortality and quite possibly incipient deafness (“I’m losing it/The sounds and the song and the show”) and then, in musical contrast, you get the jaunty skip of ‘Righteous’ (a number you could hear The Proclaimers doing) which is essentially summed up as he sings “don’t you get judgemental with me” in a song about not confusing what you believe with the truth.

Gap In The Fence ends with two final spoken pieces. Featuring bee buzzing, drum machine beat and keyboard burblings, ‘Don’t Drop It Dexter’ (apparently inspired by hearing someone shout out in a Glasgow hardware store) had me thinking of David Tennant rather than Ivor Cutler, and then there’s the brief 66-second art-dream vignette ‘Sonic Deviance’ which, to a MacColl soundscape, imagines Don Van Vliet (Captain Beeheart to you and me) opening a holiday camp with Frank Zappa floating overhead and an empty office containing the head of an antelope. And oddity at times, but well worth peering through that gap.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.tomhouston.org

‘Child On A Plane’ – official video: