Well now, this is something different. Scottish singer-songwriter Yvonne Lyon has joined forces with Liverpool poet Stewart Henderson (who, as a songwriter, has provided the lyrics to several Martyn Joseph numbers, including ‘Working Mother’ and ‘Proud Valley Boy’) and his storyteller wife Carol for Vesper Sky, an album of songs and poems, the backing musicians including Wet Wet Wet’s Graeme Duffin and slide guitar maestro Bryn Haworth.
Described as a ‘journal for our time’, it opens with two Henderson and Lyon collaborations, uptempo social protest number ‘After The Fall’ (“For those deprived of everything all is stark and small/The place where Cinderella didn’t make it to the ball”) and the more reflective and intimate fingerpicked title track with its nature imagery as she sings “I choose grace” in the face of “the pantomime and circus of pretend.”
Written by Henderson, Lyon and co-producer Sandy Jones, and spoken by Carol, ‘How Clatter Is The World’ is a poem with piano, sparse percussion and programming backing, the title pretty much summing up its concerns. Two poems follow, ‘Eyes Down’ (a comment on our obsession with apps, tablets and icons) and ‘Considering The Hours Since’ (reflections on a military father’s death), the post-war and loss backdrop continuing over into ‘The Avenue’, the lyrics first spoken by Stewart before, accompanied by piano and cello, being sung in wistful tones by Yvonne.
There are seven other poems, Carol reading the thematically opposed ‘Burrowing’ (the anchor of love) and ‘Breakages’ (the things that break us apart), and joining her husband on ‘The Mind’s Not What It Was’, about the faltering of memory with age. Stewart reads the others, among them ‘Somewhere In The Library’ with its celebration of the power of books to spark children’s imaginations with its references to works by the likes of Walliams, Dahl, Grahame and Rowling and the images of loss and memories of a loved one in ‘Consideration’.
There’s three further poems with music, Perfect Fit’ a waltzing slide guitar backed shuffle about the places where he’s proud to be a misfit (Henley, nouveau bars, stretch limousines) that turns out to be a love song to the one to whom even Moira Stuart (a celebrated Scottish broadcaster for those not within the cultural context) cannot hold a rose.
Lines shared by Stewart and Carol, ‘Everything In Heaven’ is a cosmically atmospheric setting of a things fall apart poem they first published 21 years ago while, accompanied by spare piano notes and spoken by Carol, ‘Living This Long’ segues into ‘Dip Me Deep’, the two linked by a theme of listening to those that have gone before and to the power of nature or whatever divinity you hold to be true.
Returning to the songs, the gently fingerpicked ‘Under A Wolf Moon’ with Seonaid Aitken on fiddle treats on a similar spiritual theme of finding calm and freedom through submission to the design of the heavens. By contrast, featuring a brass section and with a march-like beat, the anthemic inspiring ‘Children Mind Your Language’, written by Stewart and David Lyon, has a Thea Gilmore air, the final song reeling in the tone and mood for the dreamier, piano and cello-backed open night skies feel of the photograph in words that is ‘December Coast of Galloway’ with its hymn to the enduring power and beauty of nature.
It all ends with the piano and fiddle arrangement of the Lyon-penned ‘Enjoy Not Endure’, all three voices coming together in spoken word and song as it closes with a return to the theme of the need to embrace and accept loss, but to also move on in recognition that “you were made for greater things than living with regret.”
Its title a reference to evening prayer, this is an album about life, love, loss and, as Reinhold Neibuhr put it, having the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
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‘Enjoy Not Endure’ – live: