Based in Iona, where the album was recorded, raised on influences as diverse as Buddy Holly, Bert Jansch and JJ Cale, Akehurst’s musical history entails lengthy stints on the Christian music circuit. I have no idea how many albums he’s released in his 50 years as a musician, but apparently An Old Man’s Folly started out as a solo retrospective and gradually transformed to include new songs and a clutch of collaborators providing fiddle, drums and electro piano on various tracks.
Delivered in his seasoned, slightly husked voice, it opens with the title track, a reflective snapshot of a neighbour, “friendly, but inscrutable as a white monk”, who worked for the council who harboured dreams of becoming a painter after he retired, dying suddenly and the song recalling helping his widow sort through the stuff in his shed and finding a book of poems he’d written, the song basically a celebration of the hope and beauty that often goes unnoticed.
Stories are the foundation of the album, whether they be about someone unexpectedly finding themselves spending ‘Christmas In Nova Scotia’ at his dying girlfriend’s bedside after she’s involved in a car crash with her secret lover (“it wasn’t the first time that you lied to me/You didn’t know that it would be the last”) or revisiting what was once called ‘The Green Room Café’ “To kill an hour or so/Nursing my coffee over the morning papers”, and finding themselves lost in reveries of past betrayals “each layer built on the wreckage gone before Like debts piled on debt”.
Likewise, channelling Guthrie and Paxton influences ‘The Atlantic Charter’ recounts the true WWII story of the Prince of Wales sailing the North Atlantic risking U-boats, carrying Churchill to rendezvous with Roosevelt in August 1941 at Placentia Bay to sing the charter of the title, the song reflecting on how its noble ideals (“we seek no aggrandisement of any kind/But the will of all people to be free/Free from oppression, from want and from fear”) have long since been sunk like the ship that went down torpedoed in the South China Sea.
There’s songs about romance and relationships such as ‘White Mare’ (“I thought of things that I might say to you/On such a night of bliss (such a night of bliss)/If you hadn’t picked on that perfect loser”) or ‘Last Boat’ (“You don’t answer my messages/I don’t know if they even get read/I can’t think of a reason/For you to cut me dead/I don’t know if you’re frightened/Or what you might be frightened of/It’s not as though I had an agenda/Or threatened you with love”).
These sit alongside political-focused numbers like the Eric Bogle-like ‘Good Neighbours’ about refugees fleeing oppression and corporate greed to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean and the bitter near ten-minute ‘Remembrance Day’ (“From Iran to Nicaragua buds of freedom grew in vain/Tyranny did good business, while people walked in chains”) as he sings of how “the masters of war still trying to work out who to bomb”. There’s another lyric nod to Dylan too when he sings of the chimes of freedom in ‘Heaven’s Bounty’, another song in protest against how “The world abases before big money/While crocodile tears come trickling down” as he calls “Come all you young men, tear these ruins down” as the track ends with the refrain from ‘The Water Is Wide’.
There’s reflection in ‘Iona – June 2019’, an appropriately Celtic -tinted ballad rumination on the island’s landscape and spiritual heritage, while the John Martyn-shaded ‘An Uneventful Evening’ recalls an emotional breakdown over a lost relationship while driving home from a gig, ‘Rolling Along’ is a jaunty folk blues celebration of friendship between “two jolly old tars/Putting distance on our working lives” despite the fact the world’s going to shit. And it ends with ‘Wisdom’, a note of faith in a toxic world of greed, persecution and “so many chains that bind us and wounds that hurt us sore” in a quiet and resolute belief that, quoting from Matthew 25:36 (“I was naked and you clothed me, I was hungry and you gave me bread”) “happy are the peacemakers and happy those that mourn/And for justice and the truth hunger and thirst/And …stand watchful and wait for the dawn/And the sanity and wisdom of Jesus”.
Couched in simple but warm melodies that meld 60s folk, mariner music, blues and jazz colours and sung in a relaxed, fireside manner, An Old Man’s Folly isn’t one for your brash young whippersnapper folkies, but if you prefer a 16-year-old malt to a Jager bomb, then you should pour a glass and drink deep.
Artist’s website: www.jerryakehurst.co.uk
‘An Uneventful Evening’ – live: