BEAU – Fly The Bluebird (Cherry Red)

beauAnyone with an interest in the British music scene of the late 60s may remember Beau, the first artist to release a record on John Peel’s Dandelion label. Issued in July 1969,  ‘1917 Revolution’, a song about the Russian uprising, echoed the English protest folk also being produced by the likes of Al Stewart and Roy Harper.

No 1 in the Lebanon, it’s success back home was considerably less spectacular but generated sufficient interest to spawn two albums, the eponymous debut and 1971’s Creation. A third was planned for 1972, albeit to be released under the name of John Trevor (his real name being Trevor Midgley) although the only recording that saw light of day was ‘Sky Dance’,  part of the label’s swansong compilation, There Is Some Fun Going Forward.

Beau may have been subsequently consigned to the land of the musical forgotten, but he’s remained active, albeit mostly as a songwriter, interest being rekindled with reissues of the two albums in expanded formats and, in 2009, the release of Edge Of The Dark featuring five recordings from the scrapped third album alongside other previously unreleased tracks. This in turn was followed by Fables & Facades, a Cherry Red collection of full band versions of songs recorded between 1978 and 2000, 2011’s re-recordings of previously unissued material, The Way It Was and, last year, Twelve Strings To The Beau, featuring numbers recorded with Jim Milne and Steve Clayton from Tractor between 1975-1985.

He returns now with an all new download only collection, although, some subject matter aside, it sounds as though it could easily have been dusted down from the early 70s vaults. You may say it sounds dated, which, in the sense of being of a particular era, it does, but I think timeless might be a better description.

Little has changed over the years, his recordings still follow the one man and a 12 string guitar format, he still writes literate, caustic, sharply observed and politically resonant lyrics and he still conjures comparisons to such late 60s/early 70s contemporaries as Jackson C Frank,  Phil Ochs, Dylan and, most strikingly, Harvey Andrews and  Country Joe McDonald.

Kicking off with the folk-blues title track’s  coming storm warning and the lightly waltzing old guard’s reflections of ‘Death Of The Old Year’, political commentary protest also informs ‘Lenin’ (“where was the communism, please, in your community?”), the bluesy waltzing ‘Rooks & Ravens’ (Guantanamo Bay and its consequences), ‘Soldiers Of Fortune’ (the mercenaries of economics), ‘So Far Away’ (the shifting face of military technology), ‘Singapore’ (the self-generating decline of the British Empire) and ‘The Hum Of The Cable’ which echoes Thomas Jefferson’s  message about how it only needs good men to do nothing for evil to thrive.

Elsewhere, ‘That Silver Door’ addresses the nature of television news and those that report it, while the sleeve notes describe the sardonic and bitingly amusing ‘A Curious Man’ as one “for pub philosophers, barrack-room lawyers and dinner-party bores everywhere” and the self-interest themed ‘All The Way Down The Line’ (the singalong chorus of which shares DNA with ‘Fog On The Tyne’) is ‘a slap across the unacceptable face….’

Politics strikingly inform the personal too in the anger that burns through ‘When Gabriel Turns’, a powerful, hard-hitting portrait of the cruelty of dementia, so after all this bleakness it’s a relief to find the album closing on the slightly more hopeful notes of the chords-cascading ‘Saving Grace’’s possibility of redemption and, conjuring enduring optimism, ‘Wings’, even if its tumbling chorus refrain is melodically melody very reminiscent of Tom Russell’s ‘Blue Wing’. He may not have the critical and commercial cachet of Jake Bugg, but I know who I’d rate as the better troubadour.

Mike Davies

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