Steve Ashley had a long career before his time in the spotlight came with Stroll On and its follow-up Speedy Return. In the preceding decade he had worked with so many musicians and played at so many places but he seemed to be dogged by bad luck that continued even after his initial successes. Steve Ashley’s Family Album was recorded in 1979 and produced by Dave Pegg but couldn’t find a release until 1982 when the Peggs set up Woodworm Records.
As you can see from the cover, Steve was accompanied by a number of luminaries from the folk-rock world and Steve himself appears in the cover photo as the dog! Which brings us to the Revisited edition boasting a new remix and two bonus tracks.
Steve Ashley has the ability to write about major issues and the minutiae of everyday life, from sticky pub carpets to varieties of apple, with equal conviction. Here the major theme is the importance of the family and the minutiae are often embarrassing. The opener, ‘Family Love’, is a jolly song but there are some spiky lines that make you feel that the jollity is rather forced. ‘Born To Rule’ comes from the point of view of a baby and takes a swipe at nursery rhymes which, it has to be said, can be quite frightening sometimes. ‘Pancake Day’ is sung a cappella with harmony vocals by Capes. It looks at one special day in the family’s life but there is a sting in the tail. ‘Lost Of Found’, the story of a rescue dog, is all sting. Steve sings it unaccompanied and almost corpses once or twice as he works hard to maintain the dog’s voice.
‘Once In A While’ has become one of Steve’s most covered songs, the reminiscences of the grandmother who has seen it all but the father’s song, ‘Feeling Lazy’, still resonates with all of us at some time or other – “feeling lazy and I’m busy here in bed”. ‘I’m A Radio’ is a story of abuse – abuse of technology, admittedly – but things begin to get darker from here on. After ‘Days Like Today’ ‘Love Is All We Live For’ and ‘Little Bit Of Love’ both detail the disintegration of the family.
Then comes the first of the bonus tracks. ‘Somewhere In A Song’ was omitted from the original vinyl release for reasons of space but here it brings a few moments of lightness before ‘The Rough With The Smooth’, the grandfather’s song, full of bitterness, originally the final track on the album. I can’t help but wonder how Steve would approach the subject now he’s older than the song’s protagonist and forty years have passed.
Now to close the record we have ‘For Bruce’, Steve’s tribute to his old friend, the late Bruce Rowland who plays drums on most of the album and got the final word – or cymbal crash – on the original release. Steve sings a simple biography unaccompanied beginning and ending with Bruce’s funeral.
Steve Ashley’s Family Album is an album I haven’t listened to in many years and I come back to it now with a new appreciation. It’s a record you can happily sing along with in places but you also uncover layers of meaning as you go. It’s as fine an example of Steve’s songwriting as you could hope to hear.
Artist’s website: http://www.steveashley.co.uk/
We haven’t found any video footage of Family Album tracks so here’s something more recent – a live version of ‘Best Wishes’: