HECTOR GILCHRIST – Gleanings (WildGoose WGS426CD)

GleaningsHector Gilchrist, as you will quickly discover, comes from Ayrshire but is much travelled. To misuse a common phrase, however: you can take the man out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the man. There is someone like Hector in just about every folk club: always welcome, able to produce a set at a moment’s notice. They may not be stars but some can elevate themselves above their apparently humble status. Gleanings is a collection of traditional and contemporary songs that might seem typical except for Hector’s skill in finding a previously unconsidered piece.

He begins with the lovely ‘Baltic Street’. It’s a tale of love and self-sacrifice with words by Violet Jacob and a melody by Carole Prior and I guess it’s unique to Hector. It slips easily into ‘How Many Rivers’, Robert Burns’ ‘A Rosebud By My Early Walk’ and Steve Knightly’s ‘Exile’. By now, the album is feeling rather downbeat and I’m hoping for something rather more lively. Although a guitarist himself, Hector only plays on one track, ‘Sir Patrick Spens’, and leaves most of the work to Bob Wood. Also supporting him are Carol Anderson on fiddle and the myriad talents of Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer. Moira Craig takes the second vocal lines – I’m not going to belittle her contribution by referring to “backing vocals”. You’ll note that all of them are regular visitors to WildGoose studios.

The liveliness begins with ‘A Waukrife Minnie’ – a night visiting song of the sexual encounter not the supernatural sort – with Carol throwing in a fiddle tune at the end. ‘My Ain Countrie’ is a wistful song of exile and then comes the first of those unconsidered pieces. ‘The Stag’ was written by Angelo Brandaurdie, an Italian composer, songwriter and Renaissance music specialist. It’s an oddly philosophical piece in which the titular beast urges the writer, a hunter, to use every part of his body instead of just taking a trophy. Whether the hunter actually kills the animal is not recorded. After ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ things cheer up again with ‘The Gallowa’ Hills’ and then comes the second unexpected gem. Janis Ian’s ‘When Angel Cry’ is a real downer, written at the height of the AIDS crisis. Vicki and Jonny provide the accompaniment with all the delicacy you’d expect.

Gleanings is an album reminiscent of a time when singers didn’t overthink things. It’s a collection of songs that Hector likes and enjoys performing which is where we all came in. That’s not a veiled criticism; I’d not heard ten of these sixteen songs before proving that there is always something new to discover.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://hectorgilchrist.co.uk/

‘Baltic Street’:

STUART FORESTER – The Good Earth (Melonstone MLNR002)

The Good EarthSince we last heard from Stuart Forester he has endured tragedy and moved to Scotland from where he sometimes posts photographs of his new life and where he recorded his second album, The Good Earth. If you loved A Yard Of Ale as much as I did, you may feel some trepidation now. I admit that Stuart’s new record sat on my desk for a while waiting for me to pluck up the courage to play it. I can tell you now that he has lost nothing and gained much in the intervening years.

The opening track, ‘Born In A Blizzard’, takes us back to his home town of Hull. It has a retro sound with big guitar enhanced by Jonny Hardie’s fiddle and a jazzy/blues feel that comes from somewhere in the 60s. As before, Stuart keeps his arrangements simple – he plays dulcimer and keys as well as guitar – and also has Carol Anderson’s fiddle, Davy Cattanach’s percussion and harmony vocals from Rhiannon Campbell’s harmony vocals but nothing is overdone and the songs are where they should be – front and centre.

At first glance ‘Dead End Road Signs’ would seem to originate in America’s rust-belt but add in Stuart’s accent and it could equally be about the Yorkshire coalfields. ‘Red Brick Ballads’ is about “any street” but you sort of know that it’s about Hull and ‘Say Goodbye To Your Grimsby Lass’ proudly announces its roots in the fishing industry. ‘JJ Ride That Horse’ is definitely set in the USA but take away the coyotes and it could be describing life in the Scottish highlands. Stuart seems to enjoy ambiguity and double meanings.

Take the north London Irish song, ‘London Pride’, a wonderful tale of a session. The title could simply mean the sense of belonging in a community like that but it also refers to the beer. Then again, it is a story from Stuart’s past and implicitly references his late wife, Karen. Once again Hardie’s fiddle sets the scene and if I had been charged with sequencing the album I would have closed with it instead of the rather downbeat ‘Colorado Days’. If that’s the only criticism I can come up with you can be sure that there’s not much wrong with The Good Earth. And there’s much more for you to discover for yourself.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.stuartforester.com

‘London Pride’ – live: