STEVE PLEDGER – Alone In The Dark (Noisy Dog Records NDCD02)

Alone In The DarkAs Steve says “live is what happens in a space…in a moment” but he produces a damn good approximation on his mini-album Alone In The Dark. Its only fault is that it’s too short – just eight tracks – but we have to live with that.

With the exception of the closing ‘We Shall Overcome’, an impromptu recording featuring Devon & Somerset Street Choirs, this is Steve taken as far back to basics as it’s possible to get; just one voice and one guitar. He opens the set with the impossibly poignant ‘Friends & Fathers’, the story of a man broken by war and the effect on his family. If this song doesn’t bring a tear to your eye you have no heart.

Politics is never too far from Steve’s writing but, by and large, he sticks to the less strident and more subtle songs. It’s tempting to say that ‘Back To The Beginning’, from his first album, represents the naïve thinking of a young man but its themes recur throughout Steve’s work and then you remember that he was forty when it was released. Both ‘The Parable Of Intent’ and ‘Matches In The Wind’ expound the idea that we should all do our bit, however small. The former turns into a bit of a rant towards the end and that’s OK as it leads into the powerful ‘I Spat Fire’ which contrasts with the delicate, fingerpicked ‘Me & The Silence’ and the upbeat ‘Creation Is Laughing’ which is a sort of “sod the lot of you” song.

The closing ‘Matches In The Wind’ really encapsulates Steve’s philosophy and is one of his very best songs. It is centred on a simple image and both the difficulty of and the importance of being out there, doing something. Alone In The Dark will only be available at Steve’s gigs and on-line and if you don’t have his three studio albums go there to purchase those, too.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.stevepledger.co.uk

‘Friends & Fathers’ – live:

STEVE PLEDGER – Striking Matches In The Wind (Story Records STREC1657)

SMITWBorn in Cambridge, raised in St Neots and now based in Somerset, Pledger’s been quietly building a following over the past 20 years, relying on just his voice, guitar and some damn fine songwriting. This is his second album and he describes the song as being concerned with “the power of the apparently powerless to achieve what often feels like an impossible task.” So, contemporary social protest songs basically, occasionally leavened with matters of the heart, Pledger’s fingerpicked and strummed guitar augmented here and there by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Tanya Allen on fiddle, and harmonica and accordion from Giles Newman Turner and Andrew Rock, respectively. The luminously talented Ange Hardy also joins him to add harmonies to the chokingly sung, heart-piercing end of a relationship a cappella number ‘There We Are’.

Listening to ‘People Who Care’ and the barbed ‘This Land Is Pound Land’ it’s impossible not to think of Martyn Joseph, one of Pledger’s acknowledged influences, and I’d suspect Martyn himself would be flattered by the comparison, though elsewhere you’ll also hear Don Maclean (the lyrically anthemic ‘take a stand’ ‘Matches In The Wind’), Woody Guthrie (‘The Parable of Intent’, a call to accept the reponsibility we have to the earth and those less fortunate than ourselves) and, on the bluesy mid-tempo harmonica blowing ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’ (a song about the real mindset of the austerity brigade), maybe also Billy Bragg, while the bluesy folk guitar playing on ‘Beneath The Sun’ suggests Davey Graham’s in the mix too.

Pledger’s songs have the ability to cut to the emotional quick, as potently evidenced by the strummed, fiddle-accompanied, slow waltz ‘A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do’, inspired by an old lady who, her care service withdrawn, died alone with nobody aware of her situation, and the simple vocal and guitar ‘Friends & Fathers’, a song that relates the impact that the post-traumatic fallout from war can have on a family as the narrator recalls his mother telling him how, before his father left, he used kneel at his bedside, crying and saying how much he loved him. It’s impossible to listen without welling up.

There are brighter moments too, ‘Loving Condescension’ with its account of seeing two lovers taking a selfie while he was driving along the North Devon coast’ and ‘Days Like These’, a fingerpicked love song written for his wife’s birthday, the album balancing the light with the dark, the hope with the anger to kindle a spark and keep the fire burning.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: http://www.stevepledger.co.uk/

‘Friends & Fathers’ from Steve Pledger’s new album: