Formerly a member of Scottish outfit The Skerries and 70s folktronica duo Tonight At Noon, Fire In The Snow is the Glaswegian-based singer-songwriter’s first completely solo album, all bar one of the songs, sung in an unabashed accent, being self-penned.
Again, it melds traditional and technology, opening with the circling melody line and drum beats, and dulcimer of ‘Lady Luck’, a song about either fate’s fickleness or serendipity depending on how you take his story of a lottery win that was just enough to replace his computer when it broke down the next day.
Based on an old Corries’ song and featuring synthesised classical pizzicato strings, ‘Dearest Nancy’ (from whence comes the album title) sounds like an old Irish traditional tune and, built upon a thumping drum pattern, is quite irresistibly lovely.
Returning to acoustic guitar, ‘A True Glaswegian’ again sounds traditional notes on a song inspired by a sign in park dedicated to ‘Rajesh Bagha – a true Glaswegian’, but, more than that, nods to the city’s welcoming multi-cultural nature and, by extension, a commentary on immigration as he sings “Home, you gather strangers round your door”.
Mention of parks leads to ‘The Grasscutter’, another infectious number which, opening with birdsong and the sound of starting up a petrol engine lawnmower, tromps along on accordion and clanking hammer on steel percussion, recalling his student summers working in the local parks department.
Changing musical tack, the five-minute ‘The Uniform’ takes on an Indian raga feel mingled with echoes of the ISB, a song inspired by a 1990 holiday in Bulgaria and meeting a couple proud of the country’s westernisation; this before the war that tore the country apart.
Ecology provides the theme for ‘This Desolate Future/The Wilderness’, a sparsely-structured eight-minute musing on the way mankind blindly depletes its resources “to cushion your lives” that shades into a windblown instrumental that conjures images of barren plains and horizons of desolation.
The solo non-original comes with a cover of ‘Don’t Sign Up For War’, a traditional styled strummed protest number written by the late Scottish songwriter-activist Alistair Hulett about Glasgow-born socialist and WWI protestor John Maclean and featured in a 2017 theatre production of Mrs Barbour’s Army (about another Scottish activist) for which Livingstone was musical director.
There’s more history on ‘The Waverley Line’, an instrumental number bookended by archived spoken samples from the Memory Bank in Galashiels and which he originally recorded under the alias of The Waverley Line Dance Band for a CD commissioned in 2001 to raise awareness of the need to reopen the line from Edinburgh to Galashiels.
The album ends on another walking beat drum rhythm and choppy guitar with ‘Waters On The Sand’ (with an acknowledged Pink Floyd influence), a song essentially about getting fed up of beating your head against a brick wall that has its roots in his working life as secondary school maths teacher “looking for sense in the midst of a daze”.
It’s unlikely to receive a huge amount of exposure beyond circles already familiar with his work, but, one of the best things I’ve heard this year, it really deserves to be sought out.
Artist’s website: www.gavinlivingstone.com
‘Don’t Sign Up For War’ – with Rory McLeod: