For the first time in the twelve years they’ve been making music together, Teeside husband and wife duo Stu and Debbie Hanna have, in response to fan demand, recorded an album of all original material, although, as you would imagine, these are, like previous self-penned numbers still influenced by the Tyneside folk tradition and sung in a distinctive regional accent. The songs that make up Good Times Will Come Again are not autobiographical, but rather a collection of observations of the life of your average working man and woman in contemporary Britain. As such, there’s plenty of political input as subjects span the plight of Teeside steelworkers (all the more pertinent in the light of the current Tata situation), refugees and zero-hour contracts.
The album kicks off with ‘Generation Rent’, a lively mandolin-driven number about the property ladder and how, with rising house prices and static wages, the younger generation is finding it increasingly hard to get a foot on the bottom rung, condemned to rent or live with their parents, even when they have families of their own. Yet even here, they find room for wit in the lines ‘on that glorious day my darling daughter comes to say I want to introduce gran to my fella. I say go down and tell her, she’s living in the cellar.’
The musical mood takes a more melancholic tone with ‘A Prayer For Hope’, a simple guitar strummed sketch of those risking their lives to cross oceans in search of a better life, the duo’s harmonies bearing testament to their early choir days. There’s an equally sorrowful air to the traditional colours of ‘The Bonny Lad’, a number inspired by the Northumbrian pipe and fiddle tune of the same name, as a mother lays to rest her son, another victim of ‘the worst of men and all they can destroy.’
Returning to their own backyard, featuring John Parker on double bass, ‘Burn Away’ is the first of two songs addressing the Teeside steel industry, a traditional flavoured, banjo-led snapshot of the daily routine in the steelwork furnaces in which you can almost feel the heat and taste the sweat, the line ‘the day there is no use for steel will be the day the world stops turning’ a prescient rallying cry to save the homegrown industry. Debbie also takes lead on the second of the two, ‘Patterns’, a gentle ballad laced with sorrowful fiddle inspired by last year’s closure of the Redcar steelworks sung in the voice of wife offering her support to a husband struggling to find work after being made redundant, but trying to keep up his family’s spirits by not showing his despair.
Unsurprisingly the effect of unemployment and poor wages on ordinary families plays a prominent part in the songs. Sawing fiddle drives the throbbing ‘Pushing On’, Stu taking lead on a song about families working all hours just to stay afloat and how “life is surely meant for living not just coping day by day”, while ‘Zero’ is a jaunty mandola and fiddle led morris-like counting song romp about being stuck with the uncertainty of a zero hours contract.
It’s not all so downbeat. Despite its mournful tune and the sparse guitar and fiddle accompaniment, ‘Rap’er Te Bank’, the lyrics derived from the industrial dialect of the 19th century Durham pit yards and the title from the cry miners would give for the cage to be sent down the shaft to bring them to the surface, is actually a love story about one of the pit workers and the lass he meets one July day. There’s love too in ‘The Bookkeeper’, a simple acoustic ballad with Patrick Duffin on percussion that tells of a Billingham bookkeeper’s undeclared love for the chief accountant’s clerk and features the uplifting chorus of “you can put a price on gold, on almost anything for I’ve been told, but the love that the true heart holds never can be sold”. Only when he learns she’s leaving does he summon up the courage to tell, her how he feels. Whether she returns his affections is never told, but given the album’s gospel country tinged duetted closing title track, Debbie on accordion, optimism rather than seems to be in the air. Of course, paying off your debts and every man and woman standing as equals may all be pipe dreams, but without hope what would be the point of getting out of bed. Megson know there are dark clouds in the sky, but they still set their alarm clock.
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‘Burn Away’ – official video: