GREG HANCOCK – Architecture & Archaeology (own label)

Architecture & ArchaeologyA distinctive guitarist and songwriter of wistful depth and sophisticated melancholic design who draws on the experience of the past to build strong foundations for the future, Architecture & Archaeology is the third in a trilogy addressing the unreliability of memory and how personal narrative impacts how we interact in the world, again reinforcing his immense skill on a collection of pared down but richly textured arrangements.

Featuring organ and Harbottle & Jonas on backing vocals, it opens evocative of John Martyn with the jazzy blues ‘Changing’ which, as the title suggests, reflects on the personal changes we go through over time, whether the mundane (“Would it just be the tiles on the bathroom floor? /Or the way you do your hair?”) or something more meaningful as we reflect back to our younger days and where we stand today, noting that change isn’t always for the better.

Detecting perhaps a vague hint of Motown influence, introduced by circling guitar and bass, ‘Elephants’ again looks back in time, where to when “My friend, Vanessa Jones, from Primary School/Said that she’d read/That all the elephants/Would be dead soon/And I ran home to my mum/And asked if it was true, and she said/She didn’t think people were that foolish or cruel”, the lyrics naturally proceedings to muse on the way we have treated, not just elephants, but the whole planet as, faced with climate change and more,  he wryly observes how “It’s never too late/For people to procrastinate”.

Again in late night reflective mood, ‘Dead End Road’ is streaked with regret at advice unheeded and paths chosen (“You took one look at the warning sign/And headed off down a dead end road”), while, returning to the opening theme, the equally spare and ruminative title track is basically about the vanity in believing that what we do has any permanence (“We only ever knew how to build a house on sand/Held together with string and rubber bands/And when the roof blew off/We sat there, stupid, in the rain/Each one hoping/It might just blow back on again”), a decidedly downbeat perspective on which he concludes “When we’re long gone/And unremembered/I’d be surprised, if anything survived/Of the archaeology of our lives”.

Joined by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, lead guitar and percussion, set, one assumes, in a care home, ‘His Twisted Fingers’ sketches  six-minute jazzed blues portraits  of old age and dementia (“He’ll talk to anybody there/He’s always got a story or three –/Though his memory’s not what it used to be./Sometimes the faces don’t fit/Sometimes the places contradict/But his twisted fingers still twitch/Above a piano that isn’t there”). Then, again looking back to his childhood, based around a photograph of himself and his father, ‘Not Quite Ready’  charts how such relationships can twist out of shape as teenage defiance and rebellion takes hold (“within three years, we wouldn’t breathe the same air/Without a fight”), breaking apart and the poignantly coming up the years (“The last time I saw him, I cut his nail/Because nobody else there would”), a moving snapshot of an old man not ready to yet give up the fight (“He was not quite ready/To let them nail down the lid”)  and the heartbreaking final line “when I left, he squeezed my hand/Or at least, I think he did”.

Taking a more uptempo, organ backed rhythm, the conversational  ‘Just What You’re Looking For’ is a fine example of Hancock’s more humorous side, a lyrics most can identify with when he sings:

Sometimes you see someone wearing something
And you think it looks good…
And you ask yourself if you could get away with it too –
And convince yourself you could.
So you spend the whole day shopping,
Just trying to find something in your size
And take it triumphantly to the till
Ignoring the shop assistant’s eyes
And you take it home, hang it up and never put it on.”

Then extending the analogy to relationships  as you meet the seemingly perfect partner until, one day,  “you hold them to the light/And suddenly feel sure/Though they are just what you were looking for…/You don’t want them any more”.

Preceded by the meditative fingerpicked acoustic guitar instrumental ‘This Day (Like All Days)’, such unsettling realisations  (“you look at the one you love/And sometimes they might as well be someone you’ve never seen”) carry over into the fingerpicked penultimate track,  ‘Peaches and Cream’. Again featuring Drinkwater and given a talk-sing approach, it too  touches on familiar experiences as we grow older (“You know when you have that thing in your head/Going round and round/But you just can’t put your finger on it/It might be something someone said – you just can’t pin it down/And then, later on, asleep in bed/In your head you’re just about to reach out and taste/The peaches and cream… you have a rude awakening/From the middle of a beautiful dream”), and an unwillingness to admit that we have (“in a certain light…. you can still convince yourself/You really haven’t changed that much since you were thir-for-thirty -one”). Until you look in the bathroom mirror.

Excavating the past and exploring the monuments we build of and to our lives , veined with introspection, compassion, empathy, love and regret Architecture & Archaeology is an album for audiences of a certain age and shared understandings, meant to be sat down and actually listened to without distractions, perhaps accompanied by a fine bodied red or a warm malt. You can rely on that the foundations are solid.

Mike Davies

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‘Architecture & Archaeology’ – official video: