An intoxicating musical and lyrical cocktail of Al Stewart and Ray Davies, infused with his own unique brilliance as a guitarist and songwriter, for his follow up to 2017’s A303, Devon based Hancock mines memories from childhood to middle age, from hanging out with fellow teens playing at being grown ups drinking ‘Thunderbird Wine’ to seeing the ‘Creases And Marks’ slowly appearing in the mirror.
The telescoping of time that underpins the album is laid out in the opening track, ‘My Mother (And The State Of My Hair)’, beginning with a wash of electronics and sampled sounds out of which gradually emerge the keyboards, drums and guitar for a song that starts in 1928 with the discover of penicillin, the 1930s Wall Street Crash and the birth of his mother, throwing in a reference to Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ on a blues and jazz tinged number that, embellished by trumpet, muses on the unreliability of memory.
Featuring Kathryn Tremlett’s violin and Jo Hooper’s cello double tracked into a string quartet, ‘Sarky Sally’ has Hancock playing a Puerto Rican cuatro on a song recalling a sharp-tongued schoolfriend who could make people laugh but “couldn’t make them happy”, schooldays also informing ‘Christopher’, a cello-accompanied composite portrait of a misfit coloured with a fair degree of autobiography.
A lively instrumental flavoured with strings, brass, accordion and euphonium, ‘Odyssey FC’ is a tip of the hat to the old Southend-on-Sea folk club that set him on his current career path, while, at nearly six minutes, ‘The Men In A Pub’ calls Pete Atkin to mind as, to simple fingerpicked acoustic, he reminiscences on three old codgers that used to inhabit the local pub’s snug bar on another number about time passing.
Featuring Ben Homer on piano and Devon-based music manager and promoter Katie Whitehouse on backing vocals, the waltztime ‘Four Spanish Words’ moves the album on to 1999 and an unreciprocated love that, in tandem with being broke, led Greg to relocating to Saudi Arabia, romantic disappointment being briefly alleviated when he was 40 by the short but passionate Paris affair commemorated in the all-acoustic fingerpicked ‘One Weekend’.
If you’ve ever met up for a reunion with someone you’ve not seen in years only, like a cornered animal, to remember why, then the rain-washed bluesy moodiness of ‘Coffee And Cake’, guitar complemented by warm sousaphone, cello and euphonium, will strike a chord, though whether you’d have the same courage to unleash the beast and speak your thoughts is another matter.
Featuring just acoustic guitar and subtle electronics, ‘A Cube Of Space’ is a particularly poignant moment, the first verse recalling an unsettling dream about his mother and the second an observation of his father succumbing to the slow ravages of dementia (“for a moment it seems there mighty yet be a trace left of the man she met when she was twenty-three”).
Another six-minute number, Ashley Height’s lap steel imparting country colours to its strum, ‘The Way Of These Things’ returns to his relocation to Saudi Arabia, subsequently followed by a move to Abu Dhabi and, a decade or so later, a return to the UK, giving rise to a song that considers and accepts the often transient nature of even close relationships, whether you’re in a country or a marriage.
It ends, appropriately, with the lazing, dappled melody of ‘Bedtime Now’, looking back on childhood and youth for a reflection on changing attitudes to bedtime, being sent upstairs by his mother or, in his teens, getting up at 5am or rolling in after dawn, the song coming up the years, looking for a beacon in the dark, and ending on an optimistic note, still leaving for work at five, but warmed throughout the day by the image of someone still in the bed he’s had to leave, waiting on his return.
Reflective and wistfully melancholic, but suffused with the warm glow of a life lived, his songs speak of lessons learned, hearts broken, people lost to time and of dreams that refuse to fade with the years. It may be very personal, but the feelings and experiences strike universally recognisable notes. Baldly put, it’s locking good.
Artist’s website: www.greghancockmusic.com