The original Songs From The Shows were a pair of Albion Band albums in the early 1990s. It was probably Corunna with Steeleye Span that was Ashley’s introduction to folk music in the theatre or adding theatre to folk music but it was Lark Rise To Candleford that sealed his association with the genre. He’s never stopped. More Songs From The Shows is his 100th album in one guise or another – I haven’t counted them but I believe it – and contains music from four presentations from the twenty-first century. Supporters include Becky Mills, Guy Fletcher, Ken Nicol, Ruth Angell and Blair Dunlop – all longstanding Hutchings alumni.
The first section is ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ and the second is ‘Beginnings Of Fairport Convention’, both explorations of Ashley’s life in the 60s. The first is the mixture of song and spoken word that has become his signature style. Actually it’s not as simple as that. The first track, ‘Welcome To The World’ was originally recorded on Paradise And Thorns, which is last show to be featured. It’s positioning cements it firmly in Ashley’s adolescence even though Becky opens the vocals as a duet with the guv’nor. ‘Pedalling Suffragettes’ was written for Lark Rise and takes us back in time after Ashley reads ‘Want Of Will’ and the timeline becomes more confused.
The first track of the Fairport Convention show is ‘About Dawn’, originally recorded by Rainbow Chasers but its stories of first bands and getting home in the van in the early hours sit perfectly here. ‘Bird On A Wire’ was a Fairport Convention BBC session and Becky and Ashley again duet and ‘Crazy Man Michael’ – we all know ‘Crazy Man Michael’ – has Guy Fletcher on violin with Becky on vocals. It’s arguably the best track here.
Section three – ‘Dylancentric On The Isle Of Wight’ – sees Ashley in his element geeing up the crowd during ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’. I think that’s Ken Nicol on lead vocal with Blair Dunlop and Ruth Angell but I could be wrong. ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ was demoed by Steeleye Span and The Albion Band – Ashley’s connection with Bob Dylan goes back a long way – and it’s a belting song and suits his distinctive vocal style. ‘One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)’ completes the trio of songs from the Official Bootleg album of that one-off performance with Dunlop on lead vocal.
Finally, ‘Paradise And Thorns’, is a new show based on Ashley’s two romantic albums, Paradise And Thorns and By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down And Wept. Both bring out Ashley’s poetic side in a pared back style with just Becky and Blair in support and the final two tracks linking back to ‘Welcome To The World. Cleverly done.
More Songs From The Shows is probably not for novices as you do need some background knowledge to make sense of its narrative. If you don’t own all of Ashley’s other ninety-nine albums (be honest now) you’ll certainly find something to pique your interest. I know I did.
Artist’s website: http://ashleyhutchings.co.uk/
A long intro; Ashley Hutchings about the early days of Fairport Convention and his trio (Ashley, Ruth and Becky) sing ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’: