Born in London but, for the past four decades, based in Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales, McSherry is a singer, songwriter, former teacher, fell runner and, along with two of his sons, furniture maker. A Place To Stay is his second album and, while his slightly reedy, gummy voice may be something of an acquired taste, well worth investigating, the music drawing on folk, blues and jazz as it explored a range of social and political issues.
It opens on a jazzy note with the violin flavoured title track, musically evocative of ‘Making Whoopee’, the song, inspired by an encounter with a young Polish hitchhiker and his comments about how friendly people were in the UK, sung in the first person addressing the refugee experience “on a long cold lonely road” and the risks taken to find somewhere to put down roots.
The equally breezy but folksier ‘As I Was Walking’, reminiscent of McTell or Paxton and featuring mandolin and fingerpicked guitar in inspired by Veterans For Peace, an organisation of those who have seen service and now campaign for finding different ways to resolve conflict (“We can dwell on the hurt, we can dwell on the insult/We can look for the devil within/Or we can choose to see what can bind us/To find what is beautiful under the skin…for together our futures are much better prepared”).
Returning to jazzier climes with hints of Brubeck, featuring pipes, recorder and flutes, ‘If I Could Be Free’ is another political number, here about how governments “subvert the truth with their lies and their malice/To challenge the freedoms that cost us so dear— The freedom to play and the freedom to prosper/The freedom to gather in commonly cause/The freedom to work for equitable wages/For land not divided by wealth or by war”, once again a call to come together “with sisters and brothers on far distant shores” to win back our liberty.
Arranged for Spanish and slide guitar with heavy drums and Hammond organ, the title of ‘None So Blind’ pretty much speaks for itself as, in a father to son setting, he talks of “Them as go to war and say I’m fighting for my peace/Them as buy stolen goods and complain about the thieves/Them as praise the one who gives alms to the poor/But calls a man a fool if he asks why they are poor”.
Turing to medieval troubadour flavours, ‘England Green’ offers an ironic counterpart to the green and pleasant land of Blake’s Jerusalem and Shakespeare’s “happy breed of men” in a pandemic setting of a self-serving government and the extremes of wealth and poverty “where justice will always agree/With those who can afford the fee”. A companion piece comes with the jaunty percussion and breezy flute of ‘England Our Grace’ (“she sits without a thought of time/In busy city’s pavement grime/And with folded cardboard claims a space/Till numbness drives her from that place ….The rich have kept their money close/Twas those in need that helped the most”) while, sandwiched between is ‘Too Wise To Weep’, the flute taking on a Celtic lament feel before transforming to drone behind the otherwise unaccompanied vocals as he sings of seeing “the broken and the hungry/Scratch a living from the clay…the torment of those driven/By conflict from their land”, of hatred and homelessness and of being “hardened by the murders/And the bombing and the war/Broken people broken promises/Till I can cry no more”.
At which point, you feel in need of some light amid the darkness, to which end comes the simple strummed, mandolin-flecked ‘Here I Stand’ celebrating the strength of love (“there’s not one precious thing in this whole world could compare with you/Cos your love lights up my life”) , heralding the album’s more personal final stretch and followed by ‘Never Again’, a childhood Remembrance Day memory of “the day when my nan stood me there/On a chair as she dressed me she talked of war/And she pinned a poppy right here on my new coat and said ‘Son you must make sure this happens no more’” as “she spoke of the folly and short wasted lives/Of lovers and friends whose lives it had cost”.
The pipes put in another appearance alongside tumbling hollow percussion ‘Up Into The Hay’, an uptempo traditional-folk styled nostalgic number about gathering in the hay in the Dales, proceeding to the accordion-led swayalong ‘Now Is The Time’, a post-harvest Christmas wassail written for The Kendall Revellers to sing in the pubs, finally ending with ‘We Can Take A Walk’, a joyous celebration of the uplifting nature of dance that, inspired by his granddaughter dancing to a Bhundu Boys CD, embraces a fiddle flowing cocktail of folk, country dancing, Cajun and rock n roll to remind that “when the music takes your soul/And lifts your spirits high/You can feel it in your body/As your hips they flick from side to side/Your hands rise up above your head/Your shoulders start to shake/And from those bones that creak and groan/The music drives away all ache”.
An album to come away feeling incensed, invigorated and inspired, it’s looking for a place to stay, so give it a home.
Artist’s website: www.kevinmcsherry.co.uk
‘Make Sure This Happens No More’ – live in the studio: