As well as being the living definition of a consummate live performer (with sold out signs a regular occurrence), with songs that variously offer sharp social and political commentary or touch the heart of what it means to be human, Colvin is unquestionably one of this country’s finest – if somewhat under-recognised – songwriters. And, again teamed with his excellent long-standing backing musicians, upright bassist Jerome Davies, versatile guitarist Lyndon Webb and accordionist Trish Power, plus contributions from Marion Fleetwood and Michael Keelan on strings, he returns with another collection of, as the sleeve notes put it, “original folk songs”, although such a tag is probably understated given the scope of what’s on offer within Fully Functioning Wind Up Mechanism.
It kicks off with the near six-minute jaunty strum of ‘Clown Shoes’, which takes the familiar notion of hiding sadness behind a smile (“I’m wearing my clown paint on my pretty little face/But I don’t see it that way so I slap on my clown paste”) and adapts it to the world of a performing musician, using their songs as a way of expressing their inner feelings (“And if you think I scare you think what it’s doing to me/I have to hide my sensitive side just to survive you see”), presenting an oversized persona to the public but remaining a private cipher (“Everybody knows my name/But I remain anonymous just the same”), the lyrics engaging in some trademark punning (“I’m appearing at the clown court but it’s not really me/I send a trainer clown to take the custard pie for me”) and ending with the poignant line of “With a honk of my horn I’ll perform for the sad and forlorn”.
Another sprightly folksy strum, ‘When The Light Switch Can’t Be Found’ is the first of the relationship-themed songs (“I don’t want to go to bed just yet/Because I’m afraid that I’ll forget/Just one single second of the day I spent with you”), here walking a balance (“One day we’re kids in clover the next on a precipice”) but always there to support (“when the dark nights bring you down/And the light switch can’t be found/I will be your guide back to the brighter side”) in what hints at times of depression.
Switching subject matter, with circling accordion notes and fiddle, ‘Tunnel To The Moon’ takes its inspiration and narrative from the secret tunnels in Nazi Germany where scientists were working on what was intended to be a weapon to win the war, subsequently being recruited to work on America’s space programme (“He looked at me in ’43 as if I wasn’t there/Both adorned by skull and bones our insignia/The next time that I saw him was in 1963/In the back of a limousine with John F Kennedy”). It’s sung in the voice of one of those forced to work in the Mittelbau Factory and the conditions they endured to survive (“I knocked a man down to the ground for a bite of cheese/A fist of bread and a cheek of meat… I watched a woman bribe a guard with a hollow kiss/From professor to a whore they made us into this”) and is devastating in its understated power.
Given a courtly troubadour styled arrangement and minstrel vocal delivery with choral harmonies, ‘Dulcima And The Serpent’ is a deliberate attempt to craft a traditional medieval ballad, weaving an Eden-referencing story of being led astray by sexual seduction and desire (“Her name was Dulcima sapphire eyes and steely air/Chants the starling from the eaves and charmed the snake in me/Was not me that followed hence was the snake down the lane went/Where she lazed upon the gate that led down to St Patrick’s lake”) that leads to self-destruction and murder (“It was the snake the hammer bore that played upon sweet Dulcima/The apple cradled in my palm proved my sin and damnation”).
Again showcasing Power’s nimble accordion work, ‘Him Of the Sea’ adopts a shanty approach for a symbolism-laden song about seeking salvation and redemption but being slave to whatever is the siren call of an addiction you cannot resist (“on every land-locked day Poseidon called to me/In every nightmare he drowned out Persephone… You try to live a lie and shun Almighty destiny/But you can’t ignore the lure I am the him of the sea”) that sports a line that resonates with a hymnal quality – “Oh Lord my boat so small vast is your sea”.
The second relationship track is ‘All Over Again’, an autobiographical-based tumbling chords number about a chance encounter with an old flame that briefly rekindles the spark (“I stared at the space where I’d just seen your face a moment before/It’s funny how you were still there but not anymore”) that, set on the Bakerloo Line, whimsically involves turnstiles and escalators as metaphors of time moving on that leaves us “minding the gap in the baggage car/Between who we were then and who we are”.
It seems too good to be true, but written in response to the pandemic, accompanied by suitably Celtic coloured fiddle, the slow waltzing ‘The Laird Of Loch Doon’ is actually a true story set in an island castle in Scotland at the time of the Great Plague where the owner and his family took refuge, extrapolated into a ghost story of his spirit still too scared to leave its walls, the ruin relocated to the shore following the flood that drowned the isle, the line “I can roam the earth once more but here through fear I remain” surely striking a chord with many faced with the eventual lifting of the Covid restrictions.
Opening a capella, it remains in Scotland for the stirring swayalong ‘Malcolm’s Song’, based around Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the battle to “right the foulest of wrongs”, “set Caledonia free” and let the healing being.
Not a Black Sabbath cover, but, riding Power’s frisky accordion, ‘Paranoid’ sets out what it says on the label in a lyric aimed at social media, modern technology and attendant conspiracy theories about data harvesting that references Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tinder
Tik Tok, WhatsApp and Snapchat because “they know when I didgeridont and when I didgeridoo”.
Fully Functioning Wind Up Mechanism ends on another autobiographical note with the comforting childhood memories (the evergreen’s red berries) of ‘On the Holly Tree’ (“I don’t recall who took that snap or why she wore my cowboy hat/But I remember how we felt like being wrapped up in warm velvet”), of riding a hobby horse (as on the rear sleeve photo), growing up, smoking your first cigarette, that first broken heart and how, while photographs may fade, the feelings always remain.
A truly wonderful album in which the gears mesh perfectly, wind it up and don’t let it go.
Artist’s website: www.gerrycolvin.co.uk
‘Him Of The Sea’ – filmed on mobile phones: