Ashley Hutchings’ Musical Star Shines on ‘By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept’

By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and WeptThe remastered re-release of Ashley Hutchings’ By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept is one of those rare albums that is so beautiful it can re-ignite a genre as it leads music lovers to  rediscover an artist.

It’s no overstatement to consider this album a true gift. Hutchings, the Gov’nor himself, has nothing left to prove in music. If he walked away today, he’d still be revered for creating more exceptional music––both under his own direction and through founding bands including Fairport Convention, The Albion Band and Steeleye Span––than almost anyone else in folk-rock, British or otherwise. As Bruce Eder of All Music perfectly stated: “In many respects, he is to English folk-rock the rough equivalent of what John Mayall is s to British blues, except that his recordings have remained interesting for far longer.”

And, let’s add, that Hutchings takes interesting music and makes it even richer. It’s impossible to separate how Docks compares with other albums in Hutchings’ voluminous catalog. How many times can one say an artist’s music is brilliant? So let’s talk about the strengths of this Hutchings’ release, which was originally available in 1987 for a limited time. As Spinal Tap proved, there’s a fine line between relevant prog rock and parody.

One has to wonder how Hutchings wrote the songs on this album in real time, during the course of the relationship––that alternate between spoken word and music––without crossing the line. Anyone who has ever been in love in what seemed a doomed-from-the-start situation, can appreciate the immense task Hutchings undertook to write and execute songs that veer from rock to folk to Morris On to reflect his innermost feelings. And he did it all without making any music that sounds tacky or trite or overly syrupy.

Indeed, the songs are almost a showcase of the many genres in which Hutchings works.

There’s “Keep You Warm,” a jaunty, pub rock song that under less expert guidance could veer dangerously into sugary pop. He then moves ahead to  blues rock on “Don’t Look Back,” with more than a bit of Eric Clapton riffs to keep the sound rocking. Just a few songs later, “Brief Encounters” puts one in mind of classical folk with more than a dollop of new age music carried ahead with vocals by Polly Bolton.

And, of course, Hutchings says he’s at his best when he taps various musicians to form groups or, in this case, bring arrangements to life. That’s certainly true here. As one would expect, Hutchings has a Who’s Who of great musicians on this album including Albion Band veterans Phil Beer, Graeme Taylor, Dave Whetstone, and John Shepherd, Steve Ashley who was in the Albion Country Band, and the much-celebrated drummers Dave Mattacks who was with Fairport Convention. Michael Pennington and Marilyn Cutts divide the spoken word tracks and Polly Bolton sings the female leads of the song.

Hutchings has passed the batons of many of his bands, including The Albion Band which is led by his startlingly gifted son Blair Dunlop, onto other world-class musicians. But one listen to this album and it’s clear Hutchings still has the musical Midas Touch with which he was seemingly born.

— By Nancy Dunham

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Album title:     By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept
Cat No:            TECD236
Bar Code:        5028479023622

Track titles:

1. Prologue – I Dreamed A Dream (Died For Love) 2.53
2. Ring On Her Finger 4.15
3. Dancing Under The Rose – Again 4.16
4. What! Must I Now Make An Enemy; Under The Rose 1.34
5. Keep You Warm 4.32
6. Ten Reasons Why They Should Be Together 0.42
7. At The Women’s Institute Dance; Flower Arranging 1.28
8. We Walked In God’s Country 2.11
9. A Letter; Small Town Romance 1.46
10. Don’t Look Back 2.32
11. In The Café 1.04
12. Brief Encounters 5.56
13. Westonbirt Sonnet; T Stands For Thomas 1.03
14. My Dearest To Ireland I Made My Way – Lies 3.33
15. My Dear Friend; Dives And Lazarus – The Blacksmith 2.43
16. I Don’t Go Dancing Any More 3.18
17. Love, Stuff And Nonsense 2.55
18. Epilogue – Died For Love 0.46, 1.23

THE ALBION BAND – Vice Of The People (Powered Flight Music POWFCD02)

The stark acapella ‘calling-on song’ “A Quarter Hour Of Fame” takes a knowing pop at the industry known as ‘pop’ for, if Simon Cowell were to take even the slightest interest in a ‘folk’ band I’m sure he wouldn’t know what to do with them. So, in a track that lasts a mere 44 seconds it would appear the new line-up of The Albion Band mean business much like their predecessor. Forthright views conveyed with a passion were always part of the original band’s make-up thanks due in no small part to the lyrics of John Tams and I’m pleased to say Katriona Gilmore (fiddle) and Gavin Davenport (guitar/concertina) continue in that spirit. Of course, an Albion Band wouldn’t be The Albion Band without the inclusion of at least a couple of trad arr: songs/tunes and in this regard they don’t disappoint with re-workings of “Adieu To Old England” and the downright shanty-rock anthem treatment of “One More Day” where the trademark Stratocaster sound (once provided by Sir Simon Nicol) will leave any festival-going audience with a smile a mile wide. The rest of the band; Blair Dunlop (guitars), Benjamin Trott (lead guitar), Tom Wright (drums) and Tim Yates (bass/melodeon) really are a great ‘engine room’ providing rock solid rhythms and I’d say in conclusion that the band’s name and music is in safe hands. In the words of the great David (we are not worthy) Essex ”Rock On”!

PETE FYFE

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A new Albion Band album… The Vice of The People

Alongside Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, The Albion Band are one of the “Big Three” of English Folk Rock, fusing traditional British songs and tunes with contemporary instruments and sounds. All three were formed by legendary band leader Ashley Hutchings. Generally considered one of the most important groupings in the genre, The Albion Band has contained or been associated with a large proportion of major English folk performers from Richard Thompson to Martin Carthy in its long and fluid history.

Until 2011, the one constant has been Albion Band leader and bass player Ashley Hutchings but, on the fortieth anniversary of the band’s founding, an idea was sparked for a re-imagined, new line-up that would bring together a new generation of performers. The new line-up recaptures the spirit of The Albion Band’s heyday with a rockier, edgier approach to traditional English folk music.  Taking the unique character of classic era Albion Band (Battle of the Field/Rise Up like The Sun) and fusing it with award winning song writing and a contemporary rock and indie vibe, this is the new sound of 21st century English Folk Rock, and a shot in the arm for the whole genre.

For the first time in the band’s history, Ashley steps aside to let son, Blair Dunlop, lead a new generation of folk artists.

“For a good number of years people have been encouraging me to re-form The Albion Band. I have resisted these calls; getting the old faces together again in a permanent kind of way didn’t seem the right thing to do. Then, just before last Christmas, I had a Eureka moment. The way forward was to allow a new generation to take over the baton of The AlbionBand. The next day I asked my son Blair what he thought of being part of a new re-invented Albion Band. His reply was that he couldn’t think of anything he would rather do. We were up and running. Initially, I thought I would be some kind of Brian Wilson-figure, lurking in the background, pulling the strings. However it hasn’t turned out that way. The youngsters don’t need me and are building something new themselves.” Ashley Hutchings

“We have a hell of a heritage to live up to, but with this record we’re confident we’ve made something that stands comfortably alongside anything the genre has had to offer. It’s contemporary, relevant and will bring the concept of traditionally rooted rock to a new audience.” Blair Dunlop

This new line up features a number of performers from a range of backgrounds reflecting earlier versions of the Albion Band. These members include Folk Award nominee Katriona Gilmore (Tiny Tin Lady, Gilmore/Roberts – Fiddle and vocals) the traditionally biased vocalist, concertina player and guitarist Gavin Davenport, (Solo, Crucible) drummer Tom Wright (former Young Folk Award finalist and member of Eliza Carthy projects, Glorystrokes), and Tim Yates (Blackbeard’s Tea Party/The QP) taking on the onerous duty of playing bass – only the second bass player – the first being Ashley Hutchings himself – and lead guitarist Benjamin Trott.

Such a radical overhaul of Albion recruits has met with some controversy, given that no original member of the band remains after Hutchings’ departure, but the startling debut album strikes a contemporary chord that is set to firmly answer many questions.

In our opinion this album has the potential to become the seminal album release of 2012. The work captures the very essence of what the Albion band is and what it stands for. It cleverly works in the best of what has gone before and boldly demonstrates why Folk-Rock is here to stay! Folking.com

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