Hailing from Birmingham and now living in Bromyard in Herefordshire, Burt’s been a jobbing folkie since the 60s, playing in outfits such as Witches Brew and Dempsey’s Lot as well as solo gigs round the pub and club circuit. Although he’d always written, that had taken something of a back seat to crowd pleasing covers until he attended a songwriting workshop in 2014 and hooked up with Boo Hewerdine, who co-produced this debut album, People Watching, along with drummer Chris Pepper, both of whom provide the backing to Burt’s guitar and mandola.
All the songs are self-penned, one, pastoral troubadour folk and mellotron-tinted ‘If I Were A Wish’, with lyrics by wife Brigit, and are much in the same 60s vein, opening with the fingerpicked moving on post-relationship ‘Turning My Blind Eye On You’ to reveal an often deep vocal echoing shades of Richard Thompson, one of his acknowledged influences, and Ewan MacColl.
The bulk of the material is relatively freshly written but two have a longer history. Sporting political protest metaphor lyrics, the slow shanty sway ‘The Ship’, Hewerdine on harmonium, dates to 1973, while the ukulele-strummed ‘Devil’s Diamond’ was the only thing he wrote throughout the 90s. In a way, it has vague thematic link to ‘Fly Closer To The Sun’, opening on harmonium drone written on the day Lehman Brothers went bust, albeit the song about taking risks rather than a condemnation.
A couple of more whimsical numbers arrive with the ukulele jaunty ‘Rock Me In Your Arms’ and its audience-friendly chorus that, for all its depression-themed backdrop, suggests the playful side of Harvey Andrews and, backed by drone, ‘Monica Is Taller Than Me’ tells of an elegant waitress in a Scottish restaurant, a nostalgic lust-free reflection and fantasy on the days when a little flirtation may have been an option.
By darker contrast, another drone-backed number, ‘The Village’ calls early Strawbs to mind for a song inspired by the exploits of Freddie Spencer Chapman, the British army officer who found behind enemy lines in Japanese-occupied Malaya during WWII, and the cost of resistance. Rather cheerier is a visit to the up-tempo strummed ‘JJ’s Bar’, a memory of time spent singing at a remote rock venue in Luxor, Egypt, being a star if only for a night and a handful of drinkers.
As an observational writer, the album ends suitably with the title track, written in a Cleobury Mortimer pub near Ludlow, fantasising the lives and inventing stories about this snapshot of humanity, such as poor old Malcolm who “thinks he’s God’s gift to women” whereas “He’s despised by all those present, talking to him’s just a chore.” Ending with “I wonder what they think of me”.
Probably that, while he may not be one of the acclaimed veterans of the English folk scene, he’d well be worth catching next time he’s playing their local.
Artist’s website: www.tonyburt.co.uk
‘Turning My Blind Eye On You’: