“Age is just a number” is the opening line of ‘Magnets’, a sentiment that Boo Hewerdine seems to contradict with the rest of the song. It gave me the impression that he’s walking a very particular tightrope. Understudy is the rather self-deprecating title of his new album, a record that, for me, is about coming to terms with middle age, about finding a role in life and sustaining relationships as the world moves on.
‘Useful’ says it all really. “And if I could be useful that’s enough” he sings in the words of a man who is getting older but is far from ready to fade away. Boo starts out simply, sharing the playing and singing with Chris Pepper but with major contributions from Gustaf Ljunggren; a familiar line-up, in fact. There are appearances on single tracks by Angus Lyon, Pete Harvey, Irish a cappella group The Key Notes and Ben Hewerdine but then we also have a string quartet featuring Patsy Reid and Seonaid Aitken. Not quite so simple, really.
‘Men Without A War’ is also about looking for a role and it calls to mind a line from Billy Bragg’s ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ – you know the one I mean but the half-expected brass part is reserved for the clever ‘Someone Else’s Blues’. ‘Why I Bring You Flowers’ and ‘The Thing You Love’ are both about approaching old age although I suspect that the latter is actually about suffering from tinnitus. ‘Ancestors’ looks back and there is a significant line, “hurry and we’ll miss the rain” – remember those youthful songs about walking in the rain? Boo doesn’t mention those but the contrast is there.
‘Both ‘The Day I Fell In Love With The World’ and ‘Spring’ both bring some much-needed positivity. ‘Euston Station’ is a vignette inspired by a few moments waiting for a train and finally we confront old age again in ‘Afternoons’, a song for Boo’s father.
Understudy is a delightful album; light but thoughtful, delicately arranged and performed. Its subject matter is for the age of Boo’s listeners (although he’s ten years younger than me, I completely understand what it’s about). At least I hope I do but if I’ve misinterpreted his songs I sincerely apologise.
Artist’s website: www.boohewerdine.net