THOM ASHWORTH – Head Canon (own label)

Head CanonHaving released his second EP, The Hollow, at the tail end of 2017, the Hampshire-born, East London-based folkie now goes the whole hog with a full album, funded by the EFDSS, that, featuring violin and soprano sax, embraces traditional and self-penned material as well as an obscure Ewan McColl cover.

Taking the former first, he opens with the lead track from the last EP, ‘High Germany’, immediately highlighting, for those who’ve not heard him before, his use of acoustic bass guitar, heavy drums providing the spine as the number rumbles through your bones. Second from the list comes the slow march rhythm of ‘Poverty Knock’, his dark tenor backed by his echoing bass, then, featuring Ellie Wilson on scraping fiddle, comes ‘Ratcliffe Highway’, the tale of a sailor falling prey to a gin shop scam in the London thoroughfare, but winding up quids in when he makes off with a gold watch. It’s directly followed by the tumbling drums and fiddle intro to ‘Derry Goal’, Ashworth’s arrangement, delivery and vocal summoning thoughts of Richard Thompson.

The last two traditional numbers strike a distinct contrast, balancing the fragility and sorrow of ‘The Snow It Melts The Soonest’, initially sung unaccompanied before introducing minimalist bass notes, with a swig and swagger through ‘John Barleycorn’ that would do justice to an early Fairport album.

With the MacColl choice being the brief 30-second reading of his a capella radio ballad ‘Exile (Just a Note)’ about the homesickness of the Irish labourers who came to build the M1, the remaining four are all Ashworth originals. First up is the staccato rhythm ‘Pathfinding’ with its hints of John Martyn and lyrics about the failure of industrial action “victory for the company man” and the call for power in a union.

Structured around muted drums and fiddle, the slow funeral march paced ‘Looking To Windward’ is the album’s longest number with its references to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a “carol for the margins” about how standing by and doing nothing is a form of tacit approval. Backed by repeated nervy, plucked fiddle notes, ‘Crossing The Water’ (where he vocally reminds me of Pete Atkin) is a chilly number that treats on fear, anxiety (“I worry that night will fall and all that I’ve built will be gone”) and endurance (“If no man is an island then keep me afloat/And tie me to the mast, I’ll pilot these straits”), the lyrics again indicating his literary influences

It ends with the resonant, sparse guitar notes of ‘The City And The Tower’, a number which may or may not be informed by Brexit with its lines about marching into hell, burning bridges and pulling up the ladders in a staged retreat into isolationism, referencing the historical Beeching cuts to the railways and, surely a reference to Europe, the fall of Babel, the biblical city of many tongues.

His early releases always crackled with the promise that Ashworth’s debut album was going to prove something special. The promise is fulfilled.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.thomashworth.com

‘Work Life Out To Keep Life In’ – live:

 


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