A founding father of prog folk revisits the scene of his magnum opus.
History will record Ashley Hutchings’ greatest achievement as his co-founding role with prog folk’s titanic triumvirate of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band. But he believes his finest recorded moment may be one that was also perhaps his most personal.
IT’S A POIGNANT ESSAY OF LOVE BOTH PERSONAL AND UNIVERSAL.
1987’s By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down And Wept, which
Talking Elephant reissued to acclaim in 2013, described an unfinished love story as it developed, with love letters, poetic musings and backdrops from rock’n’roll to balladeering.
Hutchings’ bucket-list new project is, in some ways, what happened next, conceived after he re-established contact with the amour of the original. That framework, which forms the first CD here, would be ambitious enough for many, but Paradise And Thorns becomes wide-angle in scale by adding a second disc, Other Tales Of Love, which comprises the broader musings of Hutchings and others on the physiognomy of love, and the gamut of emotions it engenders, from joy to grief.
The new visit to Gloucester is what you might call a reimagined director’s cut, but that of an older and wiser director with more detail to share. He uses several recordings from his past to that end, including 1980s performances by his Allstars and one from 2005 by the Rainbow Chasers. Hutchings also uses the power of his speaking voice to good effect on inlays of a John Donne poem, a snippet of Louis MacNeice and even an excerpt from Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
It may sound like bookish stuff, but there’s an inclusive elegance, and it serves as a poignant essay on love both personal and universal. Devil-May-Care In Our Dancing
Shoes and Thirty-Two Years And A Lifetime, new songs co-written with Hutchings’ son Blair Dunlop, add even greater cross-generational depth.
Dunlop also plays on disc two, which has the father-andson duet Lost In The Haze amid showcases from other recent collaborators, like vocalist Polly Bolton, singer-guitarists Kitty Macfarlane and Becky Mills, and actor Michael Maloney. In Dunlop’s adaptation of Polly On The Shore, bloody war rages as the narrator wishes himself alone with his girl. The device also serves on I Was Dreaming Of Clarissa, a quotation from the 1968 film The Charge Of The Light Brigade.
Cinema’s unlimited ability to convey romantic longing prompts quotations from Casablanca and Frank Borzage’s adaptation of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, before Chekhov and Shakespeare level the scores for the written word. As a creative achievement and a far-reaching narrative, this is a love story with a happy ending.