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THE FOLK CORPORATION TFCCD 2007
(Released June 2002)
JELLY BABE / PROJECT X / HEART OF STONE / ACTIVE IN THE PARISH / WHO'S THAT? - THE SUMMER OF LOVE / WASTED / EVERYBODY'S TALKING 'BOUT FM / AN ORDINARY LIFE / WATCHING BRAZIL / THE HUMAN HEART / CURTAINS / MATILDA / A SONG OF ENGLAND (live with Ric Sanders) / HOLD YOUR HORSES WOMAN (live with Fairport Convention) / 50 YARDS (live) / RECOGNISED / STATE OF THE NATION / THIS OTHER EDEN / BEING A POET
19 SONGS FROM A DECADE OF RECORDINGS. A PERFECT INTRODUCTION TO DAVID HUGHES. A TWENTY-FOUR PAGE BOOKLET. COMPILED FROM FOUR SOLO ALBUMS, A LIVE ALBUM & A SINGLE. WITH NOTES BY NICK SKEENS.
Let me start by declaring an interest - I'm a David Hughes fan. I've been a David Hughes fan since 1998 when he was Fairport Convention's special guest on that year's winter tour. At that time, not only had I not heard him, I'd not heard of him, but an hour in his company had me hooked.
He could play the guitar dazzlingly well. He could sing (in a David Hughes half-talking kind of a way). He could make me think. And he could make me laugh. Always a good thing, that last quality. At that point, he'd just released his third album and, since then, he's released a further two and an EP - remember EPs? They were like over-stocked singles.
Recognised is a compilation of (some of) the best bits of those albums, with the title track lifted from the EP. When I first heard about the plans to put together an album showcasing his work up to the present, I was a little uneasy, fearing the sophisticated production and multi-instrumentation of his latter work, particularly his last album, This Other Eden, would not sit comfortably beside his earlier, simpler work. Happily, I was wrong.
The album's a triumph, the track sequencing inspired and it's a collection that's going to make anybody hearing it feel the need to go out and investigate more deeply the man's albums. Recognised has two instances where the juxtaposition of sophisticated and simple are particularly marked - yet they mesh brilliantly. 50 Yards sees Hughes, alone on stage with his guitar, lyrically listing a string of faults in his "old house" that would see any sane person selling up, pronto. However, on the plus side, it is only 50 yards from the guitar shop, the local, the newsagent and it's the best house he's ever known. His nimble fingerwork picks out a sympathetic and wonderfully understated melody to echo the ebb and flow of his voice and the whole song just sucks the listener in.
That slice of life is followed by another, rather more frustrating, common scenario in the collection's title track. But, unlike 50 Yards, Recognised has production - lots of it. Kicked into life by two mighty echo-laden wallops on the tom-toms from Gerry Conway and the ethereal backing vocals of Chris While and Julie Matthews, the song's protagonist reveals his hurt and surprise at being told by the disembodied voice on the phone that the number given to him last week by a girl that might change his life has "not been recognised". Weaving sinuously in, out and around the production is the oh-so dirty bottleneck guitar of PJ Wright, pushing the song into the territory called marvellous.
The second example closes the album when This Other Eden - with Hughes' world-weary view of "what some people like to call this scepter'd isle" and another studio-heavy production by Mark Tucker - is followed by Being A Poet which, again, finds Hughes alone on stage holding his audience completely spellbound with some breakneck rhythmic guitar picking and the affirmation that he "used to be a poet but I'm not any more."
In both instances the juxtaposition is glaringly obvious but, somehow, right. Recognised is full of gems that deserve to be heard by more people. Hold Your Horses Woman is a fantastic tango on which Hughes is backed by renowned Argentinian band Los Fairportades Conventionides; Watching Brazil is, quite simply, the best song about football ever written; and An Ordinary Life drips pathos as a middle-aged man - and everybody knows him - laments "I'm standing at the crossroads of an ordinary life, not the one I had in mind" and one which just keeps becoming more difficult to understand.
Word is, another album of new songs is planned but, until that's available, Recognised will more that fill the gap. If you don't know his work, this will help get you up to speed. If you do, buy it for somebody who doesn't - they'll thank you for it.
Nick Skeens' liner notes:-
It was a mirror-still autumn night on the River Crouch. David Hughes was sitting on a jetty on the river side of the seawall, drawing on a long, Rizla-rolled cigarette. I was on my way back to my house-boat. I'd just been to seen him play at the Crouch Yacht Club, and now here he was, in the flesh, on the other side of the seawall with a couple of mates, staring at the river, with wreathes of smoke rising about him like an image out of one of his own songs. I inhaled deeply, and knew immediately that this was a man I could talk to.
I congratulated him on his virtuosic performance of a half-hour before. He smiled graciously, not an outright rejection. So I invited him and his buddies back to the boat. To my surprise, they came. Truth to tell, as I walked back with them all in tow, I was somewhat awestruck. David was intimidating enough. But the two other friends were violin-makers, for fuck's sake. I pride myself in my ability to put up a shelf, I can even make little wooden boats. But making violins! I was terrified if I said anything to any of them I risked being seen as stupid. David piped up on the walk up the quay, but it seemed to me he spoke in riddles. I laughed idiotically, probably in the wrong places.
We arrived aboard Innisfree. And there we relaxed. Happily the boat didn't give a shit who he was. Since then he has become a regular visitor, though he used to spread a similar terror with every visit. A friend of mine, who plays a mean slide guitar, visibly deflated when David first walked aboard. "Oh God" he said, moving to put the guitar down.
What's so awe-ful about this man? Well, his playing, of course. The way his thumb snakes to a syncopated rhythm, picking out a liquid bass-line while his fingers dance over the sound hole and rap on the guitar top, as his left hand slides, and hammers, and pulls off bewitching melodies. And the rapid tapping of his foot. And his laid-back, smoky vocals. And his lyrics - dry, funny, incisive, clever. The man's style is engaging. He is cool. In his pinstriped suit and open shirt, David exudes his love affair with pure class.
Folk clubs are horrified: "We've never had a man in a suit play here before. This is a folk club ." Well, it's where he should be. He is, without doubt, a folk musician. He writes about folk. He tells tales about ordinary people, in ordinary situations, and about the places we live. (But then, as I discovered, he is an ordinary guy, living an ordinary life, but blessed with an extraordinary talent, which seems to get in the way of his ordinary life.) His songs are ballads and tales. What's the difference between Matty Groves and Heart of Stone? Both are stories about love and murder. Both have funny lines, both have tragedy. One's set in the Middle Ages, the other in modern Maldon... It's folk. There's no getting away from it.
And here the finger lays upon the point. Old folk songs tend to be heroic. David's characters are heroic too, but his heroes are flawed, staggering under the weight of their own inadequacy, tottering because they're dreaming, wasted, confused, too small So there's no need to be overawed by David Hughes. True, you will probably never be able to play quite like him or write lyrics quite like he can. But you can dream like he can, you can make him laugh, and the chances are pretty good you make more money. But then, he's a man on the run, a moving target. Despite being married with two children, he's still ducking and diving like the Scouse-born Essex grammar school boy he is. "You know the story, you know the score / Keep on the run till you can't run no more." Damned good idea, if you ask me.