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The first half of the 1970s were derided for a long time, but music, like clothes, has a tendency to fade in and out of fashion. As noted recently, it was a surprise that NME's 500 greatest albums ever list singled out 1971 as a possibly the strongest year. This was probably a shock to many, although it made me think of some of the music we've featured this year, and how much of it does borrow from what was popular in that era. Take The Lancashire Hustlers's debut album 'She Was Just An Opportunist', about which we said "Welcome back, 1971!". This comment was partly in jest, but also was very apt for the record the duo had made; it was a solid body of work rather than just a collection of songs, it was idiosyncratic, it was British and it was very good. Much the same could be said of this new EP by the self-proclaimed "musical magpies", which puts to music poems by English poet Walter de la Mare who completed the bulk of his work in the early 1900s.
Noted for his children's poems in particular, de la Mare's words are very adaptable, having been used in musical compositions by Benjamin Britten. Here though, we're once more looking at the sound of those great British songwriters, and once more the word "idiosyncratic" could be used. Think Kevin Ayres, think Ray Davis, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Syd Barrett, but also think of progressive folk and prog groups such as Fairport Convention. The adaptations are handled lightly so as not to take away from the words, beginning rather fittingly with the lovely, simple, classic folk of 'Autumn'. It should be noted that lyrically these poems forego flowery language and use simplicity to form a more powerful message than some other people's works that read more like someone's just cut up a thesaurus. 'Comfort' also adds a reasonably simple arrangement and a bobbing melody to keep the emphasis where it should be. You could easily do a disservice to de la Mare's prose by going overboard, so this traditional approach really pays off. 'John Mouldy' has the traditional feel it deserves, and 'Some One' talks of "still dark nights" and has music to match that atmosphere. The timing of this autumnal and sometimes wintry collection is perfect, and if you knew no better, you'd never guess these words weren't written for the songs that now house them.
The Lancashire Hustlers' website
Buy the EP
Catch them live:
Dec 13, 2013 KINGSTON UPON THAMES - The Willoughby Arms
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