Friday 21 November 2014


CD Review

Synthetic Hues

If you are involved in folk music in any way there are certain names that sooner or later will always crop up and who seem to have been around as long as some of the traditional songs they sing.

The Teeside trubadour, Vin Garbutt
They have inspired, set standards, broken boundaries and most of all kept the music and tradition of folk alive for each successive generation they have walked through.
There is Martin Simpson, Ralph McTell, Mike Harding, Martin Carthy, June Tabor, Joan Baez, Dave Swarbrick, Christy Moore and Andy Irvine to name but a few.
One name that more than deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as such illustrious company is Vin Garbutt.
Garbutt, the Teeside Troubadour from Middlesbrough has spent more than half a century travelling around the folk clubs, festivals and recording studios of the nation and would be included in any folk followers list of all time greats.
The latest album from the award-winning, crinkly haired artist has the singer/songwriter's trademark sound of the ordinary bloke down the pub.
The opener My El Dorado does have that organic, unadorned almost pub singerish feel about it and it is the artist's arrangement of the song by Graeme Miles who Garbutt admits was a massive influence on him.
There is a lovely juxtaposition in this song which is almost a musical joke in that it's named after the legendary City of Gold but is in fact about Ironopolis (Middlesbrough) and does have a Mexican feel to it.
With The Lass of Cockerton, Garbutt shows his weakness for romantic tales. The straightforward ballad which tells the tale of love is based upon a poem from Rhymes of Northern Bards.
If you want fancy vocals, imitations of other singers or styles, then Garbutt is not your man. His voice is not the most melodic but what it is, is honest and has complete integrity.
Garbutt never lets style overwhelm substance and there is passion in his songs such as From the Diary of a Northumberland Miner. He is also one of those musicians who can seemingly pull songs out of thin air and The Black Poplar was inspired by a friend showing him a tree, it's as simple as that and yet from that Garbutt produces what is essentially a potted history of England. His ability is confirmed in The Caver's Song which is about a friend who is the caver of the title and is again a simple tale inspired by the people and events around him. It's given a lovely light lift by Stewart Hardy on fiddle and Becky Taylor on flute.
The quote from the poem by Ian Horn
Putting something as iconic as Rudyard Kipling's If to music is a tricky act to pull off it either ends up with too much gravitas because of an over reverence of the inspirational words or ends up sounding trite. Garbutt's light, almost folky/rap style falls somewhere in between the two camps.
It's one of those songs which is likely to polarise people into either liking it or hating it. Perhaps it would have been better done as a monologue with the music playing gentle in the background. The track is in two parts with Garbutt singing the words to his own tune, The Kipple Bat, and then finishing with just the tune played wonderfully lightly by Garbutt and Taylor on the whistle and Northumbrian pipes. It's one of those the listener will have to decide for themselves.
Teesbay is a Robert Fortune song arranged by Garbutt and tells the simple fascination of being able to watch ships coming and going.
Eric Bogle
If you want the essence of what Garbutt does then you can sum it up in Teacher from Persia this is a true life narrative and the whole story is there. It's almost as if Garbutt knows he has to sing the tale but doesn't want to get in the way of the lyrics and so like so many of his songs it's all about the words.
Without doubt the warmest track on the album is Your Welcome Was So Warm which is inspired by a couple who offered the stranded Garbutt a bed for the night after a concert but more than that it's also a big thank you to all the people who have welcomed him into their homes.
You have to give it Garbutt he is a great story teller, and he is a great folk singer and if you can listen to and read the words of The Fallen of Fulstow and not feel a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye then you will never understand the passion for his trade he possesses.
There is another appropriate song for the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. The Eric Bogle song No Man's Land/Green Fields of France has been around for some years but has obviously taken on new impetus with the anniversary and the many folk singers who have produced commemorative songs for the occasion. This one though has been embroiled in controversy through Joss Stone's version but here Garbutt gives the full version and sings with real passion and emotion that is genuinely moving. None more so than the last verse: "The killing, the dying was all done in vain. Ah Willie McBride it's all happened again, and again, and again, and again, and again."
Garbutt's new album
The final track The College tackles the emotive subject of religious education and the misuse of Christianity by some who are charged with its care and in Garbutt's words: "I have friends who entered the college as Roman Catholic children and left as young atheist adults, having had Christianity beaten out of them with a cane/strap/slipper."
Garbutt is an old-style grass roots folk singer, his sound is raw, unrefined and honest but more than this his words are insightful, thought provoking, barbed, witty and always, always sung with integrity.
Garbutt has been battling a fairly lengthy illness through which he has had to cancel his tour, though thankfully he does seem to be on the mend. Fellow northerner and long time friend Jez Lowe has stepped in to take Garbutt's spot at The Normanby Hotel, Middlesbrough on Monday December 22 and he has kindly offered to sell the new album at his own concerts too. Hopefully 2015 will be a better year for Vin Garbutt.

Synthetic Hues is out now through Home Roots Music or can be bought online through his website.

No comments:

Post a Comment