Friday, 11 December 2009
Lindisfarne Mark II "Happy Daze" (1974) (Revised Review 2015)
Lindisfarne Mark II “Happy Daze” (1974)
Tonight/In Yer Head/River/You Put The Laff On Me/No Need To Tell Me/Juiced Up To Lose//Dealer’s Choice/Nellie/The Man Down There/Gin And Tonix All Round/Tomorrow
'Though the trinkets of glory have fallen my way, I haven't got what I had yesterday and I have forgotten what I had to say'
One of the features I noticed time and time again whilst writing the 101 ‘canon’ reviews for this website was how the more peace-and-love-and-buddies a group seemed to be in the 1960s the more they would bicker and disintegrate during the 1970s, falling prey to the same problems they'd spent their early lives fighting against. The Beatles, CSNY, The Moody Blues - they may have sung that all you need was love but for a time in the early 1970s they all seemed a long way from feeling it, while by contrast bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones who were always at each other' throats somehow got over their differences and soldiered on. Lindisfarne were no exception: it seems odd to think that a band who seem genuine pals a good 90% of the nights that were filmed/recorded were at each other's throats just three years into their career. We’ve already discussed elsewhere on this website how Lindisfarne might well have been one of the best-known groups on this list had they not suffered from acute ‘third-album’ syndrome (they were the best-selling artist of 1972 after all - just thought I'd get that stat in again) and how the split of Lindisfarne into two camps ater that year scuppered what might have been the most Lindisfarntastic album of all had the two halves worked together. For after something of a step backwards with 'Roll On Ruby', the second album by 'Lindisfarne Mark II' is their equivalent of the first two ‘Jack The Lad’ records, a daring yet still accessible grab-bag of styles from pop to folk and everywhere in-between. In a different era it might have been the launching pad for another terrific group born out of the ashes of Lindisfarne, based around the talents of lead singer Ray Jackson and lead writer Alan Hull, as the Mark II really did have potential however badly they’ve been forgotten in the years since. But the Lindisfarne audience was miffed that ‘their’ Geordie band who spoke so much about peace and healing could part with such bad blood that they never really gave them a chance and what with continuing the Lindisfarne name the band weren’t really given a chance at finding a new audience - and the previous album didn't really help. Audiences were to some extent spoilt by how readily Lindisfarne came together, a fully fledged important new group with their own identity by the time of their very first release whereas the 'Mark II' band had to learn about themselves in public and had awfully big shoes to fill. To this day most Lindisfans won't give the Mark II albums a proper hearing at all - which is understandable in Ruby's case but this much more promising seconds album proves that the experiment could have worked, given perhaps a name not quite so firmly associated with the old band and a hit single or three.
This website is all about rescuing obscure gems from obscurity and revisiting albums that hadn’t got a hope of selling at the time yet sound rather good nowadays and so welcome to our delve into the alternate world of Lindisfarne, a land of ‘happy daze’ indeed. We promised you this review some time in the future back when we were writing about ‘It’s Jack The Lad’ way back in review no 61 - sorry about the delay but, well, we promised you most of the other 50-odd albums in these newsletters as well at one time or another - and it's interesting to compare these two albums side by side, the pinnacles of each half of Lindisfarne’s output. Traditionally the divide was always seen to be between the 'folk' of 'Jack The Lad' and the 'rock' of the Mark II band, but actually it's a lot closer than people think. Interestingly the Jack-a-napes half go in for a sound somewhere in the middle, with the sort of quiet acoustic ballads Alan Hull was known for writing (even though he's in the 'Mark II' band) but who can suddenly reach for the acceleration pedal and zoom off into heavy rock. That eclecticism, so that you never quite know whether a song will end the same way it started, is what makes the debut Jack record especially stand out. The Mark II band tend to be more extremists, with full on rock but also full on folk, with some of the most authentic sounding folk originals of the Lindi canon (Kenny Craddock's 'Nellie' and Hully's 'River' in particular) surrounded by the closest any of Lindisfarne ever got to heavy metal (the drunken squeal 'Juices Up To Lose'). The 'natural' assumption amongst fans was that the Mark II band were going to be the more 'commercial' side of Lindisfarne and get all the hits while the Jackers sold less copies but got more acclaim - after all this half of the band had the lead writer and the lead singer of the old days and between them the combination had been pretty unbeatable in terms of the charts. There are snatches of the old pop sound across 'Happy Daze' - notably the upbeat opener 'Tonight' and the pretty 'No Need To Tell Me' (a younger sibling of 'Wake Up Little Sister' from the glory days) but interestingly Hully seems to have turned his back on the whole idea, turning in a sequence of songs about drinking that sound like deliberately hollow mockeries of Lindisfarne's former brotherly love songs. A band that was once drinking at the fountain of brilliance and perpetual success are now miserably propping up the bar - and drinking is a theme that will crop up regularly across the album as the band become 'juiced up to lose'. The press were merciless at the time, especially on Hull's contributions, because they didn't reflect the bonhomie of 'Fog On The Tyne' et al. But for me that's kind of the point of the record, with the band strangely sober and vulnerable across this album, using the drinking theme ironically because of what it used to stand for in their previous spirit of brotherly love.
Alan made no secret of how disillusioned he was with having to start all over again - and his concern at how badly the 'Roll On Ruby' had sold. The Mark II band wasn't the one he'd dreamed of - with half the people involved in his 'Pipedream' solo record either passing on joining up or ending up in rivals Jack The Lad. Hull has gone through the stage of anger last heard on 'Roll On Ruby' and has come out the other side sounding like the drunk bore at the end of the bar who can only mourn for past times while musing about his drunken-ness. That's put many a fan off - and I can't say I was particularly enjoying a round of songs about rounds of drinks either. But actually both 'Dealer's Choice' and 'Gin and Tonix All Round' are excellent vehicles for Hull to pour out his new sense of regret and worry over how quickly the brotherhood disappeared. 'Son of a gun you're gonna really win this one!' he tells us in the former, so many times over that the mask slips as he realises he's promised this so many times and starts breaking down all over again. 'It's more than a drunkard's dream' he splutters, indignant at the fans' silence, 'you better believe!' Hull admits to drinking in the latter song after feeling a 'little bit insecure' and, the band deliberately wobbly on their legs, struggles through a plea for forgiveness (addressed to his old band or to the listener?) about 'having gone too far' as 'I didn't want to hurt you, but I wasn't really sure'. But Hull doesn't know when to stop, calling out for more to drown out his misery - just as he's hung around for a second record he doesn't want to make. 'You get like that when you know the score' he sighs - but the ironic thing is that the band he's dismissing so readily back him up a treat on this record, perfectly mirroring the slightly hazy, slightly crazy feel of a song that's running on empty and yet the momentum is keeping it going. 'I hope you don't believe a single word I say!' Hull cackles, as if unsure how much of this song is fiction and how much is the truth. Duffy, perhaps picking up on the mood of the album, then jumps up in with the snarling 'Juiced Up To Lose', which might even be a slap in the face to his colleague. 'Stop looking at my best friend!' he cries while Hull tries hard to get out of his commitments 'You came in here with me!' Jacka adds some soulful harmonica to a third good drinking song in a row that's impressively tough and brittle.
Not that any songs on this album are bad, actually, with all three writers (Alan, Tommy and Kenny) all turning in some of their best songs and 'Happy Daze' is if not quite as dazzling brilliant as some other albums then perhaps the most consistent album to bear the band name after the first one. Certainly the band went down a storm in America, where they'd never really heard of the original Lindisfarne (who split after one bottom-of-the-bill tour there). Tommy may only have been with the band a year but another of his compositions 'The Man Down There' is easily the most 'Lindisfarne' moment of the record - a working class song with daggers drawn in much the same mould as 'All Fall Down' and 'City Song'. Jacka sings sweetly, but Duffy's own hoarse vocal in the middle eight knock us off our feet as he gradually convinces the honest grafter Jacka's playing that he's being taken for a ride by the establishment 'getting richer off the likes of you and me'. Tommy even plays a busy bee bass-line that recalls Rod's work on classic like 'Meet Me On The Corner'. Kenny brings the sweet folk of 'Nellie' - the farmer's wife who probably worked the lands of Lady Eleanor - and the delightful album closer 'Tomorrow' about 'slowly realising' that despite his deepest fears they've never happened yet, with more tomorrows to wake up in to put things right. However Hull still comes up with the classics: I'd love to know who Alan wrote 'You Put The Laff On Me' about ('Does it give you a kick to know you've been featured in a song?'), perhaps giving it to Jacka to sing to put us off the scent but he's certainly bitter about something. 'No Need To Tell Me' is a long part of the way to being a classic singalong Beatlely hit single that again seems to refer to the issues within the band ('You go your way, I'll go mine - that's all') but is just missing that extra something to make it stand out. It's still close though. The album highlight though is the exquisite 'River', recorded outside by the band using a mobile unit and full of bird-song and a track that dates back to long before Lindisfarne were ever together (how great would the original line-up have sounded on this one eh?!)
So much for these being 'Happy Daze' - Hull has never sounded more morose and after 'Roll On Ruby' has clearly fallen out of love with the band. So too had much of the audience - and yet ironically enough there's a real sound of togetherness across this album that 'Ruby' was missing. The band really play to each other's strengths and weaknesses here, with four very different vocalists who often song on the same song and some great attention to detail which is the hallmark of any great band. Just listen to the layers on 'The Man Down There', which starts off as Dylanesque protest, turns into soulful rant and swings and closes with a poppy mandolin swirl - no other band can offer what the Mark II band have to offer and they've come pretty close to copying the Mark I style by now (that really does sound like Rod's busy bass and Rod's pitter-patter drum solo at the end, while the sweet and sour harmonies are coming along nicely). Or 'River', where we get the best of both worlds , with Hull performing the sort of 'solo' song he used to do in the days gone past and then being gradually joined by the band bit by bit, ending with Jacka's mandolin, with soulmate Kenny's vocals melting together with his perfectly. This may not have been the band Hull was after, but in many ways it's a better one and his new pals are right there with him. This isn't even a 'down but together' kind of album either. Kenny's contributions all happily look towards the future, always of dreaming of tomorrow and offer a neat counterbalance to Hull's moments of heartbreak. Only the relative lack of work for Jacka (who only sings on half the album) seems a shame, but then Jacka never did sing on much more than this in the old days anyway. 'Happy Daze' remains, like the first 'Jack The Lad' a hidden classic that's gone unloved for far too long, disappointing compared to the original albums only because of how perfect a good two-thirds of the recordings on all three were and how high the 'bar' was set (whereas this album is just set at the bar!)
Really, the Mark II band had a much better chance of success than their rivals: they had the band name, the lead singer and the lead writer plus a lot of band friends like Charlie Harcourt and Kenny Craddock who were well known faces at Lindisfarne gigs before and after. But both bands effectively killed their chances of success with their early material – both Mark II and Jack The Lad spent their first albums criticising the musical merry-go-rounds they suddenly found themselves on; Lindisfarne fans, panicked at the hostility barely contained within third Lindisfarne album ‘Dingly Dell’ fans just wanted a return to the lady Eleanors and Fog On The Tynes. But listening to both albums now is a fascinating experience: the band’s better known material, made around 1970-71 and 1978 bears little resemblance to the songs written in the in-between years, full of good time bonhomie and we’re-all-in-this-together protest songs. In fact, the idea of losing your way and your best friends at the same time dominates both bands right up to the ‘original’ Lindisfarne reunion in 1978. It’s not unusual for bands to make side-swipes at each other in sound (the early Lennon and McCartney solo albums are very similar in tone, for instance, as are some of the solo Moody Blues records from the same era) – what is unusual for both bands is how deeply and for how long they felt such animosity to each other – and how quickly it dissolved in the late 70s, never really to rear its head again.
The other interesting comparison for ‘Happy Daze’ is with this album’s predecessor ‘Roll On Ruby’ which, very much like ‘It’s Jack The Lad’ is a continuation of the bitterness that permeated through ‘Dingly Dell’. Now chances are most of you coming to this review only know ‘Daze’ thanks to the bonus tracks included on the CD re-issue of ‘Ruby’; the full re-issue of ‘Happy Daze’ died a death, sadly, but ‘Ruby’ seemed to sell fairly well for some reason (perhaps because of the fact that Charisma could promote their catalogue as a whole - Happy Daze ended up being the only album the band released on Warner Brothers - the band had actually signed for two and were out of pocket, but they settled for a second Alan Hull album 'Squire' instead on the understanding that it would be cheap and cheerful, which it more or less was). Anyway, putting at least part of the two albums together was a curious move: never have there been two stranger bedfellows on a single disc (well, not apart from RCA mucking around with the Jefferson Starship catalogue, anyway). ‘Ruby’ is all venom and accusation; I mean, just look at that cover – the ‘family’ tree with ‘Lindisfarne emblazoned on the side even features a swan off branch with the message ‘fuck off’ written in tiny writing (it’s hard to see but it is there – interestingly its the smallest, least developed branch that’s fallen off in yet another dig at the band’s old members). ‘Ruby’ starts with a song about how bands should get degrees in business so they can understand if their managers are ripping them off, peaks with a weary song at the halfway point about looking forward to a day when ‘the war is over’ and life can return to normal and ends on a very uncertain note with ‘Goodbye’, with none of this second line-up quite sure that they will ever be able to repeat the experiment.
‘Happy Daze’ on the other-hand is much calmer and more thought out, with the new line-up now used to each other and working to each other’s strengths and weaknesses and keen to put down their imprint as the ‘new band in tow n’ instead of just a rehash of the old one. For the most part they succeed too: sure we’ve got a pastoral Alan Hull ballad, lots of regretful drinking songs and some pop-folk classics sung by Ray Jackson’s perfect pop-folk voice. But if I had a criticism of the original Lindisfarne it’s that they all too often sat on a sound and stayed there throughout the record past the brilliant debut – the highlights of the band’s catalogue for me are the ones with unexpected changes partway through, from the pastoral Lady Eleanor suddenly turning savage in the choruses to the colliery band accompaniment that turns ‘All Fall Down’ from being an introspective ballad into a universal anthem. ’Happy Daze’ has lots of moments like these that help turn a promising song into a very good one; from some of the most consistently impressive middle-eights on this list (different yet suitable to what’s gone before, a songwriting art in itself) to the swapping of vocals from Jackson’s pure pop sound to Hully’s emotional outburst to Thomas Duffy’s soulful deep sound to Kenny Craddock’s more folky tones. All too often the old Lindisfarne took some barnstorming ideas, recording them straight through and left them at that – in ‘Happy Daze’ every verse and chorus, every line almost is trying to pull itself into somewhere new and surprise you. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two albums is that ‘Ruby’ has no heart, being blind to fury and helplessness over a ruined future and ‘Daze’ has too much, with Hull just a little bit too revealingly honest in his drinking songs. Which album of the two you prefer depends on whether trying too hard or too little is your cup of tea, though 'Happy Daze' is certainly the more focussed of the pair. It’s easy to get lost in the sultry, folky tones of ‘Happy Daze’ which is a very aptly named LP (despite the differences between the songs the sweet production and the amount of singer relays going on throughout the whole album it has a very similar sound throughout); listening to ‘Roll On Ruby’ you half feel that someone is going to come along and slap you for daring to listen in.
True enough, there’s no single classic song here to rival the likes of ‘Lady Eleanor’, ‘Winter Song’ ‘Clear White Light’ or even ‘Dingly Dell’ and the Mark II band hadn’t quite got the range of tale nt the original band did (then again, with this as a platform for future recordings, they might have been even better what do I know?) but I have to say this album is far more consistent than other Lindisfarne LPs and two songs come pretty close to milestone level even so. Now, given that a lot of the Lindisfarne fall-out was about the dominance of lead writer Alan Hull, its interesting to note that both of the ‘Mark II’ albums are the ones least dominated by Hully (its not until track 3 of ‘Daze’ that he gets a writing credit – something that had never happened before or after; just look at 1979’s The News where he writes 10 tracks out of 11). After all, the singer-songwriter was already forking out quite a respectable living before his manager decided to stick him in with a ready-made band from down the road – it’s only natural that the others would start resenting only getting a couple of tracks per record once they started becoming just as prolific (especially when one of the songs – Rod Clements’ ‘Meet Me On the Corner’ - became one of their bigger hits). But ‘Mark II’ seems to have been a conscious decision to form a ‘band’, with the divisions crystal clear from the outset and with now 3 writers to choose from its clear that each member had more space for his ideas than had been the case before.
‘Happy Daze’, then, was intended to be the start of something new – and pretty much all the band members have gone on record as saying that record #3 would have been ‘the definitive record by that line-up’ – and with a strong record deal in place at Warner Brothers Lindisfarne could have continued indefinitely beyond that. Nobody involved is quite sure why that didn't happen. Certainly Hull seems to be having second thoughts, telling us via Jacka's deceptively sweet vocal that 'there's no need to tell me the writing's on the wall - you go your way and I'll go mine, that's all' and commenting that the band as it was 'just didn't work'. But the others never agreed with this statement and gave it their all across the record - compared to 'Ruby' they sound like a band who really know what they're doing now and have overcome the 'getting to know you' stage. The actually highly successful tour the band went on had turned them into a nicely tight unit and one that weren't afraid to either borrow from the past or add a little of the present (with one of the best arrangements of 'Lady Eleanor' of them all available on the 'BBC Sessions' double CD). In the end the band just never quite got back together to make the third LP, though without the spectacular falling out of before, leaving 'Happy Daze' as the band's only release on the Warner Brothers label. Unloved and ignored for several decades, fans had got rather used to life without this album (apart from fans like me lucky enough to track down the original vinyl - bless you Birmingham Record Fair!) and what you don't know you're missing you can't miss. What a truly awful shame - 'Happy Daze' has a lot more love, life and laughter than few gave it credit for at the time. However the album came as a pleasant surprise to those who never expected for 'Happy Daze' to be here again (including me - the CD was released months after I'd written the first review!) when Warner Brothers finally released the lone Mark II recording on their label on CD for the first time at the very late era of 2008 with a bunch of Alan Hull pre-fame demos on the back (very welcome although they sound very out of place - the relevant BBC sessions, released previously on 'Roll On Ruby', might have been a more suitable choice!) 'Happy Daze' may not be the Lindisfarne album I play most often or the one I dig out to turn my friends onto Geordie rock, but it is an old friend who never disappoints however long the gap between regular playings and it still feels like a special secret that only a few of us were ever lucky enough to hear (even the great Alan Hull himself apparently missing just how good this record is). Much as I love the Lindisfarne reunion albums - and the original trio of classics of course - there’s something special about the unsoiled beauty and the new ways of saying old things in this period for both the Mark II band and Jack The Lad, under-appreciated groups both. 'Happy Daze' remains if not quite the best Lindisfarne had to offer then a reminder of how the cream of their crop is actually deeper and tastier than many fans and reviewers ever thought at the time.
‘Tonight’ is the opening song and the closest thing to a rocker on either of the Mark II albums. Written by Duffy and sung by Jackson, it’s noticeably more mainstream than the acerbic ‘Taking Care Of Business’ that made Ruby start rolling. Like many of the songs to come it starts off with a promising verse built on a strong, almost Stax Soul-like riff and unusually for songs based on a strong Stax-like riff, actually delivers on a full song, thanks to switching gears partway through and adding in some minor-key doubting to run alongside the narrator’s burst of optimism that ‘tonight’ will be the breakthrough night in his time with his partner. The track is livened up by a terrific guitar solo from Charlie Harcourt, halfway between excitement and doubt. It’s also interesting to see this as some sort of comment on the band’s fortunes; Thomas Duffy put an awful lot of effort into these albums vocally, compositionally and on the bass so its easy to feel his excitement at suddenly ‘feeling better’ now that the tide has turned in his favour. There’s nothing about ‘Tonight’ that you won’t have heard before hundreds of times, but it’s still pretty convincingly performed and good evidence at what a rocking band any line-up of Lindisfarne could be when they got the feel for it.
‘In Yer Head’ is a really oddball track from Kenny Craddock, sung as a gentlemanly ballad for the most part but featuring plenty of early 70s slang and street patois in the stinging lyrics. Each singing member of the band takes a verse, something which is usually a healthy sign of a band working together happily, starting with Jackson and going to writer Craddock, then Duffy for the soulful middle eight and then to Hully for the last verse (the song suits Craddock noticeably better than the rest, however, making you wish that he’d kept it for himself, although the harmonies are spot on as ever). Even though it lasts barely three minutes, this song seems to encapsulate just about every sound the old Lindisfarne had made their own, varying from Jackson’s pop to Craddock’s folk to Duffy’s soul, with Hully doing something of a Bob Dylan impression for good measure at the end. The lyrics of this obscure song are just as complex and changing as the music, taking several listening to decipher, but seem to deal with this album’s half-theme of an unseen unknowable force acting against the narrator. However, like the music, the force is too gentlemanly to speak out loud, simply forcing the hand of the narrator without his knowing. It’s a song about schizophrenia then, effectively, but like all too many cases you wouldn’t be able to tell what was happening by listening idly to the song, only by studying the end result – only Duffy’s soulful holler of ‘but the question is tomorrow will I be full of sorrow when I leave my fate up to the wind?’ is obviously full of doubt and trouble. Like Lindisfarne itself, this song is serenity itself but a bubbling cauldron of emotion under the surface.
A similar trick is played in Alan Hull’s ‘River’, a much older song dusted down for this album (when Hully was temporarily and uncharacteristically suffering from writer’s block) which finds an awed Hull singing almost without emotion, while lyrics of wonder at seeing the world around him anew burn with a passion rare even for Lindisfarne. This special song, the highlight of the whole album, was recorded outdoors to make the ‘feel’ of the song authentic and you can even hear bird song in the background if you listen carefully enough. As a song ‘River’ is the latest in a long line of gorgeous Hull acoustic songs that wonder about God and spirituality without ever quite tying its nails to the mast (‘Clear White Light’ is a more famous example), wondering aloud why the earth was formed and what for. It’s not as pretentious as that sentence implies (this isn’t a prog rock album, after all) and as early as the third line tells us ‘there’s not a lot to say’. Interestingly, this is another song on the album about an ‘unseen force’, but this time its one of wonder and beauty not one of fear and manipulation as in the last track. Like its close cousin ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ (from the Beatles’ White Album’) it tries to be whimsical but strikes just the right note of earnestness in tone. The accompaniment is also spot on – far from overloading the song with things it doesn’t need the band add just Jacka’s mandolin and flute playing plus a lovely harmony vocal from Kenny Craddock to Hully’s acoustic playing. A smashing song, catchy but deep even, that offers up more delights with every playing.
‘You Put The Laff On Me’ is a belated return to ‘Roll On Ruby’s vitriol but like many tracks on this album the emotion is played out rather serenely and gentlemanly. This is another in a long line of Alan Hull songs attacking somebody (we’re never quite sure who), sung by Ray Jackson in a perfect pop voice as ever. Ostensibly, of course, this is a departing lover leaving an unfaithful partner as has happened in a million pop songs before and since but it does seem there’s something deeper here: the closing lines ‘it all ended so quick somehow...does it give you a kick to know that you’ve been written in a song?’ certainly implies this song is ‘real’ and the speed with which the partnership ends is eerily reminiscent of Lindisfarne’s sudden implosion in 1972. Unlike their last album, however, the Mark II band are content to take the anger and hurt as inspiration for another pop masterpiece instead of dwelling on it as before and turn in another tight band performance – Duffy’s chirruping bass, reminiscent of Macca’s late-period Beatles work, really hits the spot, running in counterpoint to everything the narrator seems to be saying while Jacka’s voice has never been better. A word too for Paul Harris’ drumming which comes into its own on this track: smart and serene for the verses it turns into a frenzied percussion monster in the blink of an eye when the mood of the song changes. The sudden and unexpected ‘wo-o-o-o-o-oah’ at the end of the chorus is another neat touch, taking the song down in fever pitch and allowing the chorus to fit back to the verse without having to do something really complicated (modally this song seems to be all over the place if my ears are correct). Another intriguing experiment that, for the most part, comes off.
‘No Need To Tell Me’ is the closest the Mark II line-up ever came to re-creating the light pop that Lindisfarne used to roll of occasionally in-between the heavier moments. Part pop, part music hall, this is a short but sweet song again about conflict within the ranks (‘no need to tell me the writing’s on the wall...you go your way, I’ll go mine, that’s all) that sounds musically as if it doesn’t have a care in the world. In the context of the album its ever so slightly twee, but it does successfully break up the mood just as Davy Jones’ songs used to do on Monkees albums. Jacka’s well at home on the track, as ever, and his mouthorgan playing is well up to standard too – sadly he doesn’t get as much chance to show off his harmonica skills on this album as he does on other Lindisfarne LPs. A close cousin of ‘Wake Up Little Sister’, this is Lindisfarne with their foot off the throttle enjoying a leisurely stroll in between the heavy courses.
‘Juiced Up To Loose’ is the one big ‘heavy’ statement on this album, sacrificing all of this album’s gentlemanly tone for Duffy’s wild, raw vocal about – again – the unforeseen circumstances in life that keep doing him wrong. Duffy’s vocal is either terrific or horrible depending on your taste – certainly its not something I’d like to hear a whole album of but coming at the midway point on this album its terrific, making the stakes mentioned on the rest of the record that much higher. Strangely, though, its one of the few tracks on this record that are simply about romance and things going wrong rather than having any under-current but that doesn’t stop Duffy and Jacka’s heavy puffing harmonica make the most of their sorrow. This is also the first of a record three songs about going out drinking and then wishing you hadn’t – Duffy’s narrator is obviously trying to hide from something in his life but even he sounds as if he positively hates his drink by the end of the song. Again on this album,. It’s the middle eight that catches the ear, Duffy’s narrator dropping his anger for a bit of self-pity with the everyman blues lines ‘one time empty time losing man, can’t do anything right’ until suddenly the band blow him out of his solidarity with some exceptional harmonies on the line ‘till I hold you tight’. Hearing what the narrator is missing, as well as what he’s suffering, really takes this song up to the next level until the song wearily pulls it head up to go round the houses again and comes to a troubled, slow-motion halt.
‘Dealer’s Choice’ is Hully’s rather more wordy take on the same subject and – amazingly – it’s the first time on the album that we hear those familiar Hull and Jacka harmonies singing together for any length of time. Hull’s tune is deceptively bouncy and typically Lindisfarne in its irregular time pattern, building layer upon layer as the harmonies add in. Like the last narrator, Hull’s character is drinking to forget his recent past but losing more than just his memory along the way (in the song’s best line, he finds that ‘maybe in the morning you’ll have lost all but your voice’). It’s also another of Hull’s ‘character’ songs, studying other people’s reactions and opinions when he walks into a room and then saying that, actually, he doesn’t care what they think about him anyway, a regular Hull songwriting trick. It’s an appealing, scruffy song this one – it sounds like a lot of half-thought out ideas stuck together, and it probably is, but it gets away with it thanks to cheeky charm, some quick-witted wordplay and a great hook in the chorus which lurches from minor to major key so suddenly it sounds like a drunk about to fall over. Which, lyrically, he probably has.
‘Nellie’ is the folkiest song on the album and interestingly its written not by Hull but by Craddock, filling in the hole where a Rod Clements song used to fit. It’s another angry protest song this one, crying out how in the third world families suffer when crops fail, seemingly on the whim of that unseen force that keeps cropping up on this album. Jacka’s vocal seems to relish the folk role he’s suddenly been given and again the band use the trick of adding in harmonisers one by one until the chorus becomes a chorus of dissatisfaction. It’s as if the pied piper walked into town on a protest march, gathering voices with him as he goes. Again, a band performance rescues a song that’s promising but not wholly brilliant on its own – the flutes are a nice unexpected touch and the harmonies are spot-on as ever while Duffy plays yet another unexpected counterpointed bass line, giving the track an urgency it otherwise wouldn’t have. However, it’s the sudden switch in the coda, with a high un-credited female singer adding a folky counterpart and the song seemingly switching down gears only to take off again at break-neck speed, like so many hands stretching out for food, that truly catches the ear.
‘The Man Down There’ is the album’s second gem of a song. Although credited to Duffy it sounds just like the Alan Hull protest songs of old, decrying the faceless banker/bureaucrat who seems to take the fruit of our labours in return for nothing. It’s seemingly born out of the frustrations of the end of the Lindisfarne days with figures ripping the band off left, right and centre, sounding as old and tired as the band generally sound youthful and hopeful. The3 switching of vocals between Jacka’s world weary double-tracking and Duffy’s soulful grit in the middle eight is another great move and the track is full of little pieces of magic (just when the song is getting too ‘heavy’ the middle eight adds a tiny buried-in-the-mix voice joining in on ‘in the sun’, adding just the right tone of hope when the song needs it most). This song is actually more like one by fellow Geordies The Animals and would have fitted in nicely with tracks like ‘Big Boss Man’ and ‘Chain Gang’, with the band getting their own back on the people they feel have done them wrong. Featuring a strong tune, unusual in its three-line scansion and memorable to boot, plus clever and all too true lines (‘the boss man is clever and always will be, he’s getting richer from the likes of you and me’), this song is a forgotten gem and deserves to be far better remembered than it is at present.
‘Gin And Tonix All Round’ is a drunken Alan Hull back again and adding more flesh to the bones of his last track. Sadly listing all the people who’ve got ‘problems’ with the narrator and how annoyed he is by their presence, Hull puts up a case for him being left alone to enjoy his drink only to pull the rug out from under his feet with the acknowledgement that this is oh so the wrong thing to be doing (‘I did not mean to hurt you but I was not really sure...I knew than that I’d had too much so I called out for more!’) Hully’s vocal on this song is excellent, starting off fiery and adamant over his drinking before gradually slumping throughout the song as he acknowledges that he’s only drinking to escape his problems and cheekily signing off with the line ‘and I hope you don’t believe a single word I say!’, each turn of e vents perfectly acted out in sound. Indeed, this song is pretty fine too despite being the third (!) on this theme on the record – multi-layered to reflect the narrator’s growing despondency and spiralling out of control in a much better way than on the other two tracks. Jacka’s harmony vocal in the last verse is perfectly judged too, ‘talking about religion and the state of the world today, till I realised there was nothing new to say’ and heading for the door. Could it be that this is a contrite, humble Alan Hull now all too aware that he too might have had something to do with the band’s split in 1972? (This is a band who could ‘drink for England’ ,according to most sources, after all). The clearing of the path towards the Lindisfarne reunion begins here.
‘Tomorrow’ is Kenny Craddock’s muted farewell to the album and – although they didn’t know it at the time– to the Mark II band themselves. It’s a slow, lazy, acoustic song about slowly working out what you want out of life and how to get it – un like most songs of this sort, however, the narrator isn’t suddenly rushing off to fulfil his destiny but all too aware that ‘I’ll awake to carry on tomorrow’ and have plenty more chances of getting things right. Such an optimistic note sounds rather out of place on this rather self-pitying album but it nevertheless suits this album’s air of quiet determination in the face of overwhelming odds. There’s still room for an uncomfortable verse or two however, such as the woman who comes to ‘take your happiness away’ and the narrator’s leaving his house to wallow in the wild nature which suddenly sounds wet and uncomfortable in contrast to the picture of nature in ‘The River’ and the song does end on a rather wistful note with a mournful saxophone trying to shrug off a bubbly bass line that’s all over the top of it. Suffocation, then, seems to be the feeling of this last track and that’s a pretty good summation of the album as a whole.
So, unforeseen forces directing our destiny, a nature who is glorious and spiritual and yet harsh and uncomfortable, a series of drinking songs that reveal not the escapism so much as the problems that sent the narrator there in the first place – this album tries hard to be just another well played, well written rock/pop/folk album circa 1974 but the emotions are just too strong to deliver on that promise. Thoughtful and multi-layered, ‘Happy Daze’ isn’t quite happy and isn’t strictly dazed – it knows exactly what is going on but can’t quite pin down why. Lindisfarne were always a group who wore their emotions on their chest and excelled in making light catchy songs about deep subjects, but on parts of ‘Roll On Ruby’ and almost all of ‘Happy Daze’ they seem to have made this new genre their own, adding lots of twists and turns to songs that in other hands might have sounded ordinary and filling them out with band performances that are right up there with the best of them. Well, you get like that when you know the score I suppose - and that's that for another week (I hope you didn't believe a single word I said!)