Monday, 6 May 2013
Lindisfarne "The News" (1979)
“May the road you ride be kind, may all your troubles stay behind, may you find what you are looking for, and may the good wolf never go blind, Woooooooh!!!” “Out in the wild, a frightened little child, calls for peace of mind” “People say we all need love, but love may be so hard to find, when you find that love comes easy, then they say that love is blind” “love may come and love may go, and love will die so people say, better to go on believing we will always be this way” “I’ll guarantee World War III will be the biggest show you ever did see” “It’s alright, don’t let it worry your head, war is over now, but unfortunately you are dead” “The past is all gone and the future now has to be managed” “You know it’s so hard to carry on through the day, when you know evening’s on her way” “The moon slipped in silence and settled upon her face, I saw then the sadness of the whole human race” “One more Monday morning at the station, see the hangdog expressions we all wear, they don’t know I know the combination, and when Friday comes along I’m gonna get my share” “When my working day is done, I’ll sell the story to ‘The Sun’, because I could never look a gift-horse in the mouth” “Even if I’m doing time on Sunday, when Friday comes along I’m going to be alright!” “I’m a writer, I’m a poet, out of spiter and I know it, I don’t need to hear your guitar, I’ll write my review from the bar – should go far” “I’m a critic with position, paralytic you musician, I’m weary of punk and new wave, I invented them both anyway – sad to say!” “I’m a wino, midnight worker, with a biro – I’m a lurker, I’ll get you a deal in the charts, or stop you before you can start – that’s my art” “Oh no no, this has got to end, oh no no I’m unable to bend” “I saw the faces of everyone I’d ever known before, lined up and laughing on the shore, ‘goodbye’ they cried, ‘you’re off on a magic ride’, goodbye, dear boy goodbye, forevermore...”
LINDISFARNE “THE NEWS” (1979)
Call Of The Wild/People Say/1983/Log On Your Fire/Evening/Easy and Free//Miracles/When Friday Comes Along/Dedicated Hound/This Has Got To End/Good To Be Here?
HEADLINE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT! Good evening and welcome to ‘The News’, Views and Music. Our reporter is over in 1979 and it’s time for ‘The News’, a sadly forgotten album from Lindisfarne that sold fewer copies than the Pets Love Elvis manifesto at the last local election. Now, despite being the follow-up to one of the biggest selling albums of their career, ‘The News’ made headlines for all the wrong reasons (record company spats, rush releases, near break-ups) and Lindisfarne always felt that they’d under-sold this record and the marketing strategies they could have used to promote it down the years so today – some 34 years too late – we’re going to be doing exactly that. Expect lots of gossip, rumour, intrigue and slander as discuss whether ‘The News’ is one of the truly pioneering media outlets of its day, putting the world to rights (like Private Eye or Alan’s Album Archives) or whether its a gossip-filled muckspreader like the Daily Mail, full of boring love stories and celebrity tittle-tattle. As ever on this site, ‘The News’ somehow manages to be both – and the two halves of this album don’t always sit that comfortably side by side. But then, that’s what life seemed to be like in the late 1970s as the political and celebrity cultures wound around each other like never before. The new British prime minister that year was Margaret Thatcher and – before she bared her teeth and proved to be more masculine in outlook than most of the male premiers– there was lots of talk in the air about what having a female in the hot seat would do for the country (sadly, we still don’t know – in time, hopefully several female PM’s later, Thatcher’ reign will be proved to be an aberration – and a few other nasty words beginning with ‘a’). In America, meanwhile, Jimmy Carter is in his last days in office (after such controversies as the Iran hostage crisis, energy crisis and the Russians invading Afghanistan, none of them entirely his fault) and most of the political scene is entranced by the sudden rise up the polls of an ex-Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan, a politician who fully understood the impact of the media in getting his point of view across to the American public. The thin line between empty soap opera gossip and world-embracing politics that involved everybody the world over had never been so thin and, like all good writers, Alan Hull especially seems to have had these ideas on his mind when making this LP.
THE DIFFICULT YEARS! At the time this album came out, however, it seemed that most of the headlines seemed to be about the band themselves. Poor Lindisfarne never seemed to get the breaks they deserved first time around when they split in 1972, just three years into a career that had taken years of struggling in different bands to get off the ground. A word of mouth band if ever there was one, there was a sense of relief all round when ‘Fog On The Tyne’ finally put the band into the limelight, but the years of difficulties and divisions (the band had originally been in two entirely different groups) showed even more in Lindisfarne than they did in most other groups and they’d split rather acrimoniously after a heavy and fuel-sapping American tour and a much misunderstood difficult third record. Things had seemed to be so much brighter in 1978 when the band reunited after six more hard and difficult years, scoring huge successes with the single ‘Run For Home’ and the album ‘Back And Fourth’ and a double record live album that brought them many new fans to add to their old ones. But as anyone whose ever followed ‘the news’ for any length of time will know, history has a funny habit of repeating itself. And here we are, one year one from the band’s unexpected second career breakthrough and already time has moved on irrepairably: the music scene of 1979 is a completely different beast to 1978, with several young hip things breaking through that year in deference to the cosy nostalgia that came in the wake of punk’s ‘year zero’ in 1977 and making bands like Lindisfarne seem old hat just when they were on the point of rehabilitation (if you’re a Brit and you have BBC4 you may well have been watching the re-runs of Top Of The Pops recently. If you have then like me you might have noticed a whacking colossal change now we’re moved on into ’78 after a year of ’77). However American record company Atco (who’d scored their biggest success of the year in 1978 with ‘Run For Home’), think that Lindisfarne are working too quickly not too slowly. American bands simply didn’t follow-up their albums and singles in a great hurry like they still traditionally did in Europe and rejected this album outright so that it didn’t interfere with the still-strong sales for ‘Back and Fourth’ (why didn’t they just delay it a bit you ask? Well, goodness only knows...)
DRAMA! Understandably, there was talk within the band of quitting the music business again – after all, the five members of Lindisfarne had had to patch up quite a few differences that had still rankled from the infamous American tour of 1972 in order to carry on (even during the off-years the band used to meet up for some well received Christmas concerts in Newcastle which got them talking – thankfully these got easier to play as time moved on and healed the wounds between them). After all, these boys had seen it all and knew what was in store if they started rowing or being turned down by record companies and, by most accounts, knew they were in trouble whilst still making the record. Perhaps that accounts for the slightly hazy feel of ‘The News’, an album that hints at something really dark and edgy (especially the glorious last track ‘Good To Be Here?) but for the most part simply plays it safe. Most reviewers claim that ‘The News’ is bland and certainly compared to other marvellously eclectic Lindisfarne albums there’s not that much going on on the surface. However, like so many news reports, this album is great not so much for what it tells us but for what it doesn’t tell us – the inkling of stirring trouble, of future unrest and impending doom. After all what other album has a song that starts off as a criticism of commuter ways before slowly revealing itself to be a song about a criminal on the run from the law? (‘When Friday Comes Along’) Or a pop song about world war III set only four years in the future, back in the days when such a thing was deeply unfashionable (‘1983’)? Or a final song that’s actually about a man’s journey to the afterlife, only for him to be drawn back at the last minute (‘Good To Be Here’?) As it turns out Lindisfarne are more on the pulse of the world than they think, what with the divisions caused by Thatcher and Reagan and the cold war peaks in general only a few years away (indeed, read 1983 as 1982 and Hull’s song of war and destruction – fairly unthinkable in 1979 – is a dead ringer for the Falklands War).
CONTROVERSY! That very was song has always been the biggest talking point of the album, a surprisngly graphic Alan Hull song about the cold war reaching boiling point and triggering world war III. While not as big as the controversy surrounding Hully’s solo song ‘Malvinas Melody’ (easily the best anti-Falklands War song of the early 80s), this all happened long before Frankie Hollywood recorded ‘Two Tribes’ in the mid-80s and made this sort of thing fashionable. After all, the mood of the world was loosely upbeat in 1979. Margaret Thatcher’s becoming the first female British prime minister seemed like a cause for celebration and a sign that socially Britain was moving in the right direction until her wicked policies began to bite – and in America Ronald Reagan added a touch of Hollywood sparkle to the white house that had been missing for years (until his policies, too, became to seem as one dimensional as some of his films). Hull was a lone voice shouting in the wilderness what people didn’t want to hear – that tensions between the West and East were escalating and a new set of world leaders acting tough made the world more vulnerable and susceptible to destruction than at anytime since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. As I write these things are in ‘the news’ again, North Korea’s stalemate stand-off with America a trigger finger away from growing worse and Thatcher’s funeral costing the state one last bit of expense it cannot afford. Hully saw them all, telling about a ‘trigger’ just four years into the future that would end with death and chaos. Never one for underselling an idea, Hull packs a lot of imagery into his quickfire death-rattle song that takes no prisoners: ‘The Russians are coming, I can feel it in my piss’ indeed. Officially, of course, this song was a flop moment on a flop record that nobody bought or paid much attention to, but I wonder: surely any record company would love to release the follow-up release to a big hit and the fact that it came along so quickly, when Lindisfarne were still very much in the public eye, is all the more reason to celebrate? Could it be, instead, that it was ‘1983’ that meant Lindisfarne were suddenly dead and buried? (A similar thing happens when ‘Malvinas Melody’ is released). The sleevenotes from the record say that an American tour was planned and then abandoned when the album didn’t come off but, surely, any good tour promoter working on the back of a hit record (‘Run n For Home’) would do all he could get them there? Of course this is just speculation and wild conjecture (like so many things on ‘the news’) but you never know. Hmm, sadly nothing came out in the ’30 years official secrets act’ but I wonder...
GOSSIP! The other ‘controversial’ song here, Rod Clement’s ‘When Friday Comes Along’, is so subtly controversial few if anyone has noticed what the song is really about. The song starts as a re-write of Jacka’s ‘King Cross Blues’ from ‘Back and Fourth’ bemoaning the daily commute and the fact that everyone on board the tube is as ‘trapped’ in their little lives in the office as they are on the train. But listen out for the little shift of views on the second verse, when the narrator argues his case that he’s already done his share of paying taxes into the system and is after something more. We never quite find out what he’s been up to, but by verse three he’s telling all his fellow commuters in his head that he’ll be starring in the ‘newspapers’ they’ll all be reading the next morning (another clever tie-in with the album title) and by the end of the song he might be ‘doing time by Sunday’ although he’ll make sure he enjoys the escape first. The whole song sounds suspiciously like Lindisfarne spin-off Jack The Lad’s 1976 song ‘Trinidad’, a dream-song about all the great times a similar commuter might have if only things would work out for him and he can save the money (and the de facto opposite song from this). Ray ‘Jacka’ Jackson sings the song so straight, though, that few people have probably ever picked up on the undercurrent of the song.
SLANDER! Sadly these three songs are all so inventive that, by comparison, the rest of the album doesn’t really seem to be trying and, by Lindisfarne standards, is sadly pretty generic. ‘Evening’ is a good case in point: Alan Hull half-heartedly recorded the demo in 1975 (you can hear it as a bonus track on the re-issue of his solo album ‘Phantoms’ from 1979) and yet didn’t deem it worthy of returning to for two solo albums or ‘Back and Fourth’, which perhaps shows what a hurry this album was in. Other songs on the album sound unusually rushed, too: ‘Log On Your Fire’ for instance is easily the weakest Hull song written up to that time and that’s said as someone who considered ‘Back and Fourth’ to be disappointing. It’s notable, too, how comparatively few songs Alan Hull gets on the album compared to ‘Back and Fourth’ (where he wrote 10 out of 11 songs), with two for Rod Clements and one each for Ray Jackson and Si Cowe. While most fans disagree, I’m not keen on the mainstream commercial sound producers like Gus Dudgeon (who produced ‘Back and Fourth’) and Hugh Murphy (who produced ‘The News’) used in this era either. At their best Lindisfarne are a ramshackle pub band who get by on verve, passion and style that sounds like nobody else and mixing commerciality with controversial songs instead of competing with the bigger, slicker, bands who all end up sounding the same. The ‘official’ verdict on this album is that the band ruined it by having to ‘rush’ it out – actually I think the problem is the other extreme; too many of these songs and productions sound polished, with the loss of any rough edges or any abrasive sound the musical equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Reducing Lindisfarne to the point where they sound like everyone else shows up the holes in their sound, it doesn’t fill them in – a problem many producers of the era had (and it gets worse in the 1980s to come). There’s notably little use of the band’s famous harmony sound here, too, which is just criminal and makes this album sound like someone has mixed the ‘split’ halves of Jack The Lad, Lindisfarne Mark II and Hull’s solo albums across a whole record. In short, three bursts of magic aside, it’s a disappointment – especially with the under-rated minor gem ‘Sleepless Nights’ album around the corner.
LOVE! That said, there’s a case to be made that – ‘1983’ ‘Call Of The Wild’ ‘When Fridcay Comes Along’ and ‘Dedicated Hound’ aside - ‘The News’ is actually a jumbled up, themed album about love and relationships a la ‘Pet Sounds’. Hully didn’t really start writing love songs until his solo album ‘Pipedream’ in 1975 and they’re still new enough to his writing vocabulary to make the sheer quantity of them here noticeable. ‘Miracles’ and ‘Evening’ are ‘hello’ songs if ever I heard them ,devotions of love and romance that are unusual for a writer who’d actually married young and stayed married until the day he died some 30 years later in 1995. ‘Easy and Free’, where the pair of lovers have been together for a while and still cherish every moment is clearly the ‘midway’ point of this love story. ‘Log On Your Fire’ and Jackson’s ‘This Has Got To End’, meanwhile, are clearly ‘goodbye’ songs, kiss-offs full of all the bitterness and annoyance you’d expect. In between are songs like Rod’s ‘People Say’, which bemoans the fact that love that comes easy is ‘blind’ and love that takes a while is ripe for comments on gossip columns while ‘Good To Be Here?’ closes the album with the narrator hallucinating/dying in his sleep, before the eerie journey is pulled up short and he spots his wife on the shore – suddenly the only thing that makes any sense in his life. If the band didn’t intend this album to be a ‘concept album’ in the larger sense then its surprising how many of the songs here fit that feeling – especially for a band who spent more time raging against political miscalculation, musing on the passing of time or writing songs about drinking than they ever did talking about romance before this.
EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! Pinball wizard in a miracle cure...(whoops, sorry, I’ve gone back a few issues there...) So where does that leave ‘The News’, an album that too often seems like ‘yesterday’s news’? Well, it’s not the best thing Lindisfarne ever did, that’s for certain, although some of the tracks on it are up to their usual high standards. This is a band that never coped with success all that well after all and, just like the split that came over what to follow up ‘Fog On The Tyne’ with, this is an album pulling in several different directions at once and only some of them work. All that said, there’s always something to enjoy on even the lesser Lindisfarne albums and this song has one absolute masterpiece in Alan Hull’s nightmare-of-the-soul ‘Good To Be Here?’ a song that’s as good as anything in his back catalogue and two still pretty good songs in ‘1983’ and ‘When Friday Comes Along’. I have a soft spot for ‘Dedicated Hound’, too, with its Dire Straits-ish guitarwork and sarcastic lyrics about wannabe reviewers who really know nothing (err, on seconds thoughts, divert your ears when this comes on!) In actual fact I prefer this record to the bigger selling ‘Back And Fourth’ which had a similar mix of the great and the ghastly (the commuter madness pop song ‘King’s Cross Blues’, Alan Hull’s historical parallel to 1970s cuts in ‘Marshall Riley’s Army’ and the ever-pretty ‘Run For Home’), if only for the variety and range of styles (which is at least more Lindisfarny than an album made up of piano ballads) – a bumpier ride, perhaps, but a more entertaining journey all the same. It’s no ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’, though, or even ‘Dingly Dell’ (the band’s much-derided third LP that split them up).
THIS HAS GOT TO END?! One last point too: the title is a gift that should really have been better exploited by the band (who, to be fair, did use the idea well in their tour programme’s that year). This album became ‘The News’ when fellow AAA band and fellow Geordies Dire Straits (who formed – or at least met their first drummer and decided on their band name, which is good enough for me - in Si Cowe’s kitchen) had spent the night in Cowe’s flat discussing names for their second album, which label Vertigo had wanted in a hurry. Being a former journalist himself, Mark Knopfler was keen to capitalise on the fact that the band were now firmly in ‘the news’ a lot and wanted an album title about ‘communication’. Someone (some reports say drummer Pick Withers) came up with ‘The News’ but the band opted for ‘Communique’ – a title that, frankly, isn’t as good. Realising that the title ‘The News’ was up for grabs Cowe said ‘thanks guys – I’m having that’ and took it to Lindisfarne. I wonder, though, how early in the production of this album it came. Many of the songs here seem tailor-made to fit the format (‘1983’’s tale of war, ‘Dedicated Hound’s expose of writers and ‘When Friday Comes Along’ which even makes reference to ‘The Sun’) and the artists could have really done something with the idea (a collage spread a la John and Yoko’s ‘Sometime In New York City’ perhaps or a mock-up newspaper like Jethro Tull’s ‘Thick As A Brick’ which really stood out in record shops?!) Like ‘Communique’, though, the record label didn’t really know what to do with it and ended up with a striking but rather generic cover of a flying plane and soldier on horseback (why?!) Rather than let a good idea go to waste, we’ve ‘borrowed’ the concept itself because, after all, how many different ways are there of spreading the news about ‘The News’?
‘Call Of The Wild’ is certainly one of the stranger Lindisfarne songs around. A pagan-like prayer about keeping the ‘wolf’ from the door and wishing for kindness in people’s lives, it starts with the only fully a capella section in the band’s catalogue. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t the full blown harmony-fest we’re used to from Lindisfarne but some awful icky, electronic substitute that sounds feathery and artificial (on arguably the one track on the album that’s meant to sound earthly and as if the band are getting back in touch with their ancestors). The tune’s an odd one too, sounding like a nursery rhyme we all should know, but with a funny little off-beat that makes the melody sound like its walking round with a limp. That said, the song’s much better once it gets going, with a Corrs-style folk-rock sound complete with fiddles and accordions that’s actually quite ahead of it’s time and Jacka’s excellent harmonica playing back to being centre stage in the band’s sound . There’s a moving middle eight, too, that effortlessly switches back to the minor key (‘Out in the wild...’), but even this sounds unfinished and unusually hurried by a writer of Alan’s Hull’s standards, ending with the held line ‘...peeeeeeeeeeace of mind’ that doesn’t fit the rhyming scheme. Some of the lyrics sound slightly odd too (‘keep the bad wolf from the door’ I understand but what does ‘may the good wolf never go blind’ mean?!) A mixed bag, then, and an odd choice as a single so it’s no wonder it failed to sell even in the wake of ‘Run For Home’ (although at least it’s an improvement on predecessor ‘Jukebox Gypsy’, a noisy and unusually lascivious song which was probably a style change too far). Perhaps ‘Call Of The Wild’s lasting achievement is the promo video that the band shot for it (sadly unavailable officially but available on youtube) where Lindisfarne break the budget by appearing in a different scenario after every other line (including a memorable opening where the band are seen naked in a cage, though if I’m honest I’m not sure if this helped or hindered sales of the single...)
‘People Say’ is the first Rod Clements song releases in ever such a long time: 1972’s ‘Don’t Ask’ under the Lindisfarne name or the run of songs from 1974’s ‘It’s Jack The Lad’ LP by the Clements/Cowe/Ray Laidlaw spin-off. Sadly after such a long wait ‘People Say’ is something of an anticlimax, an all too clearly attempt to sound commercial and contemporary that misses the charm of ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ or the honesty of ‘The Things I Should Have Said’. There are some lovely moments, however: Jacka’s multi-tracked vocal is one of his best, taking both high and low parts, while the unexpected lurch into a new key in the second verse is pure Rod. The lyrics, too, while short and clichéd for the most part, contain some gems such as the idea that some people are never satisfied, looking down on you when you’re single and loves taking ‘too long to find’ and tutting when love comes easy that ‘love is blind’. It’s nice to hear the mandolins back as part of Lindisfarne’s sound after barely appearing on ‘Back and Fourth’, too, although this song still sounds more like a Jack The Lads than a Lindisfarne song to me (it would be easy to imagine Billy Mitchell singing it). The moral at the heart of this story is a little odd too: ‘better to go on believing we will always be this way’. What way?! We don’t know of the narrator is in love or not and he’s spent so much telling us what other people on the outside think of the relationship that we don’t know whether to be pleased at this outcome. Again, this song shows sign of haste in the writing department and yet production-wise probably go a little too far making this song sound upbeat and contemporary catchy, having the worst of both worlds. For all its faults, though, Jacka’s excellent performance of this song still raises it above the average.
‘1983’ is clearly Alan Hull’s most committed moment on the album, a fast-talking blues-rock about impending nuclear disaster happening in front of the narrator’s eyes set during a time that was only slightly in the future when ‘The News’ was released. The whole song is urgent, as if this is the future-Hull sending a message back in time and trying to get us to heed it’s warning. Like many of Hull’s darkest political songs, its deliciously sarcastic (‘Don’t let it worry your head, war is over now – but unfortunately you are dead’) and takes wicked pleasure in the soldiers doomed to death taking their time to repair military structures and weapons they will never need because soon everyone will be dead. Unusually, though, Hull is vague about his targets which means this song never quite approached the full-blooded anger of ‘Bring Down The Government’ ‘Poor Old Ireland’ ‘City Song’ or ‘Marshall Riley’s Army’ and Hull seems to portray the Russians as the enemy rather than mankind in general as the ‘old’ Hull would have done. Still, though, he puts in a wonderful vocal performance, caught between tears and cackling laughter while Jacka again excels himself on the harmonica-blowing, which somehow links this heavily electric song back to Dylan’s early anti-war rants. The end verse – when the tempo drags, the sound slurs and the production goes a bit psychedelic and disorientating is especially wonderful, mirroring the strange parallel universe the soldiers have woken up in now they are ‘dead’ and in heaven (its a wicked shame that Lindisfarne weren’t around for the summer of love, given the marvellous psychedelic moments like this on many of their LPs). Certainly the picture of World War III painted here does sound like ‘the biggest show you’ve ever seen’, although as it turned out a sombre, cat-and-mouse ballad was probably closer to what really happened in the cold war’s ‘hottest’ decade of the 1980s. All that said, Hull is way ahead of his time here, noticing a change in the political wind long before many of his peers did after what had been – comparatively speaking – a run of good fortune on the political scene, with 70s leaders like Khruschev on one side and Ford and Carter on the other a little more, shall we say, humane with their discussions and political posturing. If you like this song, by the way, then do look for Hull’s solo song ‘Malvinas Melody’ which really was released in ‘1983’ (sadly unavailable on CD but around on Youtube) and sounds in many ways like the sighing ‘told you so’ that went hand in hand with this warning song (even if it’s primarily about the Falklands).
‘Log On Your Fire’ sounds, by contrast, like an entirely different band. A tired and lazy country-blues, it features Hull again but this time singing with zero of the passion and fire we’ve just heard. A miserable song about two partners growing apart from each other, its a bunch of similes and metaphors throughout (even the rather unusual title is about how ‘all you desire is a log on your fire and something to keep you warm at night’). Like ‘Call Of The Wild’, it’s interesting to hear Lindisfarne go right back to their folk roots but the lazy tune and lazier words mean this experiment is never really fully realised. There is one great verse in there somewhere, though, with Hull managing to rhyme ‘marriage’ manage’ and ‘advantage’ in the space of a few lines, as the narrator makes it clear he’s had enough and he’s leaving for good this time (one puzzling point though: why does she offer marriage to him a) if she’s the woman and b) if the feeling of hatred is as mutual as it seems in the rest of the song? Was this track in fact written for an ‘outside’ singer – presumably female – and brought back into the Lindisfarne fold when the band needed songs in a hurry?) There’s something rather uncomfortable, too, about Hull turning the closing line ‘baby, better put a big log on your fire!’ into a Carry On film extract - even if all he means is that she’s going to be alone for a very long time the way she treats people (Cat Stevens writes a similarly uninspired song on the same theme with ‘Come On Baby, Shift That Log’ on his second album ‘New Masters’, which is every bit as wonky as it sounds). In all, a bit of a mess and probably the weakest song here.
‘Evening’ is just as clichéd, but is at least more listenable, with an interesting meandering melody that’s the closest to blues we’ve heard Lindisfarne play since 1971’s ‘Train In G Major’. Jacka was the big soul specialist in the band and this song sounds more like his solo work on the album ‘In The Night’ (released the following year in 1980) than it does Lindisfarne. He turns in a strong performance again, too, with some more bluesy harmonica and some of his deepest sounding vocals. The rest of the band, though, sound a bit clueless here, adding some anodyne synth-strings and piano and a particularly plodding bass and drum part that suggest they don’t really ‘get’ this song at all. Even author Alan Hull sounds at odds, adding a rather sickly middle eight (‘Easy, you know it ain’t easy...’) that sounds much like the ‘Pete Townshend’ part to Jacka’s ‘Roger Daltrey’ one, but the experiment is over in a few lines before the band have a chance to work on this new interplay. Ultimately, this over-produced lush arrangement of the song sounds far worse than Hull’s rather charming (if undeveloped) demo for it (released in 2009 as a CD bonus track on his solo ‘Phantoms’ album), with only Jacka having anything to add to the song’s contents to make it worthwhile or interesting. A real one-off in the Lindisfarne canon.
‘Easy and Free’ is an unusual song too, much poppier than most Lindisfarne songs and melodically its so similar to ‘Run For Home’ (albeit sped up) that it sounds like Hull at least was thinking of this song as the follow-up top that single (I’m surprised that it wasn’t as, whilst hardly the greatest track on this album, it is at least catchy and nicely performed). A sort of slow rolling ballad, this song tries to be laidback but someone (perhaps the producer Hugh Murphy) seems to have got the idea this song is ‘urgent’ and adds a quite distinctive continual pattering of drums from ray Laidlaw on great form and a far better string arrangement than the one that graced ‘Log On Your Fire’. It’s great, too, to hear the full Hull-Jacka-Cowe harmonies at last, even if they seemed to be mixed unusually low. However its a shame that so much time seems to have been spent on what must be, arguably, one of Hull’s emptiest songs which doesn’t have much to say other than the fact that love is going smoothly (for once) between the characters in the song and they’re ‘where we wanna be – easy and free’. Now, I’m not saying Lindisfarne pinched it, but have a listen to Pentangle’s cover of old folk song ‘Sally Free and Easy’ (from ‘Solomon’s Easy’) and see if you can spot any similarities?! (To be fair, there’s more than a little ‘Lady Eleanor’ in the last few Pentangle recordings in return). The main chorus, however (‘Love is the answer!’) is taken wholesale from another Hull song of that very name, again heard on ‘Phantoms’ (or Radiator’s ‘Isn’t It Strange?’ if you happen to be lucky enough to be one of the few people who owns it: the same recording was used on both albums), which is fair enough I suppose: even being released twice few Lindisfans ever got to hear the record before it disappeared and it took an age to come out on CD! Still, it shows perhaps how desperate for material Lindisfarne were when making this record.
‘Miracles’ gets the second side of the album to another slow start. Take Alan Hull’s expressive vocal away and this song could have been made by any band in any period. In fact I doubt whether Lindisfarne have much to play on it: all I can hear are mariachi horns and Jamaican style percussion which doesn’t sound much like Ray Laidlaw to me. That’s a shame because while the tune for ‘miracles’ is pretty generic too, the lyrics are actually quite inventive and back to the ‘wordier’ style of writing Alan Hull hadn’t used since the early ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’ days. For instance, not many other Lindisfarne songs start with a sentence like ‘Whosoever be saw her could never forget the sight’ and the mysterious lady in the song sounds like she could be Lady Eleanor herself, albeit updated to the 20th century, although its actually another early Lindisfarne classic that Hull references here (‘The Madonna of the Clear White Light). Just check out the third verse which starts ‘She turned herself in torment, trying to explain’ whose alliterative tones and unusual metre sound like a dead ringer for the earlier ‘belly dancing beauty’ and ‘she gazed with a loving beauty like a mother to her son’. Hull’s present companion even makes him think of a beauty from an earlier time, as she ‘reminded me of William Blake and the smile for eternity’, but Hull goes on to say that such beauty and magnetism is timeless, referencing Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe and, erm, Buddha in his list of mystical muses across time. The vernacular of the chorus, though, is pure 1970s (‘I’m an ordinary guy and I don’t believe in miracles – miracles don’t exist’) which together with the contemporary music makes for quite an interesting comment on how the past makes inroads into the present even when we’re least expecting it (or that certain people are ‘timeless’). That, sadly, is where the comparison ends: there’s no real conclusion like there was in Lady Eleanor (although Hull uses the same trick of having his doubting narrator change his mind in the last chorus, now saying that ‘miracles do exist – and I’m an extraordinary guy’) and the perfectly matching grace and ethereal-but-ominous beauty of the original song has been replaced by a surface sheen that sounds more like Rose Royce or Boney M than Lindisfarne. What a missed opportunity this is to have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ track for fans to enjoy!
‘When Friday Comes Along’ is similarly frustrating, although its still one of the better songs on the album. Rod Clements’ song of subtle subversion is cleverly constructed so that the listener only slowly begins to realise that this song is being narrated not by a bored commuter out for a good time at the weekend but a criminal on the run from some dastardly deed (we never find out exactly what he’s done – its the fact that he’s got a secret that’s important). So far so clever – and the idea that the criminal will still get to properly enjoy ‘Friday’ (the day most commuters look forward to most as it means the weekend is on the way) even if he’s banged up on ‘Sunday’ is a particularly clever twist. But again the backing track is so anonymous and so lacklustre that the listener struggles to get that involved in the lyrics anyway (I must admit I hadn’t realised the twist at all on my first few playing of this album – it was only on reading the lyrics sheet that the message of the song clicked!) Jacka again turns in a sterling vocal and at long last there’s an overdue opportunity for Si Cowe to turn in a decent guitar solo, but by Lindisfarne standards this is awfully bare and empty stuff. Generally Clements’ songs work in a completely different way to Alan Hull’s, tending to be less direct and multilayered (whereas Hully usually shoots from the hip). But on this album its notable how similar the pair’s writing styles are: reduced to writing songs that will ‘work’ on the ‘radio’ they’ve been robbed of the chance for surprise and clever twists so that in this song especially the classic hidden subtext of the song is too heavily buried (you can still tell Rod’s writing from some of the lines however: who else would rhyme words like ‘station’ ‘combination’ reputation’ and ‘station’ in a pop song?!), especially after listeners had become accustomed to Lindisfarne bemoaning the commuter life on Jacka’s ‘King’s Cross Blues’ from ‘Back and Fourth’. My advice is to read the lyrics instead of listen to them – the song’s much funnier that way!
‘Dedicated Hound’ is Si Cowe’s first published work with the band for sometime (barring the sadly neglected B-side ‘Stick Together’ anyway, which is like a Geordie version of ‘Ebony and Ivory’) and like many of his song’s it makes Lindisfarne sound like a completely different band. Dire Straits to be exact – Cowe’s friendship with the band (who, as we’ve seen, kinda formed in his kitchen) meaning that he’d spent many hours by 1979 studying his friend and fellow Geordie Mark Knopfler practising on the guitar. Cowe gets his ‘twangy’ guitar sound off perfectly here (leading many fans to assume that it really is Mark playing), but Knopfler would never have written a song this playful (or sarcastic). ‘Dedicated Hound’ is the one song from ‘The News’ that the music critics seemed to quite like (Dire Straits were the ‘in’ sound of 1979 after all), which is hilariously ironic when you realise that the subject of the song is music critics who know nothing talking about music randomly and deciding what’s ‘cool’ or not. Sadly many music writers are a bit po-faced and full of themselves (but not us, obviously!) so probably thought the song was being genuine and respectful. A glance at the lyrics, though, will tell you otherwise, with the song full of very clever one-liners rattled off at quick speed (had Gilbert and Sullivan ever made an operetta about the NME or Melody Maker it would have sounded like this!) During the course of the song the music critics takes booze as a bribe, tells us he invented ‘punk and new wave’ (sad to say!), admits he writes his reviews ‘out of spite’ and jealousy for band’s talents, hangs around seedy bars ‘with a biro, I’m a lurker’ and openly ‘lies’ to get his own way. The trouble is that Jacka puts in such a good performance that you end up becoming quite sympathetic to the staggering, shambolic, alcoholic music critic by the end of the song (although to be fair, its a very hard, profession, honest, and coming up with new reviews every week takes real genius as I’m sure you’ll agree! Now if only I could invent a new music form that will take us back to the 60s and 70s my power will be complete...) Like many a track on ‘The News’ ‘Dedicated Hound’ sounds completely unlike anything Lindisfarne have done before, but unlike the other dead-end cul-de-sacs on the record it’s rather a shame that they never tried this sound again. Clever, caustic and delivered with just the right mixture of poignancy and mock-laughter, ‘Dedicated Hound’ is one of the better songs on the album. If nothing else it proves that had Dire Straits ever needed another guitarist Si Cowe would have been the perfect replacement...
‘This Has Got To End’ is Jacka’s contribution to the album and like most of his songs written with ‘Lindisfarne Mark II member’ Charlie Harcourt. Sadly it’s not up to his two sterling moments on ‘Back and Fourth’ (where Jacka steals the show from under Alan Hull’s nose) and its’ another of this album’s rather limp love songs that could have been recorded by any band at any time and lack that Lindisfarne fizz and fire. There’s a nice chorus to the song though, which suddenly flowers into some magnificent Lindisfarne harmonies and feature some ‘no no no’ counter-vocals that make the song sound loosely like ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’. The middle eight, meanwhile, is pure 10cc, the key modulating upwards unexpectedly to leave room for lots of breathy, near-falsetto vocals that offers the ‘crux’ of the song in that ‘we’d be better off alone’ (unlike the verses that try to spare the loved one’s feelings or the self-pitying ‘no no no’ choruses). The trouble is, none of the three sections really feel as if they belong together and the anonymous production values and all-too slow ploddy tempo rob this song of any power it might have had. Compare this song to the in-your-face rock of ‘King’s Cross Blues’ or the heartfelt sentiments of ‘Woman’ and it’s clear that something has gone very wrong with Lindisfarne’s direction. No, no, no – come on guys, this has got to end!
Which it does in spectacular style with ‘Good To Be Here?’, a song literally about the narrator’s demise (before he wakes up and find it was all a dream – or was it?!) Alan Hull at his absolute best, this song rights all the wrongs that have plagued the rest of the album for a tour de force of everything that make Lindisfarne great. Rod’s big fat bass lines sound more urgent and forceful here without so many other unnecessary layers added on top of them and recall his sterling playing on ‘Dingly Dell’; Graham Peskett’s string arrangement sound eerie and ominous rather than empty and hollow and makes for one of the best AAA uses of violins of all-time; Ray Laidlaw’s carefully spaced percussion really enhances the song rather than distracts from it and best of all Alan Hull’s emotional vocal has been draped with an air of electronic trickery, sounding as if he’s speaking to us from inside the ‘twilight zone’. The lyrics, too, are stunning, having more in comment with epic works like ‘Kulbla Khan’ or ‘The Wasteland’ than mere pop lyrics, running one after another for paragraphs as the narrator dreamily follows his ‘guide’ to a strange new place. The details here are stunning: the narrator feels nothing ‘except an aching to be free’, the ‘ship’ that he leaves on ‘drifts’ without course into an unknown destination and the cruel captain announcing that ‘you’ve said your last goodbye’ is more chilling than any horror film. Along the way the narrator looks back to the shore and sees the faces of ‘everyone I’d known in my life before, lined up and laughing on the shore’ oblivious to his own fear and plight. The song switches only when his wife calls his name and wakes him up from his slumber and he realizes it was ‘just a dream – just a crazy midnight scream’, but things have changed for the narrator who realises that he’s been taking his life for granted and instead of accepting his life blindly he announces that ‘its good to be here’ and looks at it with fresh eyes. A stunningly original song Hull sings it admirably straight throughout and – just as they do with all of Hull’s more experimental songs – the rest of the band back him up all the way, creating a backing track full of fear, doubt and uncertainty so different to the 10 tracks that have come before that it sounds like the work of a completely different band. If I have any criticism it’s that the ending of the song, when the narrator suddenly wakes and counts his blessings, is still treated in the same mystical and eerie tones of the rest of the track (when the world should sound bright, clear and stable once more). The song comes with an eerie post-script when you realise that Hull only had another 16 years to live after writing this song, dying suddenly of a heart attack at the age of just 50. Straightforward and earthly for the most part, its true to say that Hully did also have a very complex and spiritual side to him – was this song based on a genuine hint of a ‘journey’ he felt was yet to come? (his vocal shows how much this song means to him if you compare it to the ‘hollow’ way he sings some of the others on this album) Or was Hull merely using his vivid imagination? Either way ‘Good To Be Here?’ is an uncomfortable but fascinating work that’s one of Hull’s career best songs, right up there with better known songs like ‘Lady Eleanor’ and ‘Winter Song’ and completely unlike anything else he ever wrote before or since.
Overall, then, ‘The News’ is an album that was never going to make headlines and for the most maintains the perennial Lindisfarne struggle between their ‘tabloid’ side (songs of drinking, love and empty pop) and their ‘broadsheet’ side (deep, controversial songs about death, Armageddon and prison). All 11 songs on this album sound like experiments to some degree and like all experiments some work, some fail and some are a little bit of both. Certainly I’d never rate this album up there with Lindisfarne’s brilliant ‘first three’ albums before they split and I have a much softer spot for most other ‘reunion’ albums than I do this one (‘Sleepless Nights’ ‘Elvis Lives On The Moon’ and ‘Here Comes The Neighbourhood’ especially). But ‘The News’ deserved better than to be rejected by record companies, ignored by fans and sentenced to the bargain bins of time. At their worst on this record Lindisfarne sound like everything else around in 1979 (poppy, soppy, occasionally stroppy), but at their best they’re still making music that’s more than the measure of anyone else still around from the late 60s/early 70s. There’s dozens of Lindisfarne compilation albums out there – some good, some bad, some truly diabolical – and my measure for how good they are is whether they ‘bother’ to including any songs from this ‘missing’ album. Certainly ‘Good To Be Here?’ is in the top 20 Lindisfarne songs of all time and songs like ‘1983’ ‘When Friday Comes Along’ and ‘Dedicated Hound’ all deserve their place in the top 50. Sadly the rest of the album isn’t anywhere near this standard – but then, in the rather anonymous year of 1979, even four strong songs for an album is quite an achievement. That was the ‘The News’, join us again at the same time next week for more – but first here’s the weather. (It’s raining. Again. So there. Unless it isn’t in which case – lucky you and when can I move in next door?!)