Monday, 10 November 2014

Alan Hull "The Squire" (1975)



Alan Hull "The Squire"

The Squire/Dan The Plan/Picture A Little Girl/Nothin' Shakin'/One More Bottle Of Wine//Golden Oldies/I'm Sorry Squire/Waiting/Bad Side Of Town/Mr In Between/The End

"They called me squire 'Max The Singing', because that's what I was, A high flying flyer, a  well respected dog, But the one who knocks upon my door ain't smiling, he don't care that I should be retiring, He said 'call me the new squire and take off your hat', I wasn't having that - my new landlord was a cat!"

Alan Hull's second album from 1975 is the last of the great original run of Lindisfarne runs that stretches back all the way to 'Nicely Out Of Tune' in 1970. Apart from drummer Ray Laidlaw in Jack The Lad (who keep going till the next year) all of Lindisfarne have broken up and dispersed from their respective bands and will make no more music till getting back together in 1978: Lindisfarne Mark II have been forced to break up and Si Cowe and Rod Clements are no longer with Jack The Lad. It's the end of an era, the old early 70s sound making way for the new. Hull, the creative powerhouse behind the band, clearly knows it too: 'Squire' is a bittersweet goodbye, a fond farewell of an album that knows it might be the last album for a while (maybe forever the way the record business seemed to work back then). An angrier, less pretty album than its predecessor, 'Squire' is a fascinating mix of the inspired and the tired. Hull had a right to feel a little aggrieved and less on top of things than usual: Charisma basically refused to put out any more Lindisfarne Mark II albums but still wanted to keep Alan on as a solo artist (his first record 'Pipedream' had outsold the two 'Mark II' records, perhaps because fans realised how much more of a 'Lindisfarne' sounding album it actually was). However their terms for this second record came at a price: Lindisfarne Mark II hadn't recouped their advance so this record had to be made to a lower budget than normal and to a quicker deadline than 'Pipedream'. For a creative spirit like Hull that must have been crushing: Lindisfarne had been the biggest band in Britain in 1971 and here we are, only four years on, back to roughly where he'd started: a solo singer looking to break into the big time trying to build up an audience.

In essence, this is the third 'Mark II' Lindisfarne album minus everyone else's songs. Jacka and Kenny Craddock both makes several appearances across the record, with Paul Nichols replaced by Terry Popple (a regular of Hull's next album 'Radiator') and Thomas Duffy replaced by Colin Gibson (ditto). However there's a very different 'feel' to this record which makes it very much the sequel to 'Pipedream': recently Hull has been using Lindisfarne as a platform for either everything that's wrong in the music business, using the band as an alternative to the psychiatrist couch after the original Lindisfarne split, or as an excuse to indulge in comedy laddish behaviour. Only 'River' sounds anything like the meticulous crafter of deeply expressed thoughts fans would have known from the first three Lindisfarne records where empathy for beggars, those in slums, citizens under the heel of town planners and the Irish spilled over from an overflowing cup. To some extent 'Squire' revives that spirit, offering a helping hand to everyone in trouble from more people under the cosh of an uncaring society to the very squires and country gentlemen Hull used to laugh at. Chances are a man like Hull (who'd been working cleaning windows and trying to do odd jobs to feed a young family when Lindisfarne came along) felt embarrassed by his success and felt he was losing touch with 'his' people. Now, though, he's seen the world with new eyes, knows that bad luck can happen rich or poor and excitedly takes his place back in the public, not quite sure whether he'll ever get the chance to talk to 'us' again. Being told to wrap up your legacy inside a short space of time must have been a difficult commission even by Lindisfarne standards - considering all that 'Squire' hangs together pretty well.

Like 'Roll On Ruby' - the record Lindisfarne Mark II made after the split - and the first Jack The Lad record, this is a loose concept album about old powers being toppled so that the next lot of bands can come along and Lindisfarne being toppled heavier than most. 'I've seen it all, from the dole queue to the top' Hull bitterly reflects in the title track. Class was always one of Hull's favourite targets and it's all over this album, from the wonderful album cover (Alan, with pipe in mouth and posh hat, standing in front of a castle - the back sleeve has a rather different view!) to many of the album songs. However this time around a lot of the 'class' songs are actually aimed at himself: the title song 'Squire' has Hull as the previous owner of a local estate who falls behind on his payments and is evicted during the course of the song, having to take his place in the 'real' world (Max's note: huh, at least he wasn't evicted by a cat...). A reflective instrumental, 'I'm Sorry Squire', sounds like its following the old Squire as he sinks lower and lower in society, what with all those sad recorders and tin whistles. Alan had been here before though: 'The Bad Side Of Town' is one of his most winningly autobiographical songs, debating how his childhood was 'deprived' in the eyes of others who weren't there, but he and his playmates know that there's only a bad side of town when you see the bad side of people. Finally 'Dan The Plan' returns to the scene of 'Peter Brophy Does Not Care' and 'City Songs' from 'Fog On The Tyne': a city planner trying to decide how people should live when he has no idea of what they are like or any interest in how awful the conditions are (he'll never have to meet them, after all!) The theme that runs throughout a lot of Hull's work but particularly this album is not to take it on trust how you should behave round people, just because they have more (or less) money than you. The point a lot of the album seems to be making is that respect should be earned, not be a privilege: the 'Squire' will always be the 'Squire' to his local farmers because he was a good man - they don't care about his financial situation. Equally Hull knows that the 'bad' part of town had nothing to fear for him: it was the area that was bad, not the people. Financial situations can change in the blink of an eye (no wonder he's confused enough to call himself 'Mr In-between' in the album's comedy finale) and you need to be kind and empathetic to the people on the way up as well as the way down: a world full of Peter Brophys and Dan The Plans may try to keep us in our place but it's only people like them who tell us how to live - by 1975 Hull has met everyone big and small and knows something the 'rich' don't know: that the poor are like them in every way except having money. By the late 1970s (and Thatcher) Hull tries hard to go into politics, trying to become a Newcastle MP first for Labour and then as an independent before realising he can do 'more good' with his songwriting. At times 'Squire' feels like a party political broadcast on behalf of the Alan Hull party (he'd certainly have my vote!) Interestingly the album seems to have been roughly divided so that the first four songs are about the abuse of powers by the rich and most of the last six (we'll discount 30-second 'The End' for now) about the poor (with just instrumental 'I'm Sorry Squire' getting in the way). Co-incidence or intention? With Hull you're never quite sure whether he's been clever or lucky but it does give this album a nice consistency of theme.

Like all good politicians, Hull also seems to have a guilty conscience at times: he begins and ends the album by protesting 'I swear I mean no harm to you or anyone'. Closing song 'Mr Inbetween' is, in fact, an attempt to become a person whose views are no longer so extreme that they upset everyone all the time: which is quite some going given the mad family the narrator seems to have! (He still gets arrested for 'drunken-ness' though!) Even instrumental 'I'm Sorry Squire' is written as an apology. But an apology to who? The band? (Lindisfarne Mark II didn't have the happiest of time together, but it was hardly Hull's fault). His family? (Period spin-off single 'Crazy Woman' suggests that Hull had never been more in love, whatever the song's title). My guess is its 'us': 'Golden Oldies' is an affectionate grumble over how 'they just don't make them like that any more'. Hull knows well the importance of having pop stars taking a stand: it was 'Johnny' Lennon in 1964 who 'opened every door' and 'Bobby' Dylan who shaped his idea of what a songwriter ought to be doing: reflecting the times and trying to put things right. 'Even in the morning they did not desert you' Hull sings, before reflecting that a decade later 'it's all been and gone - sure was a whole lot of fun!' Hull knows he's about to join them into obscurity and seems to be asking for our forgiveness before the event; determined not to simply walk out of our lies the way Lennon and Dylan had done. 'Golden Oldies' is really a farewell from singer to fans, wrapped up in a song where Hull is the fan and his two heroes are the singers.

One thing that's always struck me about this album is how much of a nostalgia-fest it is. While 'Pipedream' was very much an album set in the present (with songs for Alan's wife, children, band and, erm, windmill) 'Squire' is always looking back over its shoulder with rose-tinted glasses. 'Waiting' is a fairly 'old' song actually recorded in 1973 during 'Pipedream' and so touches back to that period in Hull's past in between the two Lindisfarnes (it even includes the line 'could this be another sad song coming to an end?', a nod of the head to 'Justanothersadsong', a track which did make it onto 'Pipedream'). 'Picture A Little Girl' dates back even further, being one of the songs Hull had demoed in 1969 in his days as a solo act. The energetic cover of 'Nothin' Shakin' sounds like a band trying to remember their dim and distant youth from the 1950s. Elsewhere the mood is distinctly elegiac: Hull pays tributes to Dylan and Lennon in 'Golden Oldies', two other men who seemed to have disappeared for good (Dylan was taking a break between albums - Lennon had just announced his 'retirement' to become a househusband), perhaps not feeling so bad about his own enforced absence. 'Bad Side Of Town', as we've seen, is about Hull's childhood, perhaps inspired by the better life he's managed to make for his children compared to his own (and perhaps his worry about maintaining it without a band or record contract).  'Dan The Plan' is very much intended as a sequel to 'City Songs', one of Hull's most moving songs. Finally, 'One More Bottle Of Wine' is the tale of an old drunk preparing to go home but with one last song to sing, a name-dropping song with several fan-pleasing references to The Tyne and the promise that 'the moment is not done - no way!' A combination of the speed of making the record and the fact that this might be a 'final' farewell seem to have inspired Hull to look inside himself and his memories like never before: even compared to 'Pipedream'.

For an album made under such trying circumstances you could forgive 'Squire' for being less than excellent and there's no getting away from the fact that it is both weaker and lighter than 'Pipedream' and all three 'original' Lindisfarne records. But the good news is that, for the last time until the 1980s, Hull sounds truly inspired, writing songs that no one else could have thought up. In truth he'd taken a bit of a nap through the two Lindisfarne Mark II albums (while 'Happy Daze' in particular is a strong record, most of Alan's songs are comedy ones about boozing or unreleased songs dating back to the 1960s). With the weight suddenly on him to deliver he seems to come out of himself, writing almost a 'greatest hits' record full of all the things that fans have come to expect: angry rants at lazy institutions, comedy songs about class that have as much fun at the rich's expense as they seem to have at the poor's; a drinking song; an instrumental using then-new synthesiser sounds; a fan-pleasing mention of 'signing on the dole' and a love song about a pretty mysterious stranger who could easily be Lady Eleanor's great-great-grandaughter. Some of the album shows the strain everyone was under its true: instrumentals are a dodgy idea at the best of times and 'I'm Sorry Squire' isn't one of the best, while the knees-up attack on Eddie Fontaine's 'Nothin' Shakin' But The Leaves On The Tress' is a nice idea performed by a band who don't know how to rock. For the most part, though, what's impressive is just how consistent this second album is - and how many different places with different textures this record goes to: comedy, tragedy, drama, nostalgia - sometimes all four within one song. 

The sound is impressive too. You could have forgiven Hull for taking a few short-cuts in the making of 'Squire', but the 'Nothin' Shakin' cover aside everything here sounds very polished and carefully arranged. Jean Roussel - who'd only just left Cat Stevens' band after a string of albums dating back to 1970 - is a key part of this album's sound, playing all the keyboards that Hull doesn't and adding the orchestra touches that are here and there throughout this album (the dramatic part added to 'The Bad Side Of Town' is particularly impressive). The synthesiser on 'I'm Sorry Squire' sounds nicely progressive for the era: Hull never gets the credit he deserves as a pioneer of the instrument which sounds much more palatable in his hands than most instruments. 'Picture A Little Girl' also features a lovely cascading serenade of flutes and tin whistles which give a lovely folk flavour to the song. 'Squire', too, sounds like prog rock should always have sounded: with both track and album starting mid-note, as if simply the latest chapter in Hull's complicated life, it features a wonderfully clear combination of an awful lot of instruments with pianos, guitars, mellotrons, bass, drums and a specially treated 'megaphone' style double-tracked vocal from Hull passing through the song. 'Squire' actually sounds like more time was spent on it than 'Pipedream' and while it misses the 'telepathy' of the Lindisfarne records (even the 'Mark II' ones) Hull is surrounded by a strong group of people.

You can tell this album is rushed, however. Heard back to back to 'Pipedream' this record has a tendency to take things slow, to eke out each song for as long as it will go, rather than packing everything into two tight minutes and move onto the next track because there's so much to say. At times Hull already seems to be coasting into involuntary retirement with a lot more ballads than normal (discounting 30 second 'goodbye' 'The End' there are ten songs on this album - seven of them are ballads) and a sleepy countenance to this album that sits in quite a contrast to everything Hull has done before. For the moment that's fine: it's nice to have the change in fact, but in time this writing style will become less palatable when it becomes Hull's default setting for everything (most of the Lindisfarne reunion records, still dominated by Hull even with more members writing, tend to go down this route too, while third solo Hull album, 1979's 'Phantoms', rarely moves away from 'snoozy'). The sad fact too is that while 'Pipedream' was a bumpier and less consistent ride it contained several classic songs adored by many fans including me: 'Breakfast' 'United States Of Mind' 'Numbers' 'Country Gentleman's Life' 'For The Bairns' 'Song For A Windmill'...By contrast only the title track of 'Squire' and 'Dan The Plan' are truly in that first-class league. There's still much to enjoy though: only 'Nothin' Shakin' gets things that wrong, with all the other songs having some reason to shine. It's also a major improvement for Hull supporters on both 'Mark II' records. In truth, though, this needs another couple of first-class songs to make it as essential a purchase as 'Pipedream' and the three 'proper' Lindisfarne records: an album that's impressively consistent and consistently good album considering the circumstances rather than the greatest single thing Alan Hull ever made. Not bad, though, Squire - especially given the circumstances - not bad at all.


'The Squire' is easily the best song on the album. Like The Kinks' 'Sunny Afternoon', this is a millionaire who ends up with nothing, evicted from a house he can't afford to keep up anymore. No matter how many times the narrator insists on being called' The Squire', his old fashioned sense of entitlement means nothing against the local man filling bureaucracy and red tape. Hull expands this song to include his own sense of unfairness on both sides: he's 'hopped along the road from the dole queue to the top' and knows a thing or two about life and life seems to be unfair on both sides: the squire may have done nothing to deserve his estate in the first place but he shouldn't have to lose what he's turned into a home. The melody is perfectly fitting for a song about enforced full stops and stutterings, coming to a pause after every chorus before thinking and carrying on. The backing is at its best here too with washes of synthesiser and a cracking finale featuring a mellotron and a backwards guitar part fighting each other to be heard. The sounds of yesteryear - 1967 to be precise - are unusual for Hull and seem to be making a point: that tradition, even relatively recent tradition and values are under threat. The result is a song The Kinks would have been proud to make  and a song that manages to say something deeper than simply 'I'm being evicted!'

'Dan The Plan' is a second strong song at the start of the album. Returning to the madness of development planners last hear don 'Fog On The Tyne', Hull goes further even than 'City Songs' and 'Peter Brophy Does Not Care'. Dan The Plan (in real life, Newcastle City Council leader Dan T Smith, in charge during the first half of the 1960s) doesn't care either: Hull depicts him as a greedy cowboy, 'one hand on the stirrup and another in the stew', drawing up plans for another ugly apartment block in Newcastle despite the fact that it suits absolutely nobody but the town planners doing things on the cheap. Hull ironically refers to Newcastle as 'The Brazilia of the North' before getting personal: his beloved 'fog on the tyne' is now 'all smoke and rain' and the narrator's own father died 'after you turned his house into a caravan'. Newcastle - and much of the North of England - are being destroyed in the name of commerce and cheapness, with housing estates well looked after and cared for demolished to make way for unliveable houses that don't even have the warmth of a happy memory; no wonder Hull is in such an acerbic mood, this is his childhood he's fighting for here. While a largely popular figure in his day, opponents called Smith the 'mouth of the Tyne', the foghorn, perhaps, to Lindisfarne's fog and Hull may have been reminded of his impact on his home city after Smith was imprisoned in 1974 on charges of bribery and corruption (basically giving architect John Paulsen a free go at renovating the city instead of leaving it open to competition). Hull's vocal is one of his sarcastic best with this song clearly personal, taunting and pillorying the hapless designer who'll never have to live in one of his monstrosities. History has proved Hull right of course: while the 1960s and 70s were the height of taste musically (or so we at the AAA say anyway) most people generally agree that it was an ugly time for designers, with the period's solution to a growing population, usually poor to lock them away like battery hens generally accepted as a bad idea (most of these concrete monstrosities have been knocked down now). 'Am I wrong to complain?!?' the chorus runs - nope, as ever Alan was spot-on with the direction of his rage. Hull is joined in his crusade by another of the best performances on the album including classic harmonica puffing from Jacka and some gritty Kenny Craddock guitar-work. 

'Picture A Little Girl' is an older song pre-dating Lindisfarne that would have made a fine addition to the 'Nicely Out Of Tune' album, a slow and stately song about a quiet and stately girl. Hull thinks his quiet partner 'has the wisdom of a child' and would love to know her secrets - but by the end he's imploring her to keep them to herself. Hull often wrote about quiet stately graceful ladies (Lady Eleanor for instance) but they're usually older and maturer than this: Alan seems obsessed with how young she appears. Hull's 1969 demo has come to light (you can hear it as a bonus track on the 'Happy Daze' CD) and makes for fascinating listening: singing to just his guitar accompaniment Hull sounds nicely folky and is already having fun with 'Dingly Dell' style guitar fills (another song which dates back to this early period). This re-recording is dressed up in much shinier finery, a lovely series of flutes, recorders and tin whistles that make a very good musical 'double' for the girl with the far-away look in her eyes and which fly over a very Rod Clements-style 'busy' bass that seems like the narrator babbling away outside her exterior. The biggest change is that an entire middle section has been dropped: the original comes with a much more aggressive form of questioning that tries to 'break' her solitude down: 'Where are you going? I'd really like to know, can I come with you? I've got no place to go', Hull's narrator trying to follow the girl to the land of 'dreams' he can see in her eyes but which she won't speak about. It's interesting that this section should have been dropped as the final version is very ethereal and other-worldly throughout, another land that's alien to the narrator no matter how hard he tries to join her there.

The noisy cover of 'Nothin' Shakin' is enough to drive any imaginary world from your mind, as Hull tries to sound like a punk a full year early. This differs from the usual covers of this song in being slightly slower and sturdier than most versions bordering on the hysterical (The Beatles' BBC session cover for instance), while there's a bigger part for the pianist to play than usual. Hull has fun on the vocals where he screams himself hoarse trying to get some action in a backward town and his little aides are the best thing about the cover: 'Nothing's shaking - not even my hands!' he quips at one point, while another has Hull offering up a groan. The problem is that with many mid-1970s rock and roll covers (Lennon's 'Rock and Roll' album from this same year comes to mind): this arrangement is too bloated to truly rock properly. Almost all 1950s rock and roll records are recorded purely and simply; adding a whole bunch of superfluous musicians puts this recording and others like it into rocking by committee, by common consent of everyone. Rock should be about raw power - there's nothing shaking listening to this recording except my head. Oh dear.

'One More Bottle Of Wine' is one of the better examples of a Hull drinking song that enables Hull to come up with the world wisdom that all drunks seem to possess. While 'Dealer's Choice' and 'Gin and Tonix All Round' were self-deprecating songs about not being able to cope with life, this is a song about not wanting to go home. At times this is a song about a doomed marriage ('We don't see eye to eye always, we only can but try in small ways' is one of Hull's cleverest, fullest couplets). At other times, though, Hull seems to be raising a toast to us and saying his farewells: he knows he's on the brink of a 'bad break' and sees the 'sun is slipping through the Tyne' as the sun sets on his career. He doesn't want to go though ('The moment isn't done - no way!'), not with such 'fine and friendly folk I know' to go on his journey with him and with so many songs to 'drink to the future of mankind' still to go. The result is an intense song that seems to be a deal more substantial than the recent block of Hull drinking songs. A naggingly persistent melody line just about gets to straddle the line between clever and annoying (like many a drunk) enhanced by a wonderful Jean Roussel orchestral arrangement (erm, not like many drunks!) Trust Hull to use the metaphor of drinking in one of his most personal statements!

'Golden Oldies' is a song that all of you interested enough to read this website and/or book should identify with: Hull's personal song about what music means to him. Dylan opened the door, Lennon stepped through it, melodies were 'clean' and 'true' and could still be easily remembered. Now, though, there are no pioneers or troublemakers left and those like Dylan and Lennon whose candles once burned so bright are left either repeating themselves or in semi-retirement. An early song asking 'what the hell happened to music?!' (a question most of us have been asking ever since 1980), Hull uses the name of a Beatles compilation LP ('A Collection Of Oldies But Goldies')  to wave goodbye to ten years of thrilling change and may well be thinking about his own disappearance from that list (Jacka plays his only mandolin part on the album, instantly turning this into the most 'Lindisfarny' song on the record). The song ends happily, though, deciding that 'the world is still waiting for another song' and that even if what came before is all there will be 'it sure was a whole load of fun!' The result is a catchy affectionate look at Hull's heroes and a changing time in music, although a few extra verses or a middle eight would have been nice - with just three short verses and a chorus this song doesn't have much time to talk about a subject that's clearly close to its narrator's heart.
Remember 'STD 0632', the rather oddball synthesiser-heavy instrumental from 'Pipedream'? 'I'm Sorry Squire' is that song's great nephew, a pretty song that's really enhanced by Hull's use of synthesisers on what sounds like a 'woodwind' setting. Even without that title this track would instantly conjure up images of guilt and remorse, a sad and lost little song that seems to be haunted by something more than just the curious strings-with-choir 'ahhh' sound the synthesiser appears to make. The result is pretty, but like the previous song you wonder why Hull left it as an instrumental: this is a song crying out for words as expressive as the tune. It also sounds a little unfinished and has precious little to do with Hull: the stars here are the ever reliable Kenny Craddock and Jean Roussel, both masters of the keyboard. I'm sorry, 'I'm Sorry Squire' - it's just that compared to the time and energy spent crafting the other songs on this album this pretty but pretty inconsequential piece just isn't in the same league.

'Waiting' is one of the album's lesser moments too, an outtake from 'Pipedream' sensibly left off that album (and therefore produced by Mickey Sweeney rather than Hull himself, like the rest of the album). You can understand why it's here: Hull needed material in a hurry and it's too good to be simply thrown away. However this track is just too purely 'Pipedreamy' : it features Hull sat alone at the piano, making noises where the trumpets should go and debating why he keeps writing so many sad songs. 'Could it be another story going wrong?' Hull sighs, before the chirpier elements of the song kick in again and he tried to find a rather uneasy compromise between his natural charm and his current despondency. The one link with 'Squire' is the line 'is this another sad song coming to an end?', something which could easily have been the 'starting point' for the whole record if Hull knew he'd be building an album around it. This track shares quite a few of Hull's worst characteristics that he tended to rely on when uninspired however: a stop-starty melody, a cheeky bordering-on-gormless riff and a horribly over-sung vocal that in the good ol' days we'd have been complaining wasn't handed over to Jacka to do. 'Waiting' isn't all bad though: Hull has such a natural gift that even his most basic songs have something in them to recommend them and the aptly titled 'Waiting' would have been greeted with open arms had this song been released on a 'rarities' set of unreleased recordings or as a CD bonus track on 'Pipedream'.

So far the 'downstairs' side of 'Squire' hasn't been up the standards of the 'upstairs', but in comes a breezy 'The Bad Side Of Town' to brighten up the record with another winner. If Hull had been around today no doubt somebody would have encouraged him to write a 'misery memoir' about his severely impoverished upbringing and an early adult life that saw him picking up dozens of horrendous odd jobs between long stints on the dole. However Hull wasn't a 'misery memoir' kind of a person' - as with 'Dan The Plan' this is a defensive song about how there aren't such things as 'bad areas', only bad people. In spite of everything, Hull's memories are happy ones playing with friends and none of them thought they were deprived - the only people who considered his patch 'the bad side of town' were 'nameless men' who were 'nameless faces, never friends' and who'd never been there for any length of time. A clever lyric is enhanced by a breezy melody that does its best simply to get on with things, flowing naturally across the course of the song as if its part of destiny that will always be overcome. A middle eight with a key change on the line 'the tide is on the turn' tries to unsettle the song for a while, but this track is built of sturdier stuff than that and simply overturns the minor key back into a major one the first chance it gets. Roussel's dramatic orchestral arrangement is the best dressing this song could hope for too: its full of bleak colliery trumpets and kitchen sink drama strings, but done with such a light touch that it sounds as if the song is laughing at itself: Hull won't do what everyone else with his background does and slag it off because he was too fond of it. The result is one of its composers most under-rated songs, one that like 'Fog On The Tyne' knows its scrapping for a fight merely to survive but is determined to find something good to enjoy all the same. Of all the songs Hully wrote, this is also the one that most represents 'him' and his irrepressible spirit the best!

Hull ends the album with a comedy, a 'Fog On The Tyne' for the mid-1970s that is occasionally funny but tries a little too hard with the surreal comedy. 'My mother she was an armchair, my sister was a rug, my father he was a spider and my brother was a bug' is the first verse, Hull flippantly filing away the most important people to his early years as literally 'part of the furniture'! The second verse then paints a wickedly hilarious spoof picture of the autobiography everybody seems to want to hear: the narrator's father makes counterfeit money, his mother illicit gin, his sister 'sells kisses to sailors': this is a den of inequity too OTT to ever be true. The third verse is closer to the truth: Hull gets accused by a magistrate of being a communist, a policeman ads a charge that he's a 'bum'; without any real charges they can make they both arrest him for 'drunkeness' ('though I swear I mean no harm to anyone!') This loose re-telling of the 'We Can Swing Together' story takes Hull neatly full circle to where he began, writing protest songs about being arrested merely for having a good time. Throughout it all the silly chorus 'I am Mr Inbetween' tried to define the narrator in terms that people can easily understand. Only human beings don't work like that - Hull's attempt to turn himself into an identikit 'Mr Men' character merely results in him deciding that 'my heel is on my hat - and I don't know where I'm at!' A fun novelty which was the one song on the album to become a semi-regular in Lindisfarne's set list, this track is perhaps a little too quirky for it's own good, a poor man's 'Fog On The Tyne' (even though technically this character is rich and Tyne's is penniless - but you know what I mean!)

That is kind of 'The End' except for 'The End', a 38 second finale that seems like it's going somewhere as Hull wishes us goodnight before suddenly ending on a twinkling piano riff. This is a very mid-70s trick - probably learnt from Gilbert O'Sullivan who uses 30-second introductions and conclusions to most of his 1970s output - but seems too much of a gimmick for the usual straight-as-a-dye Hull. It sounds to me as if this is more of a 'Lennon' style goodbye, Hull spoofing John's spoken goodbye at the end of his last album pre-retirement 'Rock and Roll' ('This is Dr Winston O'Boogie saying goodnight from the Record Plant East...everyone here says 'hi!', goodbye!) as he too endured an enforced period of absence. Caught between making this a touching farewell and a joke, Hull isn't quite sure how to handle it and so goes for self-deprecating humour: 'I've sung my songs, I've tried to get along, I hope you enjoyed the show'. I'm not sure I enjoyed this track (which with its lovely flowing piano chords badly needs to be a 'full' song) but the show - that was superb.
In the end, then, 'Squire' is a mixed album. There are several strong songs, some near misses and a couple of track that will have you scratching your head. Overall, though, that's not bad odds for an album made in so much of a hurry and with Hull for once not in full control of his destiny. It's a shame of course that he didn't have longer to do what he needed to do: 'Squire' could then have been a 100% classic instead of a 66% one or so. But even if this record is a come-down from Hulls' last records both solo ('Pipedream') and with the band ('Happy Daze'), it's still a deeply under-rated record well worth digging out for anyone who loves their politics with a dash of humour, their rants with a bit of charm and their songs warm, funny and wise. Fare thee well my golden oldie.

Now it's the end, till we meet again, I've reviewed these songs, tried not to go on too long, I hope you enjoyed the show...and so I guess that is that, until I evict the fatcat!"

Other Lindisfarne and related album reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' (1998) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/lindisfarne-here-comes-neighbourhood.html


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