Monday, 15 August 2016

Lindisfarne "Roll On Ruby" (1973)

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Lindisfarne Mark II "Roll On Ruby" (1973)

Taking Care Of Business/North Country Boy/Steppenwolf/Nobody Loves You Anymore/When The War Is Over//Moonshine/Lazy/Roll On River/Toe The Line/Goodbye

Perhaps responding to the 'cardboard sleeve' of predecessor Dingly Dell, the first release by an all-new look Lindisfarne is rather, erm, colourful in more ways than one. Apparently we're looking out at the world from a church window, the stained glass perhaps significantly removed, as we gaze at the summer clouds passing by and even coming into the frame linking the inner world to the outer world. It's an idyllic cover, befitting a bright and breezy album of country-folk-rock standards from the early 1970s and reflects well the pastoral tranquillity of Lindisfarne in this period. But the cover - and the album as a whole - is hiding a vicious ugly secret of jealousy and bitterness. You might have to get a magnifying glass to see it (you certainly do if you only own this album on CD not vinyl!) but there, inscribed on the falling hacked-off branch of the tree at the bottom left hand corner are the tiny words: 'FUCK OFF!' For all this album's sweetness and light and carefree attitude and attempts to sound like the Lindisfarne of old (but with the pop and commercial elements turned up high), it's actually a wolf in sheep's clothing, a bitter album full of jibes at the music industry and the three-fifths of the band who've just left to form Jack The Lad, literally 'cut off' from the Lindisfarne family tree. It's a pretty album in many ways, but all that animosity also means that it's often not a pretty sight.

Lindisfarne Mark II were, as far as the makers of this album were concerned, the 'real' Lindisfarne and ready to take up things where they'd left off. They certainly had a lot going for them: the backing of Lindisfarne record label Charisma, chief writer Alan Hull and chief singer Ray 'Jacka' Jackson. The four members newly drafted into the band were all sensible choices known to the band's more passionate Geordie fanbase too: as the album's original inner sleeve demonstrates all of the new quartet are North East 'locals' who might as well have ended up in the original band from the first had luck and circumstances not got in the way. 'Roll On Ruby' even tells us which end of Newcastle the band 'belong' to, each with their own character: Drummer Paul Nichol and Bassist Tommy Duffy are both from Bensham, a district in Gateshead on the Tyne and Wear. Jacka comes from Wallsend (technically Wallsend-On-The-Tyne), part of Northumberland. Hully and Charlie Harcourt both derive from Benwell, part of the more poverty-hit west end of Newcastle town. Kenny Craddock comes from Gateshead, another part of the Tyne and Wear. For those who don't know their North East geography that well five members of this sextet grew up within ten minutes' drive from each other - even Jacka lives within half an hour's heavy motoring. Though nothing else is given with the 'Roll on Ruby' captions the fact that the band is using them at all seems to be saying 'See? This is the real band - we're all locals! Not like the old band! Or Jack The Lad!' The band also take that defensive line into the album which is crammed full of little references to past Lindisfarne classics, handled nonchalantly as if to say 'oh that mandolin solo? No that's not a rip-off from 'Fog On The Tyne'. We've always done that sort of thing in all our bands. It's a Geordie sound dontchaknow!'

Lindisfarne Mark II are, by nature, a loose-limbed affair big on expansive walking-pace ballads and with lots of thinking time and space for all the band to add their own signature sounds; they are in point of fact a lot more in tune with the early 1970s love of pretty but generally lifeless material than the feistier original Lindisfarne ever were. This experiment of half-new ingredients could have worked, perhaps had a right to work even better than the thrown-together mix of styles of the original band. But the problem is the band are trying just that little bit too hard to sound like the old band that they can't make the most of what they have to offer the world. The bitterness of the split scurries over this album like the clouds on the front cover, the elephant in the room that keeps coming back to spoil the mood. The 'dropped-in' references to old songs and styles, meanwhile, reminds you just what a completely different band this now is. Even the band's original members don't sound much like they used to: Jacka has been given a popstar makeover to sound like a safe early 70s pop star (think Elton John, Rod Stewart or Leo Sayer) while Alan Hull is reduced to writing simple songs for the lowest common denominator without his usual passion emotion or politics. Only 'Taking Care Of Business' let's slip any 'real' sense of what Lindisfarne are living through and that is a song far more bitter and angry than anything the purer and more idealistic Lindisfarne Mark I would ever have released. That's not to say this album is bad. Parts of 'Roll On Ruby' and especially the follow-up 'Happy Daze' show much promise and the new-look band are certainly tidier  and tighter than their old selves, even if they sell out much of the original band's loveable eccentricity in their search for professionalism. You can tell, though, that the band are friends and understand each other well: nothing here sounds it doesn't belong on a Lindisfarne album, it's just a Lindisfarne album made up of the straightforward pop stuff without the originality or quirkiness. One hit single to match 'Lady Eleanor' or 'Meet Me On The Corner' and the band would have been fine. However, there's one major flaw in how the band and record label went about making this album: they called the band 'Lindisfarne'. Not 'Lindisfarne Mark II' (as bands and fans have come to refer to this short era of record releases) or 'Sons of Lindisfarne' but as 'Lindisfarne', implying that there is no change between this record and the three earlier ones. 

That's blatantly a lie as even a cursory glance will provide and - together with the tales in the press about bad blood between the band members, most of it blamed on Hull for causing the row with Si Cowe that started it all and Jacka for jumping ship to where the money was likely to be - the public weren't in a forgiving mood. You need one hell of a strong record to fight back something the public has already decided it probably won't like and pretty as much of this album is, consistently listenable as it may be and interesting as the best bits of it are (especially 'North Country Boy' and 'When The War Is Over'), it's a feeling-your-way-back-in album rather than a knock-your-socks off one. Ruby might roll but she doesn't exactly rock and compared to this album even the almost-as-poorly-received third album 'Dingly Dell' starts looking like an eccentric masterpiece. Roll on Ruby plays things too safe - and things go wrong when Lindisfarne start trying to play things safe, across their whole career.
That is, after all, kind of how we ended up here. Few Lindisfans would have guessed at the end of a successful 1971, with their favourite band riding high in the singles and albums chart both with releases titled 'Fog On The Tyne', just how spectacularly the band would have imploded in 1972. It wasn't just that cardboard sleeve on 'Dingly Dell' and a curious choice of single ('All Fall Down') that did it: Lindisfarne were coming apart at the seams across the year, in part because they'd conquered the universe (or at least the parts of it that speak Geordie) relatively easily. If ever a band were built for adventure and rocky roads it was Lindisfarne, a group that enjoyed itself taunting politicians, judges and authority while speaking out for the simple pleasures of the common man. Success may have taken a couple of albums and multiple re-issues of 'Lady Eleanor', but it arrived in a much bigger and accepting way than anyone in the original band had expected. For the most part Lindisfarne was not a rich and privileged group who played as a hobby; instead music was an escape from the ghettos and slums, an impossible dream that everybody told them not to bother following. Most bands who have this start in life take a long time to breakthrough: The Beatles failed more auditions than most of this years' Apprentice candidates and it took several mistakes and flop releases before anyone took The Kinks, The Who and Simon and Garfunkel seriously. Lindisfarne went from zeros to heroes in a quicker time than Justin Bieber and this clearly had an effect on the band who went from the sweetest humblest and unlikeliest rockstars on the planet to greedy bickering egocentrics (give or take a rhythm section or two). A gruelling European tour with a foray in Japan directly after at just the point when the band wanted to have fun and enjoy spending their newfound money didn't help matters much either. After the release of a slightly under-performing third album Lindisfarne should have re-consolidated their position in the charts, re-doubled their efforts in all areas and proved  'Dingly Dell' was a blip not a career ending (and, heck, most bands would love to have a 'blip' half as good, even if most of them would have provided a better album sleeve for it). There's a telling four-page letter from manager Tony Stratton released to all five Lindisfarners in the dying days of the original band (re-printed in full on page 65 of Dave Ian Hill's 'Fog On The Tyne' book, still the only one out on Lindisfarne) that urges them to do just that: put their petty differences aside (and they were petty, the big fight coming between Alan and Si over whether you really needed to tune up for an hour in between songs on stage or not) and go back on tour, with or without Hull who clearly needed some cooling time to make a solo album. Had Lindisfarne taken this advice they might have had a very quiet 1973, but you can bet they'd have come back stronger in 1974 and the rest and a chance to adjust to all that fame would have been invaluable. That's what happened when the band came back together in 1978 after all (following a much longer rest than anyone in the group ever intended).

Instead Hull seems to have taken the advice personally, agreeing with the others to disband Lindisfarne and start again (with Jacka for a time a floating voter wanted by both sides) and writing 'Taking Care Of Business' as a sarcastic put-down of such advice. Used to pointing out the stupidity of  authority figures for a living, he was never going to take advice without a fight, but he seems in this period to have done everything he could to ignore what are actually pretty insightful suggestions for a manager of a rock group to make in 1972. Instead of building on the franchise and band loyalty, Hull destroys it by reforming a whole new band and then ignoring this fact on the cover so only the biggest Lindisfanatics actually knew. Rather than head into the hills and write song after song with the passion that he used to when he was hungry and unemployed, Hull writes most of his new material while the band set off on their first tour - and all too often it sounds like it too. Rather than maintain the 'charming amateurism' that Stratton rightly outlines as a strength, the new band are professional in the extreme and also slightly anonymous. The only advice Hull did take was to record his 'Pipedream' solo album - and glorious as the majority of that album is, in terms of band development it's suicide, leaving Hull little time to write new songs for his new band before a deadline (the 'other' established writer of Lindisfarne, Rod Clements, having left to form Jack The Lad with the rest). Had Hull been able to take his full 'Pipedream' band (all of them personally chosen and bonding quickly into a funky backing band) into the new Lindisfarne line-up things might still have been ok. But he couldn't: only Jacka and keyboardist Kenny Craddock were free to play (it's amazing Kenny was actually - an old rival from Newcastle pubs in the early days the two had become quite competitive and Hull took to calling him 'fish-face' in envy at his good looks in private, before the pair finally started chatting before a gig and found how much they had in common and their mutual respect for one another. Kenny's career never took off as expected though so Hull seems to have been making amends bringing him into the band). Other friends like Colin Gibson (who nevertheless wrote songs for the album with Kenny) and founding Lindisfarner Ray Laidlaw would have to wait for Alan's 'Radiator' band of 1977. Hull's original sparring partner in his first band 'The Chosen Few' Johnny Turnball turned his old friend down reluctantly after being head-hunted by an unknown singer named Ian Dury (Knowing Hull, he probably called him a 'Blockhead' for turning down his proposition). Band-mate Phil Collins, though interested in working with Charisma's biggest band, turned the chance down after tour receipts began to pick up for his group Genesis (with Hull even more adamant his old friend was throwing away his only chance at success!)

With session dates booked and publicity material ready, Alan and Jacka had to press on and formed an ad-hoc band who didn't really know each other. Tommy Duffy was hired on bass after the pair enjoyed his work as part of Gary Wright's Wonderwheel - exuberant, loud and soulful, he was as opposite to the departing Rod Clements as anyone could wish for. Si's guitar replacement, Charlie Harcourt (an acquaintance of Kenny's), was also about as different to Cowe's eccentricity as it was possible to be - he was the stable glue that held the new disparate band together. Paul Nichol, though, proved to be very like the departing Ray Laidlaw and was quiet and reliable, even behind a set of drums. The end result was a band that had the same pair of lead singers, mandolin and harmonica playing and writing 'voice' as the majority of the 'old' Lindisfarne material but who had room to add much much more: soul and rock (Duffy's speciality), country-rock (Kenny's genre of choice) and a curious MOR sound that ended up defining this album even though none of the six band members ever sounded like this separate to each other. What's curious about 'Roll On Ruby' isn't how different it sounds to the first three albums (it is, after all, made by a nearly entirely different band) but how uncomfortably their olds trademarks sound when dropped into this new environment. The folk sound, as evidenced by Jacka's harmonica and mandolin, have gone from being the default most comfortable band sound to being something shoved on top of something else to make the end result seem more 'Lindisfarny'. Anyone coming here expecting the polish of 'Meet Me On The Corner', the fun of 'Fog On The Tyne' or the perfection of 'Lady Eleanor' are in for a rude surprise: this is a new band who are too polished to be as original and yet too ramshackle to have a full sound of their own.

There are, however, some things going for this album at least. When Hull forgets his bitterness and the deadline ticking away demanding material and instead writes from the heart the way he always did the album comes together nicely. 'When The War Is Over' may be a general rallying cry for peace written in the style of his beloved Lennon's 'Give Peace A Chance' and 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)' but it also serves as a much-needed olive branch to the band left behind and an admission that splitting up a band because the guitarist spent too long tuning before a song is a silly way to go. Jacka sounds as great as ever and gets far more to do, staying loyal to the old band sound while proving there's more in his repertoire than folk-rock. Tommy Duffy is the album's dark horse, spicing up the vocals with a sound much more emotional and OTT than the gentlemanly first line-up would ever have made, while contributing the lighter, sweeter, softer songs. Kenny Craddock and writing partner Colin Gibson come up with one near-classic (the near-title track 'Roll On River', whose polish and strings recall the last Lindisfarne title track 'Dingly Dell') and two more slabs of inoffensive filler. Charlie Harcourt shines on the swampy Creedence Clearwater Revival style 'Moonshine'. Paul Nichol finds new ways to drum on what are actually quite similar songs all round. Compared to some of the lesser Lindisfarne albums to come ('Dance Your Life Away' especially) this isn't actually that bad. It just doesn't have the fun, the depth or the originality of the old Lindisfarne and sounds as if it was made too often by committee.

Which in many ways it was. 'Dingly Dell' may have blemished Lindisfarne's star attraction, but the band were still very much Charisma's biggest sellers and the powers that be wanted the band to get things right. Roy T Baker was nominally in charge of this band of strangers. The band's longterm producer Mickey Sweeney was nominally in charge of the recordings. A disinterested and embittered Alan Hull was nominally in charge of the songs. The result was a deeply unhappy ship where every song got re-arranged, re-assessed, re-recorded and re-evaluated when all Lindisfarne Mark II really needed to do was jam with each other, learn what they could and couldn't play and experience the telepathy that all great bands have that allow them to go out on a limb. Though 'Roll On Ruby' is made by a band with a much bigger scope than the original band, their first album sounds all too often like the old Lindisfarne with the stabilisers still on. Though far from the worst album released under the Lindisfarne name 'Roll On Ruby' is by far the safest - and therefore the most forgettable. Thankfully the poor response to this album is in many ways the best thing that could ever have happened to Lindisfarne Mark II: the people in charge back off, the band switch labels and sequel 'Happy Daze' will give a much better idea of how good this band could have been.

There's a tale that Alan Hull turned up early to these album sessions, realised that because so many of his early choices for the new Lindisfarne line-up hadn't made it the new band wasn't gelling and so decided to keep his best material for himself and sit out the contract rather than waste money after bad. That's why 'Roll On Ruby' ends up turning out like a karaoke Lindisfarne at times, full of loose memories of what was rather than making the most of what could be. He should perhaps have listened a bit more carefully: though 'Roll On Ruby' is clearly no 'Dingly Dell' never mind another 'Nicely Out Of Tune' or 'Fog On The Tyne', it's still a good album made by some of Newcastle's 'other' finest musicians of the period. Had this been by a new band rather than under the new Lindisfarne banner they might well have made the AAA series in their own right the way that Jack The Lad would surely have done. As it is Lindisfarne have missed the mark again and will have to wait another five years to recapture any of the momentum they once had.  

'Take Good Care Of Business' reveals just how deep the rift between the original Lindisfarne was. Both Alan and Rod spent their first few songs post-split trying to work out what had gone wrong and feeling rather bitter, but 'Business' beats even 'Fast Lane Driver' for weary sighs and temper tantrums. Thankfully Hull saves his biggest wrath not for the band but the management, appearing to write this song in protest over the fact that if he wanted to recycle the Lindisfarne name he had to fulfil the contract at Charisma to make one last album. Hull didn't sign his soul away 'for another ten years' as he sings here, but it did effectively leave him (and Jacka) stuck where they'd always been and with the same management and producer, while Jack The Lad got to try out pastures new (though at the time most assumed the pair held the trump card after winning rights to the band name). We've long said in these reviews how cruel the music business can be and the sad fact that few bands ever end up using the same management for life - something always happens when money gets involved and several long-term friendships got broken for life. After all, asking a creative musician to understand how the music business works without allowing them to trust anyone else to have their best interests at heart is a little like expecting a manager to write a hit record and know instinctively what to do with it; the two sides don't often mix. However Hull is being a little unkind in his comments here: everything he was told by his bosses was arguably good common sense: if Hull had listened and simmered during time off and a solo album Lindisfarne might never have broken up at all. Even the record label weren't quite as nasty as some others can be when bands split (such as Mercury deciding 10cc still owed another album a decade after they broke up or David Geffen suing Neil Young for not sounding like Neil Young): Charisma simply said that if there was to be a new Lindisfarne album they wanted to be a part of it (and after all would the world have heard of Lindisfarne at all had they not taken a chance?) In other words 'Take Good Care Of Business' is one of Hull's rare cruel songs that misses its target: unlike similar diatribes against politicians, war-mongerers and slum architects who never have to see the ugly tiny boxes they create ever again, both manager and record label were relative supporters in this period. Hull's just having a hissy fit and throwing his toys out the pram because he already knows Lindisfarne Mark II won't match Lindisfarne Mark I whatever the band tell each other and/or local music journalists. That said, viewed in a more general world-weary light 'Business' is often a very funny song. Hull excelled at sarcasm and he was never more sarcastic than here: borrowing a standard 'blues-song-turned-into-a-pop song' lick, telling the 'story' of Lindisfarne complete with Jacka spoofing posh producer John Anthony's voice and singing a vocal that both doesn't care at all and cares all too much. The big worry of the song is the band's lack of control: the bigger the band get the less money they have ('You spent it you see, up and down the country!') and the more power they have to give away to other people, 'otherwise you'll end up on the shelf'. That's clearly how Hull feels after the 'Dingly Dell' debacle, complaining that the band weren't led properly ('We're not clever like you!') and that the only way to dig himself out of this hole is to 'sign for another ten years'. The country hoe-down style is unusual for early Lindisfarne but the Mark II band will use this style a lot, somewhere between genuine melancholy and jovial banter. The end result is a bitter, nasty and often unhinged composition rescued by a sparking band performance (perhaps the best on the album) and a sense of joyful abandon. Curiously released as the only single from the album, it was too un-Lindisfarne like and cruel for a public who hadn't heard 'All Fall Down' and thought the last band single was still 'Fog On The Tyne'. It works better as an album opener though.

Roll on's shiniest Ruby, however is surely next track 'North Country Boy', Tommy Duffy's first published song. And it's a cracker, putting together several of Lindisfarne's old strengths in a way we'd never heard them before (harmonies, politics, folk-rock and a mandolin solo). Jacka shines on a song that gives him an emotion to convey and it's an emotions he's used to singing from Hull songs past: hopelessness. The poor North Country Boy of the title is down-trodden and 'ordinary', moving down South to follow his 'dream' before finding that he's been left with nothing, having been stolen from by 'fine weather friends'. There are some good lines here: the narrator's dreams have 'faded edging' and sighs that he should have stayed at home because 'We have no choice except what we're born into'. It's almost a Thomas Hardy novel this, with the working class labourer hoping for big times in the city and discovering instead that he only understands the ways of the country, hence the chorus where he runs off to the water (the closest thing he can recognise to his old home) and tries to be re-born in the waters, rubbing his 'fake' self away ('Gotta get me clean!') For all that, though, this song still has a breezy optimism blowing through its veins and producer Mickey Sweeney sensibly leaves Jacka's delightful falsetto singing along with Craddock's chirpy organ sound which is a very home-made Lindisfarne touch. Well performed and driven along by the author's upright bass bubbling, like the North Country Boy himself this song has been overlooked for far too long and is rather better than reputation suggests.

Many fans prefer 'Steppenwolf' - nothing to do with the 'Born To Be Wild' band but a Hull original about where that group got their name from: a 1927 German novel by Hermann Hesse (the author, not the nazi). Meaning effectively 'werewolf', the novel is a very Hull-ian dystopian novel about the author's rise from rags to riches and the difference between how he's treated when he's homeless compared to when he's a millionaire. Clearly fitting the album's themes of fair-weather friends letting you down, Jacka takes the lead on a lyric that tries hard to find justice and happiness and also shows off Hull's kinder side as he offers to lend an ear to a friend whose hit rock bottom. 'Steppenwolf is stepping out' Jacka chortles as he then presumes to get drunk ('I can hardly see!' he complains), urges his friend to talk and even sings with him to keep him company, while ultimately trying to show his new friend how to 'step into the light'. Though Hull never mentioned why he wrote this song (indeed, he never really mentioned any of his Mark II era songs again), it's easy to imagine him using his new-found money to treat a beggar to the night of his life; after all, unlike many millionaires, Hull knew what it was like to be down and out and it would have been entirely in character. Sweet as this song is, though, it doesn't really go anywhere: the vaguely threatening and uncomfortable verse gives way to a major key chorus that sounds like the sun coming out - but then it hides behind a cloud again for a second verse that doesn't add anything and we simply keep going round and round in circles. Even the ending of the song could have been a lot shorter: Harcourt's sharp but rather basic guitar riff gets played a full eleven times over the final ninety second coda which is at least eight too many, even with a pretty (if rather lush) orchestra playing over the top, a first for Lindisfarne. The rest of the band don't nail this song any better either, with only Hull's nagging harmony vocal catching the ear. Steppenwolf is 'alright' indeed, but it's arguably no better than that.

Kenny and Colin's first collaboration 'Nobody Loves You Anymore' is clearly meant to fill the slightly wacky role of a Si Cowe track, although structurally this song recalls the Rab Noakes covers of old. Jacka, Kenny, Alan and Kenny again take the lead vocal (in that order) on a simple silly track that again spoofs miserable country songs and takes the mickey out of self-pity. Lyrically this is standard fare and a worrying move towards silliness without charm for Lindisfarne, with lines that make the narrator out to be a right twit, locking himself away in his room to cry only to find he can't remember what was making him sad and a mocking third verse where the narrator withdraws from everyone and only then wonders why no one is speaking to him, never mind 'loves him anymore'. A bit different to normal then (even 'Fog On The Tyne' didn't feel this flimsy and insubstantial), but at least Lindisfarne perform it straight. Musically this is easily the most Lindisfarne moment on the record (despite the fact that the old band never really did country), with plenty of harmonica and a 'bluesy' bass part plus a moment during the middle eight (right near the end of the song) where all four singers suddenly take off on brilliant sweet 'n' sour harmonies that sound remarkably like the old band. Duffy has really latched onto how to re-create Rod's walking bass lines too by now.

The closest in terms of quality to the old Lindisfarne though is 'When The War Is Over', a Hull song that's clearly in part a song of healing to his old band. Like many of Hull's political songs it's profound in its simplicity: surely peace is better than war? Few people ever came out of a war wishing that it was still going and the few that did (Hitler mainly) were mad. Instead Hull looks forward to a time when people can pick up their old lives, when people can 'be kind again' and can worry about things much more important than 'victory'. Hull pours his heart and soul into the lyric which is one of his best, imagining a world where children have all seen first-hand what war is like an vow never to fall into the same traps again ('The children will be the teachers, their lessons will be so clear, to see with open eyes, to hear with open ears...', a line that Lennon would have proud of). Hull then turns to his critics, imploring them to give peace a chance to 'understand reach with open arms and speak with open minds'. Of course he also knows it's a utopian ideal that will probably never happen with the 'wrong' people in charge so he includes a verse about passing dry ginger to passing tramps like some idealistic nursery rhyme. But that's ok: like this song's close cousin 'Imagine' (both songs are based around wide open major chords which try to make sense out of chaos) it's more about uniting with fellow dreamers than the detail of the dream itself. In many ways as a song this is superior to 'Imagine' - it's more universal, less clichéd and doesn't have a multi-millionaire with a whole room for his wife to keep fur coats in telling us to do away with possessions. However as a performance 'When The War Is Over' is sadly lacking. Lindisfarne get precious little to do as a band, with Hull's voice and piano the only thing heard up until the halfway point when Nichol's awkward drum part kicks in. The OTT string arrangement that fills up much of the last minute or so of the recording also sounds false and overly pretty - after all, this is not a pretty song and is more about picking up the pieces after a struggle than living in peace forever more. The final full-on chorus when everybody turns up 'Hey Jude' style just falls flat: this sounds like take 107 and there's no passion for this song in the room anymore. Even Hull's vocal sounds slightly off-kilter, as if he was intending this as a demo that got lucky rather than a fully focussed take. The result is a great song that should have a lot more impact than it does and should by rights be the song from this album that everyone knows. It's a song that worked better in concert and should have been performed more often (Hull's BBC Sessions set is arguably the best way to hear it, although it's slightly undone by Alan's jovial switch of words from 'when the war is over' to 'when the bar is open' because it was the last song before a drinking break!)

'Moonshine' is, as we've discussed so often on this site by now, a slang term for home-made booze - usually of the strong variety. This album's chief drinker is Tommy Duffy, with Jacka singing a soulful lead behind a mass of Lindisfarny folky harmonies and again he proves that he's grasped the band's 'old' sound rather better than the people who were actually in the old joke (there's even space for a mandolin solo!) Though the song sounds slightly drab and dreary, returning to the chorus over and over like any boring obsessive drunk, it's a more interesting song when you scratch below the surface in a Kinks-style 'warning about the evils of alcohol even though the band are way drunker than you have ever been in your life' kind of a way. 'This is the life and times of a man who almost made it' is the song's expressive opening line, before outlining a man who seemed to have everything but was so unconfident about what he had that he took to the drink to make him feel better - and lost what he didn't know he had in the first place. He gets so upset at what he's lost he goes back home to brew up three more barrels 'just because...' sputters Jacka, without any explanation why anymore, 'Just because!' Oddly enough, despite Lindisfarne's reputation as a drinking band bar none, it's the first real reference to any form of booze in any of the band's songs and it's a critical song at that ('Moonshine' clearly unleashes the floodgates - almost everything Hull writes for sequel 'Happy Daze' will be based around the demon drink). A fiery Harcourt solo, perhaps his best during his short two-album period with the band, really lets fly near the end of the song, but the track arguably needs something more - some form of conclusion or understanding - before the narrator collapses off his bar-stool in a stupor (or the track suddenly fades, depending on your interpretation). A slightly wonky production with lots of things coming and going but none of them that clear makes the listener want to reach for something strong, but whether that's by choice or coincidence is unknown!

Alan Hull's laziest song, certainly in his first decade as a known professional writer, is undoubtedly 'Lazy'. Yet another flimsy re-write of 'Fog On The Tyne' this song finds him feeling lazy and enjoying a nothing day even though there's so much he should be doing. It's the sort of thing we've heard other bands do lots and usually better down the years without his usual distinctive style and perhaps fittingly even the chord changes sound familiar, as if Hull was too 'lazy' to come up with anything particularly inventive. This isn't a terrible song though, just a largely uninspired one, raised to a higher level by a middle eight that again complains of a hangover (though probably emotionally caused this time) and reaches up wearily from the song's lowest to its highest note as if stretching and trying to pull itself together to do what the narrator should be doing. The second verse too is of passing interest: turning the song from a general first verse everyone must have agreed with at one time or another (having so much to do you don't want to do any of it) to Hull's current predicament as a songwriter fading from view. 'You get by singing songs to the crowd' Hull sings to himself, 'But in the back of your mind you can see there's only one place you want to be' - and that's back at home, fooling around and enjoying the money, not tramping around the country plugging an album that isn't selling. Hull is ashamed of feeling lazy and quite possibly depressed about the direction his life is going in, but he doesn't know quite how to put himself back on track just yet and, well, hasn't he worked hard enough to enjoy this moment? Like a lot of Ruby's diamonds, this track could have benefitted from a tighter band performance and feels slightly unfinished without any conclusion or realisation to send us on our way. Even Hull's laziest songwriting has its charms, though, if you aren't expecting a masterpiece like in years gone by.

Kenny and Colin's 'Roll On River' takes the old folk-rock Lindisfarne sound and nudges it towards prog-rock, with an atmospheric five minute track that uses lots of nature and love metaphors and comes in multiple sections. Lindisfarne have clearly been listening to too much Pink Floyd or Moody Blues and unlike those two bands their biggest problem is that although each part is good they don't necessarily hang together that well. Still, it's good to hear someone involved in this album have some ambition and both Kenny and Jacka's alternating lead vocals tap into the emotion hiding somewhere in this sombre track. In a twist on 'The Long and Winding Road', Craddock sees love as like a river - it has potential estuaries, deltas and breakaway streams that could all spell disappointment as 'day by day we fade away' and the currents are too strong for either partner to control. The song certainly sounds like a sea-storm at parts, with Jacka's simple harmonica sound set against the majesty of one of the better orchestral arrangements on the album. However like 'War Is Over' this song lacks the big finale it deserves and is actually at its most convincing at the start when Kenny is noodling away at his piano by himself before falling, almost by accident, into the song's main haunting riff. Though this song does indeed have a nice roll, it could do with rocking a bit more - the band sound a shade too relaxed on what should by rights be an intense song about making the most of every day in a relationship with each wave another crescendo - like many a song on this LP it sounds like a promising demo that didn't get the attention it deserved. Poor 'River' (there's no clue where Ruby fits in by the way) feels a little like the title track to 'Dingly Dell' with it's same sense of nature and destiny and love and has similar peaks and troughs across the song. However the song's pair of writers don't quite have Hull's grasp of melding intellect with emotion and the song still comes across sounding slightly hollow despite its often intriguing lyrics and one of the more memorable melodies on the album.

The same writers came up with the unfortunate 'Toe The Line' which, poor spelling and all (it should of course be 'tow') is easily the weakest song on the album. Jacka sound deeply uncomfortable being turned into a country star on the thigh-slapping pantomime vocal, even if the combined effects of his mandolin, Hull's acoustic and Charlie's electric guitars are actually quite convincing. Like many a Rolling Stones comedy spoof, this song tries to square the idea of 'country music' meaning 'conservatism', using this song as a chance to remind everyone that life is better when you behave and do as you're told. Though the song reads like it's meant at face value (and many fans probably took it as such), the sarcastic massed vocals make it clear the band are joking - it's hard to think of a band less likely to deliver these sentiments for real than the one who came up with 'We Can Swing Together' or 'Peter Brophy Does Not Care'; Lindisfarne have always been about standing up and speaking out for yourself, even against the fat cats who carry way more weight than you. Unfortunately Lindisfarne have never really been about comedy country songs and their sarcasm seems out of place despite a lively backing track that features some great Jacka harmonica work. Still, though, this song is more likely to have you crying 'yee-hah - it's over at last!' than 'yabbadabbadoo my favourite song's on!'

Ruby rolls away, rather fittingly, with 'Goodbye' - the final track the band recorded for Charisma so it's a farewell in more ways than one. Tommy wrote this sad song which sounds more like a Jack The Lad number with its full-on folk and deeply depressing words about the music business (actually, together with Charlie's particularly guitar squeal, it sounds most like Badfinger who also wrote songs about being at the wrong end of the charts). Tommy's narrator (sung at first by Kenny) is in need of a rest before he has a complete breakdown, fed up of playing court jester to a room of people who don't laugh anymore. Jacka then takes over for a slightly happier chorus where he sings 'See you next time', implying there's going to be one, and promises that he'll be back 'after one thing I do alone'. We never find out what that is though - the narrator is too busy saying goodbye to tell us what he's actually leaving behind, with some nicely vari-speeded vocals recalling 'Nicely Out Of Tune' and sounding as if phantoms are flying across the track. However, the band clearly have too much to say and even after a longish gap (which makes me get up to turn the record over every single blooming time!) suddenly pitch back in again with a final end in which they all cry 'Goodbye' like some big Medieval round. All this waving goodbye to themselves for five minutes soon becomes hard work, but the melody is strong and arguably Duffy's best tune for the Mark II band. Even the slightly over-written lyrics that don't really go anywhere sound mighty fine when handled by Jacka at his most emotive. If Lindisfarne had ended here then it would have been a pretty fine way to go out and the song's in-yer-face coda leading into slow end also makes rather a neat mirror to the start of the band's opening song for Charisma 'Lady Eleanor'.

Overall, then, 'Roll On Ruby' isn't bad. There's only one song that's truly poor and even that's not diabolical. At the same time, though, it isn't always that good: the songs are there (half of them anyway), the performances too (half again - though frustratingly not usually the same half!) and there are some good ideas being thrown around here. It just sounds as if the Mark II band don't have the confidence, the telepathy or the knowhow yet to make the most of this record and, as has so often been said, it was designed by committee so all the bits that in the olden days would have been mad, bad an exciting to know come out sad, trad and excruciating waiting for it to go. The old band's ramshackle amateurism was, perhaps, the greatest thing about them: every track sounded 'real', lived in and was tremendously exciting (at least in their Charisma days - the reunion era is effectively another band style again), impossible to be background music. 'Roll On Ruby' is more professionally played, given more overdubs and is at least meant to sound like there's more going on (even though, compositionally, this would still be the weakest of the first four Lindisfarne albums had it been made by the original band still) - if you were a record company or a listener who preferred professional emptiness to an amateur's hills and valleys you'd have picked the Mark II band to be the winners, but no one who ever heard the Mark I band first could ever claim to love this album more: there's just less about it to get involved with and feel for emotionally. In a parallel universe though, where Rome never fell (hail!), The Spice Girls were never born (yippee!) and Lindisfarne never split the best of this combined with the best of their rivals debut album 'It's Jack The Lad' would have made for a phenomenal LP, perhaps the band's very best. I mean: 'Fast Lane Driver' 'Why Can't I Be Satisfied?' 'Song Without A Band' and 'When The War Is Over' all on the same album - what's not to love? (Especially if Lindisfarne had 'contracted' 'North Country Boy' 'Goodbye' 'Turning Into Winter' and 'Lying On The Water' from 'outside' members too). Ruby could have shone like no Lindisfarne album before it and would surely have allowed the band to recover after the poor reception of 'Dingly Dell' but it was not to be - instead 'Ruby' just rolled on, without anything like the impact an all-new singing and dancing Lindisfarne needed to bring the public back on to their side. Both sides of the argument paid an awfully high price for that one small broken branch off the family tree depicted on the album sleeve - though the Mark II band tried to pretend their fruits were juicier, they were simply kept too high up the tree for anyone to be interested. Better is to come for the Mark II band at least - 'Happy Daze' in fact. 


'Nicely Out Of Tune' (L) (1970)

'Fog On The Tyne' (L) (1971)

'Dingly Dell' (L) (1972)

'Roll ON Ruby' (L) (1973) 

'The Squire' (AH) (1975)

'The Old Straight Track' (JTL) (1975)

‘Jackpot’ (JTL) (1976)

'Magic In The Air' (L) (1978)

'Back and Fourth' (L) (1978)

‘The News’(L) (1979)

'Sleepless Nights' (L) (1982)

'Dance Your Life Away' (L) (1986)

‘Amigos’ (1989)

'Elvis Lives On The Moon' (L) (1993)

'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' (1998)

'Promenade' (2002)

Si Cowe Obituary and Tribute (2015)

Surviving TV Clips

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1970-1987

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1988-2015

Essay: Keepin’ The Rage On Behalf Of The Working Classes

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