Friday 4 June 2010

Alan Hull "Pipedream" (1973) (Revised Review)

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Breakfast/Justanothersadsong/Money Game/STD 0632/United States Of Mind/Country Gentleman’s Wife/Numbers (Travelling Song)/For The Bairns/Drug Song/Song For A Windmill/Blue Murder/I Hate To See You Cry

Alan Hull “Pipedream” (1973)

"I am what you think I am, man, but that's neither here nor there"

It may be a pipedream, but there's a case to be made that Alan Hull's long-delayed debut solo record is the best thing that any member of Lindisfarne made. I don't say that lightly either - just check out the terrific competition: the eclectic delights of 'Nicely Out Of Tune' (easily the most enjoyable listen of Lindisfarne's canon), the strong second folky side of 'Fog On The Tyne' and three of the most misunderstood and undervalued records in the AAA canon in troubled third album 'Dingly Dell', reunion album 'Sleepless Nights' and the first record by Lindi-spinoffs Jack The Lad, five star albums all. But this album has something extra still - it's a record that manages to be a personal confessional (with Hull's first album a rather more melodic version of his beloved John Lennon's revealing primal screaming first solo album), a highly intelligent creative LP that has fun with the listener and their expectations throughout (it’s both very like and very unlike the Lindisfarne records all at once) and its one of those rare releases that somehow manages to be a great listening experience without being too clever. First talked about even before Alan joined Lindisfarne, and put on the back burner throughout the band's shortened first career, Hull had been preparing for this album since the first half of 1970 (John Peel even asked him to make it, live on air, during a Lindisfarne BBC gig), finally making good on a solo contract he'd taken up with Charisma (or sister company Elektra in America) before the one for Lindisfarne took over. A collection of songs leftover from previous albums, a handful of pre-fame recordings that still hadn't been released yet and a sprinkling of new songs, it quickly followed the release of 'Dingly Dell' and came only a few months before the 'Lindisfarne Mark II' album 'Roll On Ruby', a busy twelve month period that saw no less than twenty-four Hull songs recorded and released. This album was slightly different though - instead of being a 'chore' for record company ears the previous and successive albums will be, full of interference and pressure, here Hull kept things simple and quick (recording the album in a few days, always the way Hull tended to work best) and using lots of old friends, such as Ray Laidlaw who plays some of his best drumming across the album (he too works better in a hurry it seems!) and the band's old faithful roadie Mickey Sweeney, who gets promoted to producer (arguably he does a better job than either of his predecessors on the actual Lindisfarne records, with this album warm and clear throughout). What with the delightful pictures of family on the back cover and the recycling of Alan’s favourite painting by his favourite painter on the cover, ‘Pipedream’ is wittily titled, an album that Hull never for a second thought he would get to make, one that’s truly personal in a way no other album was before or since. Full of the joys of springtime, though with clouds sometimes over the horizon, 'Pipedream' is more what fans had been expecting when 'Dingly Dell' came out - a pretty, melodic,  lyrical and predominantly folky album that returns to the beauty of 'Nicely Out Of Tune' with the consistency of sound of 'Fog On The Tyne'.

However the brilliance of 'Pipedream' is that to some extent it doesn't give us what we expect either, with many of the songs coming with twists and turns. There's a moment early on in this record in fact when you think Alan Hull's lost it - that one of the greatest, most moving writers on the planet has decided to make an alien-sounding record about one of his most unlikeable characters ever, an adulterer keeping his missus away from where she should be with her home-alone children. Opening track 'Breakfast' takes away everything that once made Alan Hull so brilliant - the emotional warmth, the direct 'connection' with what he's singing, the sense that while the good guys never seem to win they always ought to - behind a wall of double-tracking and one of the weirdest productions on the planet, that makes everything  hard to hear however loud you turn the record up. And then comes the ending when the narrator looks back on what he's doing, watches his lover run off without a backward glance doing her 'striptease in reverse' and sighs that he feels so empty he must be (deep breath) 'DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAD!' performed with a strangulated yell that puts even Lennon to shame and a guitar solo so fierce it could pierce through even the densest fog on the Tyne. Suddenly on this record even the villains have broken hearts and are trying to do the right thing, even when they get it hopelessly wrong. Even the Peter Brophies of this world do care - they just hide it so deep few people ever get to see. It's as if Hull realises, without Jacka there to soften the blow and keep things commercial, Hull can't be as intense as he always is across a whole record - but rather than ignore the warm-bloodedness of his comical humour or dark outrage or melancholic sadness, instead Hull chooses where to best use it.

Until 'Pipedream' loses its way on the very last track it's also a wonderfully consistent album, with twelve very different ways of saying the same thing: effectively that the world is mad.  Much of this record is about narrators hiding behind a 'coping with it' attitude when we can see that they're clearly not (it's effectively a whole album of debates about 'Whatever Gets You Thru The Night, 'Salright!', not that Lennon has written the song quite yet), like ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ in the way that it analyses Hull’s life and finds it wanting, but in a much warmer and more playful way (as a confessed Lennon-maniac Hull almost certainly had this record in mind to copy at some point when he decided to make a solo album – you half expect him to sing ‘I don’t believe in Lindisfarne’ somewhere here!) The narrator of 'Breakfast' wants nothing more than for everyone's life to go back to normal - but he's gone too deep in an affair and can't escape. 'Justanothersadsong' laughs at itself for having the audacity to have the blues again when the only thing that's getting to Hull is the difficulties of being trapped on the road away from home for weeks on end (Hull did seem to go a little, erm...mad at the end of the 1972/1973 tour according to most eye-witness reports). 'Money Game' was actually written for the Hull family's nanny and is either a rather unfortunate way of telling her she won't be getting her wages this week ('Oh Anna, what does money mean anyway? I've got more than all that!') or perhaps a slightly more cryptic comment about arguments that he shouldn't be splitting up his cash cow because he doesn't know when another will come along ('Money Game' tries hard to sound, to quote another Lindisfarne song, 'free and easy', but it's more trapped and defensive the way it's performed here). 'United States Of Mind' copes with life through synchronising with nature - it's another surreal [18] 'Alan In The River With Flowers' style song where Hull connects with his children playing in the garden and the world around his garden (though he's careful to play down the obvious inspiration of drugs in the lyrics!) 'Country Gentleman's Wife' is one of Hull's character songs left over from 1971 that re-tells Lady Chatterly's Lover with the much younger wife of an elderly Lord looking for fun with the servant - with the usual Hull twist that when people are desperate enough they 'do anything they choose'.

Onto side two and 'Numbers' finds us back on the road, Hull going slowly out of his mind from boredom as he tries to fill in time playing dominoes, cards and darts 'in between the boozing'. It's an un-natural life though, based around the numbers of the cards, the deadlines, the money passing hands and even the pints sipped throughout the night. 'For The Bairns' makes it all worthwhile, a song praising the three daughters who keep daddy Hull going (that's daughters Rosamund, Francesca and Bernice on the back cover of the album) and he tries to pass on his own coping strategy onto them - a combination of escape into fantasy and the belief that nobody is really evil, just oblivious of the harm they cause and that 'wickedness and strife are only part of living, not life'. 'Drug Song' is about the most obvious coping strategy of all for musicians, but as much as Hull vows to give it up you get the sense this song's vow of abstinence is going to be forgotten after the hazy revelries of smoke fades into the distance. 'Song For A Windmill' is a memorable song that wanders out loud about who built the windmill Hull passes regularly and whether they hated the grind of 'earning weekly dough' as much as Hull does - and whether his work, too, will be as forgotten, lying silent in a field for later generations to ponder over ('and just the rats call you home!') Maybe too it’s about Lindisfarne and the fact that Hull’s wheels aren’t turning endlessly the way they have been for so many years now. 'Blue Murder' gives up trying to cope and instead commits murder - but like 'Breakfast' it's a much more subtle song than that description suggests, about how life is hard and gets to even the best of us sometimes. Hull stays ice-cool and calm throughout, as if trying to resist the rush of the head and heart he's suffering from and keeping his 'rotten to the core' side intact, but instead a relentlessly marching bass and drum riff, perhaps symbolising the pressure the narrator is under, keeps walking along a gangplank he can't avoid falling off. Only closer 'I Hate To See You Cry' sounds as if it belongs to a different record altogether, a song about being affected by other's people emotions - and how seeing someone else not cope even when he comforts them leaves him unable to cope at all. For an album written in different times, in a variety of different styles, with some songs dating back to the pre-Lindisfarne days and others rejected from the final running order of ‘Fog On The Tyne’ it all hangs together remarkably well - the one thing that 'Nicely Out Of Tune' suffered from, gorgeous as it is.

Before we go much further, it’s worth a bit of a recap about where this album came from. For almost the last time, Alan Hull is reviving a song catalogue largely written on the run from a series of endless dead-end jobs and poverty. The singer had a career change like few others on this list (although Noel and Liam Gallagher come close). Raised in a relatively poor family, Hully married young and had several babies to support at a young age at a time when – thanks to an earlier recession which the media are convinced at the moment has never happened before in our history, ever because capitalism’s wonderful, oh yes it is honest – there were very few jobs around. Short spells cleaning windows and working as a nurse in a psychiatrist ward alternated with long bouts of unemployment – perfect for the budding musician already filling up huge great notebooks with ideas and thoughts, but not great for his bank balance with three kids to feed. Music was Alan’s escape – it was what he dreamed of doing night after night. And what’s more he dreamed of doing it alone – it was a manager’s suggestion that he work with a group, not his own – he wanted to be Bob Dylan, not The Beatles. ‘Pipedream’ is the album he must have planned and re-planned and revised and edited and re-schemed and returned to night after night in  his mind, minus perhaps the songs given away to Lindisfarne across three records. The band albums, though, had to be arranged by a committee, with Alan at the whim of producers and bandmates and record label bosses who dictated what he did. ‘Pipedream’ though was his, an album where he was given free reign to do whatever he wanted. No wonder he suddenly sounds so happy about it all, the weight of ‘Dingly Dell’ disappearing from round his neck at a rate of knots. Although with its warnings about the trappings of fame, drugs and money, maybe it isn’t quite the album he always envisioned either: the sheer change and disruptions that Alan Hull must have felt in his life are staggering: from poverty to near-enough millionaire inside two years is hard for anyone to take, especially after several fruitless years struggling for success.  

Fame is, you see, a trap throughout this album, a glamorous but two-faced pit that’ll suck in everything you give it and spit you out the other side. Often the narrators on this album know this, but get carried away by greed, love, desire, hunger or desperation and they fall into them anyway. While ‘Pipedream’ is not really a grumpy album in ‘The Wall’ or ‘Damaged Goods’ mould, given it’s warm musical heart, it is nevertheless an uneasy, fed-up kind of album. Over and over again we get songs about a band stuck on the road bored between gigs, broken relationships, the empty feeling after taking drugs and the sheer annoyance of ‘Blue Murder’ which seems to have been written deliberately to stave off the thought that Hull is coming close to murdering for real. Only the family is at all sacred – and yet, thanks to Hully’s tradition of never writing ‘normal’ love songs (not till the 1980s and 1990s when he gets soppy anyway – Hull often said in interviews that the day he wrote the words ‘I loved you’ into a song he was ‘through’ because he’d sound just like everybody else) it isn’t romance that the narrators of these songs crave for  – instead it’s stability, somewhere where the protagonist can be himself instead of being pulled in several directions at once by band, fans and record company. It’s no wonder, really, given the spectacular, sudden and unforeseen way Lindisfarne imploded a mere year after outselling all the Beatle solo albums. All the immediate Lindisfarne break-up records share ‘Pipedream’s feeling of disorientation and exasperation – Rod Clements’ songs on the first Jack The Lad album possess a similar sense of shock and anger at the loss of such a breakthrough moment (the song titles [79] ‘Back On The Road Again’ and [83] ‘Why Can’t I Be Satisfied?’ say it all), while Hully’s songs for the Mark II albums ‘Roll On Ruby’ and ‘Happy Daze’ which followed this album continue the theme (the opening track of the former – [68] ‘Taking Care Of Business’ - is surely one of the most bitter anti-music business jibes in the history of rock and it’s a surprise actually that it doesn’t appear here on this less commercial, more heartfelt album).

At the same time, though, there's a pleasing 'sound' across this album - or most of it anyway - which is very warm and cosy, offering support and sympathy rather than pure guttural anger and overall its a much better attempt to harvest the Hull/Lindisfarne sound on record than most of the previous goes. 'Nicely' had been recorded simply and at speed by the inexperienced John Anthony doing what he had to do to get the essence of an equally inexperienced band on tape, 'Fog On The Tyne' featured star name Bob Johnston concentrating on cutting down the sound to make things easier for him as much as anything else and the more or less self-produced 'Dingly Dell' suffers from the old 'too many cooks spoil Arbroath' method of recording (seriously - they have far too many bakeries). Mickey Sweeney may have had even less days inside a studio than John Anthony, but his production for 'Pipedream' alongside the knowledge Alan had picked up is much more consistent, with a wide-awake and full-throttle sound that makes it a much more immediate album than much of what Lindisfarne has managed so far (hit singles aside, perhaps). The song manages to cleverly balance the retro songs Hull loved so much with the early 1960s folk flavour early Lindisfarne had made their own with a contemporary rock surface (the lies of ‘Blue Murder’ could easily have become glam rock songs had they occurred to a less ‘surface’ writer) and there’s large helpings of synthesisers. What must at the time must have been new and daring, however dated or odd it sounds now, is all over this album without getting in the way – held back for the synthesised instrumental 'STD-0632' named after its own model number, the bristling proto-Abba 'Blue Murder' and the alien arena of 'Breakfast' where everything is one big soggy mess until the world comes crashing down at the end. Though Hull still sounds nervy at times, hiding behind double-tracking, voice effects and lots of echo to make up for the fact that Jacka isn’t here to make everything sound effortlessly brilliant, this is also his single best album as a performer: every single vocal till the last one nails the emotion on the album, not over-sung or under-sung as many previous Lindisfarne recordings can be (Alan can get emotional when he gets carried away). It's a testament to this album (and no disrespect intended to Lindisfarne) that you don't even miss the harmonies of the band across this recording, because it already sounds 'complete' (though Jacka would surely have done a better job on 'I Hate To See You Cry'). To some extent it worked too: critics loved this album by and large and a chart peak of #29 in the UK wasn't that bad at all (the two 'Mark II' albums, for instance, didn't chart at all and 'Pipedream' is in fact the only charting solo Lindisfarne-spin off album by any member in the band's history – most fans consider it ‘prime canon’, which is also partly why we’re giving this and sequel ‘Squire’ longer reviews in the book rather than the shorter reviews dedicated to all the other solo LPs; to be honest there’s a lot more meat to write about for both than any of the reunion records).

So far so commercial, but ‘Pipedream’ didn’t get its title for nothing. Considering the sheer amount of effort that went into turning making this project a more mainstream affair than the troubled last Lindisfarne album, there sure are a lot of peculiar things about ‘Pipedream’ though. Let’s start off with the instrumental piece which barely features Alan Hull at all but does have a starring role for ex-partner, mandolin and harmonica player Ray Jackson, as if the creator is reminding us about everything that isn’t here. Then there’s the back sleeve which is truly lovely but hardly the thing a rock and roll band’s record company was used to releasing in 1973: snapshots of the pop star at home with wife and children (this is just about at the tail end of the era when rock stars weren’t allowed to have partners because it made them seem ‘unattainable’ to fans – something that seems so long ago in this day and age of Posh and Becks and sex and which Spice Girls is being charged with domestic abuse to which unsuspecting husband). And then there’s the record’s main talking point and the reason it went unreleased on CD for so many years: that cover. Yes, for those of you who only own a downloaded or bootleg copy, this album really does have a drawing of a man’s nose sitting in a pipe that he’s busy smoking. Aside from the few intellectuals who would have got the joke (Hull once wrote in [32] ‘Peter Brophy’ that 'your nose in your pipe but you don't care' - this solo record is a similar 'self-indulgence' by Mr Hull!) you wonder what most record-buyers thought of the change from what most other albums had offered: cute kids with silly haircuts who couldn’t even spell properly (I’m thinking of you, Slade!) Not many records would get away with a surrealist Magritte painting (official name ‘La Lampe Philosophique’) on the sleeve, but somehow ‘Pipedream’ gets away with it. Alan Hull was quite a big Magritte fan and had longed admired the artist's use of the surreal and the realistic in the same painting (not unlike the effect of his own [18] 'Alan In The River With Flowers' song!) When Hully got the chance to record his own solo album he was adamant about using this painting on the cover (as it was a similar ‘pipedream’ of his that involved self-analysis and ‘smoking’ his own face for creative output), even though it cost what was back then a small fortune for the privilege (£4000 – remember this was in 1973, that’s over £300,000 today!) and all but negated any chance of making money with the album, even one that made a respectable #29 in the charts. But making money was after all never really the point: this was a personal exercise that was made the way Alan always wanted to make it. Lindisfarne was still big business in 1973 and had some commercial muscles to flex so after a lot of negotiating the Magritte family finally agreed to the use of the painting – unfortunately, though, in the days when vinyl was king there was no reason to consider any need for a reissue and alas poor  Lindisfarne collectors had to wait until further contracted negotiations were made for this album to be released in 2004 (by which time its reputation had really grown – yet still most newcomer fans were won over). And was all that time and money worth it? Well, yes: not every song on ‘Pipedream’ fits the idea of being ‘smoked’ by any mean but there is an overall feeling of irritation with others who are so focussed on themselves they can’t see the bigger picture or are wasting their time on all the trappings of success instead of what life’s really about and a lot of using up your own neuroses as fuel. It's a whole new fuss about a record cover then (something you thought all of Lindisfarne would have avoided like the plague or sober pub Fridays) - but this time about what's there instead of what's not there a la 'Dingly Dell' and the idea is so much better executed.

Oh and another quick reference to the cover - principally the hilarious credits which suggest just exactly what was going on across the making of this album. Alan himself is credited with providing the 'Guinness'. Mickey Sweeney brought the 'High Level Energy'. Guitarist John Turnbill, who does a sterling job across the record, plumped for 'Orange Juice and Health Foods'. Colin Gibson provides the 'Mental Indecision' and 'Snuff'. Ray Laidlaw, naturally enough provides 'Common Sense' alongside the drums. Jacka provides the 'mandolin and rude noises'. Engineer Roy T Baker, so obsessed with the studio speaker's woofers, becomes 'Woofy Woofy'. Charles Cameron is 'the bar that held it all together'. And special guest and soon to be ‘Mark II’ musician Kenny Craddock is credited with 'Guinness, Wine, Tequila, Pernod, Coca-Cola and Anything Else Around At The Time' (it's clearly thirsty work making albums you know!)

So, in short, the cover fits - both front and back sleeves, which are by turns sophisticated and brawling, intellectual and comedic. Time and time again the narrator thinks he’s on to a good thing, only for it to be taken away from him suddenly and leave him with nothing once again. All the time he thinks he’s found ‘the answer’ and is truly in charge of his own destiny he finds his nose is in his pipe once again and he hasn’t his own problems getting in his way once more. At other times he's so lost in the maze of the modern world that he's either getting drunk or out of his head on drugs, missing what he should have been ‘learning’ completely. But there are moments of true beauty on this album, even compared to the default Lindisfarne setting of heavenly harmonies and quiet awe that transcend our worldly bonds and help us see life beyond our own. ‘Pipedream’ may lack the sheer completeness and variety of ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’ but it’s still a charming little album, much loved by fans but overlooked by too much of the general public (it's unavailability for years didn't help!) This really is the best of Alan Hull with only a modicum of help from his Lindisfarne pals and that makes a very very worthy album indeed. Glorious as the best of the band's albums are, against so many odds this is at least right up there and maybe even a little higher (so put that in your pipe and smoke it!)

The Songs:

 [50] ‘Breakfast’ seems a good place to start for more reasons than just the obvious. This is a fascinating song that seems to turn all of the usual Alan Hull trademarks on its head: rather than praising the family unit, it’s about an affair; rather than being tender and warm it’s cold and brittle; instead of the usual folk-root traditions it’s all so strange and alien and new. Alan even sings in a strained double-tracked falsetto, not sounding much like his usual self at all – and that’s because the character in the song isn’t. He’s watching the woman he loves return to the husband she loves, enjoying the lingering aroma of his lover as she leaves their bed. Suddenly everything gets noisy and confused, with a long list of items to get ready for the breakfast table that offers order into the middle of this chaos and which then fades with the sad news that the lover is leaving. As the pair talk, suddenly the song rights itself again – it’s peaceful, idyllic and sweet as only a Hull melody line can be, as he asks her why she has to go when their lives are perfect and begs her to stay – but they’re both play-acting and he knows that she can’t. And then we find out the narrator’s having an affair and the lover has to get back home to her home-alone kids, giving us the devastating couplet that ‘it really isn’t fair, he still believes in trust – I’ve got to get my bus’. The song which was building with such promise then folds in on itself as the narrator ‘slinks back to bed’ and wonders what is in his lover’s head, whether she will ever come back to him. You think the song is going to end like this, but there’s one magic trick left as Hull falls apart, his detached and ice-cold narrator suddenly dissolving as he realises how lonely he feels and screams that he’s so empty he must be ‘deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeead!!!’ The line comes out of nowhere and takes every single breath in his lungs before he collapses, exhausted, back into the song’s busy riff again. It’s an extraordinary moment, finally giving us the emotion we’re used to from Lindisfarne’s records but in such a messy topsy-turvy way.

The song ends up being the first of this album’s warnings about the traps of fame and wanting something that’s not good for you (and I don’t mean the full-cooked breakfast either!) and it’s all handled so delicately and poignantly, without question or comment until the emotion peeks through at the end, that it’s hard not to feel a pang of sympathy whatever your stance on illicit extra-marital affairs. Some of the lyrics are among the best Hull ever wrote: the ‘strip tease in reverse’ is the perfect line for this song, all that love and affection and lust now backwards as she puts her clothes on and goes back to her old life. Hull cheekily sticks in a euphemism too as he ‘puts my hand in your purse’, presumably offering her money she won’t take in a dance they’ve enacted several times between them, though given her grinned response (‘that I can’t get much worse’) he may well be putting his hand somewhere else… A word too about the tune, which is one of the writer’s best, sighing and falling by turns as he gets eager and excited – and disappointed when he realises that this wonderful new life he imagined for himself can never be, in turns playful, angry, desperate and finally mournful. The backing, too, is amongst the best Hull ever wrote, harsh and angry, about to break at any moment and so unlike his usual style and particularly the screeching electric guitar by Jon Turnball is deliberately heavy-handed for this song, a distorted noisy interference into Hull’s world of wonder. Back in 1973 it must have sounded futuristic, a peek at the detached robotic style of the late 1970s and early 1980s, more Lady Gaga than [13] Lady Eleanor. It all feels so wrong, so ice-cold and aloof, and yet it also feels so right. The result is a classy, complex song that’s far deeper than anything Hull had written up to this time and one that seems to be deliberately pushing us away (a brave move for the first track on a first solo album). If you can get hold of it, though, you can hear a much warmer, more Lindisfarnish arrangement on the rare live album ‘Back To Basics’ from 1994, where with just a piano and a guitar and Hull’s voice sounding suitably old and weary this song sounds even more magnificent.

[51] ‘Justanothersadsong’ is, as its title suggests, a rather rushed and hurried little song that tries to usher in everything we would normally expect to find on an Alan Hull album as if to show us that, yes, this is him really and the right record is in the sleeve. Alan sounds less committed than usual though, barely catching his breath from one melodic phrase to another as he treats this song more as a summary of where he’d been before than adding anything that new. This is another song about the pressures of fame and everybody wanting a piece of you – here the narrator is wondering out loud how on earth he came be expected to come up with another sad song that means something when there are so many distractions in his life. Like many a song on ‘Pipedream’ this song is also about misunderstandings and the people the narrator thought he knew turning out to be completely different once he gets to know them well. This seems to irritate rather than sadden the narrator this time though, finding that all the usual triggers for his music no longer work, so distracted is he by the conflicting thoughts in his head. The arrangement is noticeably Lindisfarne-ish, thanks partly to the first guest appearance of Ray Jackson, whose always excellent harmonica work really sets off the angular and rather harsh electronic backing and also from the melody which puts a brave face on melancholiness. While no classic and slightly too repetitive for its own good, ‘Justanothersadsong’ is pretty good at getting Hull’s dissatisfaction with his life in 1973 into a couple of minutes.

[52] ‘Money Game’ is a true your-nose-is-in-your-pipe song and is clearly inspired by Hull’s penniless pre-Lindisfarne days, a reminder of his changing attitude to wealth and yet his staunch belief that people with it should help those without it. The narrator is trying to woo his beloved Anna into running away with him and being his, even though they clearly have nothing to live off but their love. He’s keen, she’s reluctant (she seems to be from a rich family after all), so he tries to woo her with lots of cries of ‘what does money mean anyway? I’ve got more than all that!’ although you sense he’s only fooling himself – he can’t live off nothing. It’s all about Ray Davies, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ via ‘Sitting In The Midday Sun’, about how the glare from the money is no match for the glare of the world that doesn’t care about how many pieces of green paper you have in your posession. The chorus to this song is truly gorgeous, when Hull sings how he can offer his beloved so much more than money and that he ‘can smile when it’s a rainy day, I can see what’s behind the big money game we all must play’. The verse strains to convert his beloved too, but it’s forever being interrupted by a curious and slightly irritating scale run passage which keeps interrupting the flow of the song and the narrator’s desperate attempt to spend time with his lover, as if his finances is still on her mind.  The ‘real’ Anna was the Hull’s nanny, hired during his early pay cheques with Lindisfarne to give wife Pat a break from rearing their three children – she had family of her own though and it must have struck Alan that her desperate need for income was so like his own once as she looked on, aghast, at all the expense that comes with being a millionaire rockstar. This song sounds like Hull’s conscience at work: the money really hasn’t changed him and he could do without it if he had to, honest. Hulls’ vocal is one of his best on this album and the backing too is better than most, with a full vocal chorus of friends, family and backing crew and a burst of that very Lindisfarntastic instrument, the mandolin. In short, this is a very clever song about priorities, with the ‘real’ world forever getting in the way of our spirituality and romance. This song is known to have been taped by Lindisfarne during the ‘Fog On The Tyne’ sessions of 1971 but their version has yet to be released – I would imagine it’s probably not all that different from this one.

[53] ‘STD 0632’ is a truly oddball piece of music – an instrumental mainly featuring Jacka once more, I could easily believe that Hully isn’t on it all (if he is, he’s playing no more than the muted acoustic guitar and perhaps a bit of keyboard in the middle, although the latter is probably by regular Lindisfarne session muso Kenny Craddock whose fingerprints are all over this album). The rather odd name comes from the make of synthesiser being used on the piece, although its used here only sparingly as mostly this instrumental is dominated by mandolin and harmonica rather than the keyboard effects. The result must have sounded quite astonishing in 1973 when synthesisers were fairly new in rock music (Pete Townshend is widely considered to have used the first one in 1971, at least as a digital tape sampler with a robotic feel as opposed to an analogue moog or mellotron), but it all sounds rather old fashioned now. Not that STD 0632 is bad – the tune is quite lovely in places, although like much of this album it tends to be a bit stop-starty. Still, this song could have been quite a good basis for a full song had it been given a decent set of lyrics – like many instrumentals you wonder why it wasn’t turned into a full song.

[54] ‘United States Of Mind’ is, for me, the album’s highlight. Turning the album’s theme of disorientation and misunderstandings on its head, this song is all about a sudden flash of inspiration and enlightenment, which comes out of the blue and knocks the narrator out for six. It’s the upside of being lost and puzzled, in other words, with confusion giving the narrator far more understanding of life than his previous safe and cosy little world – not unlike a more thoughtful [36] ‘Fog On The Tyne’, although this particular fog is open to all. The song is one of the more Dylanesque on this album as Alan apes one of his two big heroes, one where ‘raindrops feel like liquid diamonds’ washing his doubt away and taking away the rainclouds that blur and confuse everybody – including the narrator yesterday.  Hull’s comment is that he’s seen something other people haven’t, ‘while heads around me turn and twist at situations that don’t exist’. He knows, though, what life is all about – though sadly he doesn’t share that insight with us, perhaps unable to put it in words.  This cleverly structured song is bursting with creativity, including the slight twist to the way each verse ends: across the song ‘my state of mind needs no…’ ‘repairing’ ‘defining’ and in the last verse ‘has finally been discovered’, always changing across the course of the song. Again the mandolins dominate this track, although it’s the excellent bass work from Colin Gibson and the sound of Hull and Craddock duetting on acoustic guitars that catches the ear. The tune is quite glorious too: like Lindisfarne classic [17] ‘Clear White Light’ it’s quiet and awed at the beginning before becoming proud and defiant by the end of the song, as the singer gradually gets more used to all the things he’s seeing. Hull’s desperate attempts to persuade the audience that his visions are real (‘no I’ve not just had a smoke, I’ve not been struck by lightning stroke’) are very moving. A first class track, although again the arrangement and recording can’t quite do the song justice – I point you once again to ‘Back To Basics’ to hear the definitive version of this lovely song.

[55] ‘Country Gentlemen’s Wife’ is firmly in the tradition of the ‘Fog On The Tyne’ songs that featured Hully alone with his acoustic guitar and was under serious consideration for that album. An acerbic song about class distinction, this song is pure Hull as his naïve innocent narrator gets corrupted by a posh world that should know better, leading the listener to ask the question about which class is the more respectable. This song features Hully as the lowly gardener at a mansion, one who rejects the advances of the young lady of the manor despite her massive promises saying he respects the ‘wedding vows’ – until she promises him the food (and ‘booze’, this being a Lindisfarne song!) he craves. This song is a lot of fun despite its hidden message and Hull’s often harsh vocal, with Hull’s narrator adamant that ‘no country gentlemen’s wife is going to get me in the nude’, but it comes with a moral too. Having married an old millionaire aged ‘thirty-one’ (an age Alan won’t reach till 1976 interestingly) she needs something more in life and her ‘bed at night is cold’. They both want something and can get it out of this strange arrangement, but it’s interesting how different their needs are portrayed in this song: she wants fun, warmth, love and sex as an addition to everything she’s got already and she’s prepared to spend money that she’s married into in order to get it; he, however, is starving and his scruples are easily overcome by the lure of lucre (the song ends with Hull’s respectable narrator crowing that if he’s offered the food he needs rather than wants ‘any old country gentleman’s wife can do anything they choose!’) Again, the message of the song is that both characters have their nose in their pipe, blind to the other one’s needs and that despite the wife’s privileged upbringing she’s as desperate to satisfy her urges as her hungry servant. It would have been interesting to hear a band arrangement of this song, as Hully’s solo guitar version played at about a thousand miles an hour sits so far outside everything else on this album it tends to stick out rather, but both the vocal and guitar work is impressive and shows just how under-rated Hull’s playing was.

[56] ‘Numbers (Travelling Band)’ is a more autobiographical song that many people took as a comment on that final doomed Lindisfarne tour of 1972/1973. Actually it’s an early warning sign first proposed for inclusion on ‘Fog’ in 1971 and a song about cracks between a group that maybe should have been taken more seriously at the time. Alan was never a natural performer – despite his often loud personality he was shy on stage, preferring to hide behind Jacka and most of all he hated being away from his precious family and out on the road. This song is about how pointless it all is, playing the same gig over and over to different audiences as inspiration dissipates and all the places look the same from the back of a tour bus anyway. Most of the money the narrator makes on the tour seems to be lost to the card and domino games played by the bored bands in the back of the bus anyway. Hull also seems to be making the point that he’d be playing his music for free – it’s the sheer boredom of being driven up and down the country with nothing to do that he gets paid for! The nose-in-your-pipe moment of this song is the contradiction that in order to create ‘great art’ and tell all humanity how to solve their problems writers find themselves stuck on a coach devolving to a more straight-jacketed view of life where the only excitement is coming off the motorway and winning at cards. The tune to this song is suitably slow and ponderous, as if mimicking the amount of hours left to go before the band actually get to play and Hull pauses after almost every word in the chorus just to ram the point home (‘it’s three....for....the travelling band.....eighteen for doing it all again!’) Another verse wonders what the point of having so many ‘yes men’ on the staff is when everyone agrees and nobody does anything, this verse ending with the pained cry that the price has gone up and the narrator is now gambling with his ‘soul!’ The final verse then has a drunken band ‘legless’ crashing into their hotel rooms, paying yet more precious money to keep the incidents out of the papers! The song ends, as so many future Lindisfarne songs will, with Hull drunk out of his mind to escape the boredom – and his own worries about how things are going wrong. Somehow the song isn’t boring though, but actually quite seductive in the way the song tends to lumber past us in slow-motion, with every slight change in the song’s melody, tempo or key sounding like a revelation. It’s also treated to a full blown band performance here that’s very like the slow blues Lindisfarne were trying to pull off with [35] ‘Train In G Major’, but this song’s weary shrug and distorted guitar waddle are a better ‘fit’ for this style somehow.

[57] ‘For The Bairns’ is one of ‘Pipedream’s highlights, a really sweet little song about Hull’s young family, who like him had gone from rags to riches in a matter of just a couple of years (it’s not for nothing all three daughters are shown on the back cover – family is a major part of this album). ‘Bairns’ rather pulls off this album’s trick in reverse: it sounds like a caterwauling fun little children’s song full of oompah-ing brass, a short saxophone solo, tongue-in-cheek block vocals and a repetitive piano lick, the sort of thing you hear on any talented children’s playground. A flurry of knock-knees, un-coordinated limbs and lots and lots of energy, it’s easy to imagine daddy Hull trying to write on the sofa while his children take over his house in a sea of flying pillows and giggles as he sings of ‘flying away to a land where everything is alright’. But this song doesn’t just describe what’s happening, but comes with a fatherly warning. Watching his tired daughter return home from school and already weighed down by the need to hold their own against a mad bad sad old world, Hull realises that he won’t always be there to protect them. Instead of getting treacly, he just vows to tell them not to get lost in the trap of caring what people think of them, acknowledging that what they are learning, all that ‘wickedness and strife are only part of living, not life’. This is one of its creator’s career best lines and one he returns to often amongst the merry madness of the song, about how we shouldn’t let small obstacles get in the way of the bigger picture. The song doesn’t have much to say apart from that and is far too short with just the two verses taken at near-breakneck speed, but is very sweet and the chorus especially sounds like a very honest and genuine sentiment from a proud father. Full marks too to guesting Lindisfarne drummer Ray Laidlaw, who somehow managed to keep the peace between the two factions of Lindisfarne in this period, appearing on albums by all parties, and plays some terrific, inventive drumming here.

[58] ‘Drug Song’ is the oldest song on the album, dating from Hull’s psychiatric nurse days and yet it fits this album’s themes of smoking your own pipe to smite your nose really well. It’s a simple song about the narrator trying all sorts of things to make his life better and find a way out of the poverty he’s in – he takes some drugs, snorts some ‘speed’, runs away from home and then finally sees the error of his ways, imagining his family in the future staring at his coffin and wondering why he went off the rails so quickly. He can’t bring himself to start in this outlaw life then – but neither does he look down on the people who fell prey to it, perhaps remembering old school-friends who turned to this life after finding a life as an adult stuck between dead-end jobs and dole money. The line as he watches his mother and ‘she’ll maybe even cry’ speaks volumes – maybe she won’t actually be that upset if he turns out to be a drug-addled brute and will see it as a lucky escape? This won’t be the last time an eerie Alan Hull songs has the narrator imagining himself dying in order to put things right – this song is very similar to the truly creepy [179] ‘Good To Be Here?’ from the 1979 Lindisfarne album ‘The News’, although there isn’t as much of a tune in this case. Good as it is and fitting as it is to this album, ‘Drug Song’ ends up sounding just what it is – an early song by a promising writer who hasn’t yet learnt how to make his imagery subtle and complex yet, although the final deathly verse is a strong one, coming out of nowhere to shock the narrator back to his senses.

[59] ‘Song For A Windmill’ is another of my favourites on the album – and not just because I too have an obsession with windmills! This is another song about things decaying and falling apart almost without you realising it, using the metaphor of a broken-down windmill in a field for the first verse and the semi-autobiographical tale of a writer looking back on his successful past and his unsuccessful present in the second. Both verses of this simple song are accompanied by some terrific rhythmic drumming from Ray Laidlaw which mimics the sails of the windmill still turning round despite the fact that no one watches or uses it any more, a  decaying monument to a time that is now past. You can easily see where this song is coming from as Hull ends his Lindisfarne days the way he began them, with nothing, wondering ‘who was it who turned you into stone?’ The miller, you see, is now ‘earning his weekly bob’ down the factory and there’s no reason for it to be there – and yet still the sails go turning, ‘playing hop-scotch with the wind’. The second verse is clearly Hull’s bleak feelings about his future, ideas still whistling through his brain but without anyone to hear them anymore. Now, like the windmill, there is no one around to care if the singer/narrator still goes round and round or not, he’s left with a body that’s ‘breaking’ and ‘only the rats call you home’. Watch out for the line ‘your music was a star’ in the second verse – without that word it might be safe to assume this is just a general view of rot and decay over time but that word makes it clear that the narrator is a musician. Watch out too for the line about ‘several thousand revolutions on wings’, a great pun about what Lindisfarne were all about – their musical was meant to do more than simply revolve around at speed on a record player but to instigate revolutions in popular culture that never quite happened. A cute-sounding but actually really deep song, ‘Windmill’ keeps turning in your head long after it’s finished playing, despite having just the two short verses (and one repeat) with no chorus as such. The song ends on an upbeat note though with a lovely instrumental passage, when Ray Laidlaw’s repetitive drumming gets overtaken by a lovely little guitar tune, suggesting the windmill will indeed turn again and that this section may have been added on to bring the story to the more hopeful time of recording, before the song finally stops again mid-way through the melody, with more of the story left to unfold.

Alas the album ends on a rather glum note with the last two tracks. [60] ‘Blue Murder’ is a rather uncharacteristic track about the narrator being so annoyed and harassed that he turns to murder as the only way his problems will stop – perhaps the ultimate ‘your nose in your pipe’ moment given that the narrator isn’t just free of the person annoying him but everybody, including those he loves. Alan is all too believable as a would-be assassin, though and Ray Laidlaw for one reckoned this song was about the Lindisfarne break-up (interestingly he thinks this song was more about Rod than Si, the one who ‘caused’ the final break-up).  While most of the song is obviously meant to be about a relationship falling apart, it’s interesting to note that the opening scene is set in a dressing room with players ‘taking off make-up’ – another possible reference to that troubled Lindisfarne tour. It’s clear, too, that the irritations the narrator talks about in the song aren’t anywhere near big enough to commit murder over – ‘I can read you like a book, you’re becoming a bit of a bore’ is surely a pointer that the narrator has simply spent too long in close proximity to the same people (as on a tour bus), making this a song more about the seething tension between people who have no choice but to work together rather than true murder. Hull admits his own faults too, declaring in a wild voice that ‘I am the apple man and I’m rotten to the core!’ – he’s either been watching too much ‘Yellow Submarine’ or is perhaps mischievously reaching for the forbidden fruit before the others and pelting them with it. So far so good, but the trouble is this song really doesn’t know where to end: the tension ratcheted up by the verses dissipates every time the shrill chorus comes in (and it comes in a lot in this song, in contrast to the last song which didn’t even have a chorus!) The song then ends on an unremarkable instrumental fade, one where Jon Turnbull finally gets a chance to play some fitting electric guitar which simply plods on and on before the instruments are taken out of the mix one by one, leaving just the sinister bass lines dragging the narrator to his doom. It’s clear that the narrator truly doesn’t want to have to commit murder – and is deliberately dragging the song out to emphasis the point, finding one lesser excuse after another as to why he should or perhaps waiting for the other half to say ‘sorry’ for something they don’t even know is getting on the narrator’s nerves – but alas the song tries your patience too many times for comfort. ‘Blue Murder’ fits the album’s themes of small matters getting in the way of out ‘light of philosophy’ really well, but there just isn’t as much going on in this song as some of the others and the fact that at 5:05 this song runs over a minute longer than any of the others just rubs in how slow and drawn out it is compared to the best this special little album has to offer.

The worst track of all, though, is the closer. [61] ‘I Hate To See You Cry’ is a generic but still faintly moving song about making up for lost time and broken promises and is another tale of how the narrator creates his own smoked problems by breaking his own heart when he risks breaking those of a loved one. Looking for comforting words, Hull says that he didn’t really mean it and that he promises to stay – which could be seen as him making up with the rest of Lindisfarne, ending the affair heard on this album’s opening track or just a general sense of putting things right that have gone wrong, taking his nose out of his own pipe. However sadly an ok-ish song is ruined by one of the most out-of-tune vocals propped up by one of the most out-of-tune pianos I’ve ever heard. If you’d heard this performance as a demo or an outtake on a rarities set you’d still feel short-changed and wonder why the record company hadn’t dug out something else – so sticking this recording out at the end of the album suggests either that the band had run out of time, run out of money or run out of patience. A shame, because the tune – similar to [156] ‘Run For Home’ in many ways – is quite a nice one and the song could have been a big hit for somebody else, being simple and catchy in true pop style. I can honestly I’ve never played this track more than five times despite playing this album lots because there’s no way I can comfortably listen to it – my ears are ringing now, or is that because of the Oasis album I’ve just been listening to?! – and I always manage to turn the CD player off before getting this far. A strange choice for the album – and an even stranger choice to end it, in the slot where traditionally Lindisfarne albums end in some style.

So, was Alan Hull’s nose in his pipe when he was making this album? There’s lots of curious little lapses that prevent this album from being the true classic it so very nearly is, from the occasionally muddy mixes to the subdued and ploddy arrangements to the shock of the last recording, suggesting Hull was too close to his work to see how great it could be. But there clearly are glimpses of genius here, from the rat-a-tat song about decaying windmills, to the glorious burst of inspiration in ‘United States Of Mind’, to the opening song about deception to the wicked social commentary on the class system. There are lots of little itty bitty things trying to distract us throughout this album – money, drugs, irritating band members, the sheer boredom of being stuck on a tour bus – but throughout it all Alan Hull only occasionally loses his muse and his sense of purpose and for the most part sounds inspired rather than tired, free to make his mark the way he wanted to make it at last. The relative lack of sales of this album must have been heavily discouraging after the heady top ten days of Lindisfarne – like Jack The Lad, Hull found that not all Lindisfarne fans were yet ready to forgive the band over breaking up so suddenly – but fans have always adored this album for its honesty, its complexity and its wondrous melodies. Getting ‘Pipedream’ together after years of hardship and three short years in a turbulent successful band must have been near impossible, but despite the costs of the cover, despite the week of recording time the band were given, despite losing original producer Ken Scott early on in the sessions and getting in Mickey Sweeney in at the last minute as an inexperienced replacement, ‘Pipedream’ is a small triumph, very nearly almost the equal of Lindisfarne albums two and three and only a smidgeon behind the debut. And if my nose is in my pipe about that, then call me Peter Brophy, I just don’t care!


'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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