Monday, 21 November 2016
Lindisfarne "Promenade" (2002)
Lindisfarne "Promenade" (2002)
The Guitar Never Lies/When Jones Gets Back To Town/This Too Will Pass/Coming Good/Candlelight/Freedom Square/Under The Promenade/Rock 'n' Roll Phone/Unfinished Business/Happy Birthday Dad/Walking Back To Blueberry Hill/Significant Other/Remember Tomorrow
"The living proof of how far a boy can go with three chords and the truth"
The final Lindisfarne album was made with half an eye on the idea that it might turn out to be their last, the band disbanding the following year after a short spell as 'Lindisfarne Acoustic'. 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' hadn't sold as many copies as hoped and without the star power of Alan Hull and only two original members left the audience numbers and ticket sales were falling. Even if Lindisfarne didn't - and indeed couldn't - sound like they used to, though, they still sounded for the most part like a fine band with fine ideas that, had this big sea-change happened in younger more commercially-healthy days, they could have weathered the storm just fine. But if there's a difference between this album and 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' it's that this is a sad shoulder-shrugging farewell rather than a happy enthusiastic reunion, one of those albums more likely to laugh than cry (although there is plenty of humour here most of it is the grim and dark variety). If this album has a weakness then it's that, like 'Neighbourhood' it still doesn't sound much like the 'old' Lindisfarne - and less so than before given that the band have now lost vocalist and sax player Marty Craggs who departed the band in 2000 at the midway point between the two albums (and after laughing at all the bluesy material in early rehearsals if accounts are to be believed). Lindisfarne are still missing their chief vocalist (Jacka), their chief writer (Hull) and their lead guitarist (Cowe) plus all three parts of their famous harmonies (with even less attempt at harmony singing on this record than before). However the album's great strength is that this new-look, versatile Lindisfarne can go pretty much anywhere and do more or less anything rather than being tied in to their folk-rock political-putdown making, Newcastle-referencing past. The sort-of-title-track 'Down Under The Promenade' is about that very subject in fact, of being whoever you want to be if you stay out of sight so no one knows who you are, which is a little like the way Lindisfarne are feeling right here, their old fanbase disappearing and the new one not yet arriving quickly enough.
No wonder, then, that so much of this album has the band going back to when the past seemed like the future, with several songs here that touch on the music of yesteryear. 'Going Back To Blueberry Hill' references Fat Domino on a trip down memory lane, 'Rock and Roll Phone' references every rockabilly classics it can think of and 'This Guitar Never Lies' is 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' if it had come out in the 1950s. This is the 'safe' portion of the album, where the album sounds cosy and safe and a world that the inhabitants clearly knew well and trusted in contrast to modern living. Others are more concerned with how quickly time seems to be passing and how insecure the future now feels: 'Unfinished Business' greets an old friend they haven't seen since '1969' (the year Lindisfarne began) and vows that 'whatever we knew then we ought to know it now' and provide the change that they once talked about thirty odd years ago; 'Significant Other' laughs at the modern trend for relationships out the ordinary that are looser and shorter-term than they used to be, 'Freedom Square' worries not for the narrator's old age but those of who he cares for and 'Happy Birthday Dad' is a rare song about alzheimer's, with a man being celebrated by a family he can't remember while they wonder if this will be the last celebration and puzzling how you can still feel 'nineteen going on ninety-three', with only his earliest memories remaining. Time is a puzzle across this album - one minute it's going slow, the next it's zooming like a runaway train and both of these leave the narrators confused, with 'unfinished business' that everyone thought would have been over long before the narrators/songwriters hit their sixties. Between the two sit songs like album (and career) finale 'Remember Tomorrow' which are about the past repeating themselves and caught halfway between the folkie sound of the past and the modern production touches of the present as it promises that future changes won't be so bad because we survived the past ones, didn't we? Well mostly. With Hully dying so young, just past his 50th birthday, a sense of mortality was inevitably going to creep into the surviving Lindisfarne's music somewhere - the wonder really is that it took another seven years to do so. Even two albums on Alan still feels like the album's missing element - 'Promenade' misses his wry chuckles, sense of outrage and originality while he'd have brought a valuable bite to some of his colleague Rod's sweeter songs. But then, more than any other Lindisfarne album since 'Fog On The Tyne', this is one full of both passing ghosts and the reason that they should all be banished so we can all live in the present.
To fill Hull's big shoes Rod Clements again steps forward with a total of ten credits on this thirteen track album. Eight of these are sung by Billy, while for the first time ever Rod gets to sing two of them himself and introducing the fans who hadn't bought Clements' handful of solo LPs to his bluesy, wry humour. Billy also gets two of his own songs onto the record and a co-write with Rod - songs he admitted later he'd written separately without hearing Rod's and which he felt didn't really fit onto this album (they are stuck together near the end of the album as if part of a 'separate' album). Bassist Ian Thomson gets one, the Dave Denholm-sung tale of old gangs 'Under The Promenade'. Denholm himself gets three co-writes with Clements and sings two of them as well. However perhaps the biggest surprise is that producer Nigel Stonier dominates the album credits, with a full nine songs to his credit co-written with various album members (that's two more than even 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood'). A writer with Fairport Convention, all of the lyrics bar Ian's and two of Billy's songs are by him and he thus set the tone for much of the album which deal as much with his view of the world as Lindisfarne's. And a very interesting time he was having too: this is the period when he married singer-songwriter Thea Gilmore who was then in her early twenties and a few decades his junior - they'd met when she was just fifteen. In retrospect Rod's wry smile on 'Significant Other' and 'Freedom Square's worries about what will happen to the narrator's spouse after his death make more sense. Nigel's own album 'Brimstone and Blue' was released less than a year after 'Promenade' and sounds in many ways like it's twin, full of pathos and trying to live in and enjoy the moment despite the presence whispering ghosts telling him that it'll never work. It's worth pointing out, perhaps, that the marriage is very much still on fifteen years later - hopefully the fingers-crossed trips into the unknown experienced by the narrators on this album (who would, by and large, rather be playing things safe and going back to how things were) work out just as well.
However it's vocally that Lindisfarne fans might have to make the bigger adjustments. As with 'Neighbourhood' the older Billy Mitchell is a different prospect to the charming and funny figure of the 'Jack The Lad' days. Deeper, in both meanings of the word, Mitchell's role here is as a kindly old uncle rather than a hooray hellraiser. Dave Denholm's higher vocals are perhaps the most 'traditional' vocals across the album and the most like Jacka's, even if he has a softer more folkie style all of his own (while writing-wise you can hear aspects of his father-in-law, one James Alan Hull). Rod's vocals are the biggest surprise after so many years out of the spotlight and he takes up the 'one or two song cameos' Marty used to make with the band, offering the bemused tongue-in-cheek songs. What this album doesn't have, though, is the passion of Lindisfarne in their pomp - Rod, Dave and this era Billy have one thing in common and that's a quiet dignified take on life that's big on poignancy but low on passion. You miss the free-wheeling of Hull, the sudden switches of brilliance from Jacka or the eccentricity of Cowe, while I do wonder if it was the low-key feel of so many of these songs and productions rather than the style of the material that really drove Marty away. For the most part 'Promenade' sounds even more like a Nigel Stonier album, all quiet vibes and folk, than a traditional 'keeping the rage' style Lindisfarne anthem.
So does that mean 'Promenade' is a bad album? Not at all. There are some moments here that work very well indeed: 'Happy Birthday Dad' is a really pretty song about a really tough subject, 'Freedom Square' is a clever folk lament that manages to be both sad and uplifting. 'Coming Good' is the one 'noisy' song here and it's a delight, a sequel to 'Born At The Right Time' about everything coming together after years of misery, 'Unfinished Business' is a strong pop song about the old theme of 'keeping the beacons burning' and then there's 'Significant Other' is hilarious, dryly funny in its put-down of Tom Cruise and a whole modern generation from a songwriter whose also laughing at himself and wondering why he's getting quite so hot under the collar over something he can't do anything about. If this was a new band you'd say those were pretty good odds as equally there's nothing really bad here (though 'When Jones Gets Into Town' is as generic as Lindisfarne ever got with its twinkling mandolins and impenetrable lyrics, 'Rock and Roll Phone' is noisy dad-rock unworthy of the Lindisfarne name and 'Walking Back To Blueberry Hill' is more obese waddle than Fats Domino). You can certainly get more enjoyment out of this album than you can such horrors as 'Dance Your Life Away' (an album even more dominated by the choice of producer) and 'C'mon Everybody' (an album even more dominated by unnecessary and ill-advisable trips down memory lane). What it doesn't have is that special sort of Lindisfarne magic that every other album has (up to and including 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood') - that spark of something special that no other band can offer, with that thinking head still in place but without as much of the kind heart and definitely without the shouty mouth putting the world to rights.
Instead 'Promenade' is the perfect place to end the Lindisfarne legacy, not so much because it sums the band up or returns to where it all began but because it sounds like a goodbye. Lindisfarne haven't tried trying to change the future - they still feel the pull and tug of 'Unfinished Business' - but they've come to terms with mankind's frailty and are themselves away of the passing time preventing them from what doing what they need to do. Largely they're alright with that; it's as if they've become the dementia patient on 'Happy Birthday Dad' content to live in the moment because the past is over and done with and they learnt long ago that the future's going to come along and surprise them no matter what they do. Many bands see the 'sea' as 'death' - Pink Floyd and The Who for two - so it might be significant that this album is set on a 'Promenade' stretching into the sea and the last part in touch with 'land' (strictly speaking Lindisfarne used 'rivers' for this and then in a more spiritual sense - see, umm, 'River' from 'Happy Daze' and the deep-thinking that goes on in 'Alan In The River With Flowers'). However this isn't just a goodbye for there, on the cover, staring out at the sea, are three young boys. Though the photograph was a modern one commissioned for and taken for the album it's been sepia-tinged to look older, so that your immediate question is whether it's meant to be the band (or three of them at least - perhaps old friends Rod, Ray and Billy who did know each other growing up). The un-seeable, unknowable, inevitable future stretches ahead and there's nothing they can do about it, with the boy who looks a little like Rod staring off to the left as if something on land has just caught his attention. Caught between celebrating the past, being determined to enjoy the present and trying not to be too afraid of the future is a pretty neat way to end any career and on that score at least 'Promenade' is a worthy goodbye, even if it's also the 'premature handshake' feared on 'Unfinished Business' that heralds a trip down to B and Q in the hope that they're 'hiring'.
What happened next is a little bit sad, but probably just as inevitable as death (and taxes. And Spice Girls reunions). 'Promenade' was a last roll of the dice and ended up selling even less copies than 'Neighbourhood' (which, despite a fairly big promotional budget and the added success of Erin Ocha's hit cover of 'Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong' never really took off and Park Records weren't exactly in a hurry to release a third album by this line-up). Lindisfarne was by now playing to such small audiences that they even ended up in my home-town of Stafford at a theatre that got full with people who came to watch me and twenty other youngsters pretend we could play the piano, that's how small it was. This couldn't sustain a five-piece band so instead Lindisfarne became an 'acoustic trio', shedding Ian and even founding member Ray while Rod, Billy and Dave continued for a year as 'Lindisfarne Acoustic'. But even this wasn't a success so Lindisfarne made the tearful decision to split, enjoying one final full gig in November 2003 released the following year as 'Time, Gentleman, Please'. A live album full of similar determination to make sense of the past, enjoy the present and not to fear the future too much, it's an even worthier farewell where the occasional songs from this album ('This Guitar Never Lies' 'This Too Shall Pass' 'Remember Tomorrow' 'Freedom Square' 'Rock 'n' Roll Phone' and 'Unfinished Business') sound far better in concert than they do on this album. 'What you're going to need to know is that you're going to miss me when I'm gone!' chuckles 'Significant Other' and it's true - we have - even if the Lindisfarne of 2002 isn't quite the Lindisfarne we all knew and loved all those years and even if their last album was kind of alright and a bit 'all at sea' rather than truly sublime.
'This Guitar Never Lies' sounds suspiciously to me as if it was written in tribute to George Harrison, who'd died the previous November. At the time there was a whole flurry of bootlegs purporting to be the long-lost unfinished album George had been working on since 1987 (which eventually came out not long after 'Promenade' under the name 'Brainwashed'). There were several soundalikes of George doing the rounds - this sounds much like another one with references not only to 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' but also George's sequel 'This Guitar Can't Keep From Crying' (from 1974's 'Extra Texture') plus lashes of George's natural 'slide' style as played by Rod who really gets George's bluesy but pretty howl spot on. certainly the song is in tribute to someone and really nails this album's feel of passing time and loss from the first ('There was a man before me and he was the living proof'). Billy, singing Rod and Nigel's song, admits that the un-named 'he' wasn't perfect and had some 'lowdown ways' but that his music always rang true even when his personality didn't (which seems a bit harsh, but does fit with the 'grumpy' side of George's personality). I really hope it is because George never got the run of tribute songs that Lennon did and he deserves at least one (with an honorary mention for Paul McCartney's ukulele version of George's 'Something', played movingly in concert this same year when Paul couldn't bring himself to write a 'new' song for his old friend). It makes sense, too that Lindisfarne should be the ones to do it - the band recorded 'Nicely Out Of Tune' at the same studios where George was working on 'All Things Must Pass' and their paths did sometimes cross, with George striking up a particular friendship with Si Cowe over their favourite guitars. Lindisfarne knew the 'real' George then and look on in horror in the last first as the pr boys offer 'stories and spin' and turn George into the posthumous star he'd have hated - their advice is to play the music instead, where 'this guitar never lies'. However this is also a tribute not just to a man but to his instrument, with Billy-Rod amazed at how much personality can come across from something that's 'just a wooden box with holes in, with wires fastened to it' and yet it made such a difference in the lives of so many including the narrator. Unfortunately, for all its heartfelt wishes, there's something 'not quite right' about this track - Billy's vocals sound bored, the lyrics veer from kind to cruel and the mid-tempo shuffle isn't really much like George at all, despite the hint of skiffle.
'Promenade' is an album that stacks its lesser songs at the start, with 'When Jones Gets Back To Town' the weakest offering here. A country-folk song about, well, country folk, it features a lot of old friends sitting round a bar and missing some un-named other. This could, of course, be any number of people in the Lindisfarne story by 2002: maybe it's Jacka with his story-telling and monologues, maybe it's Si with his unique way of looking at the world, maybe it's the managers past and present. However it's surely more likely to be Alan Hull with Billy's wry smile that 'it's been kinda quiet since he was around' and hoping that he comes back soon 'because he's got lots of songs to sing to us', he's the type who always does. The last verse sounds fond of whoever it maybe, saying that he's the 'boy who wears the crown' and all the 'big spenders' and 'great pretenders' can't cut it since he's gone. Though the song is about loss and the confused feelings of those left behind, it's also partly about the drink they're all going to have when they reunite - trust Lindisfarne's vision of the afterlife to include a bar! However while the lyrics are sweet and heartfelt, again the melody leaves much to be desired, with a mid-tempo wallow that Hull himself would no doubt have told the band to do over again, sounding much like every other folk-country-pop shlock of the time (this is the Corrs, only without a cause). The performance too sounds terribly muted as if Billy was singing a demo and saving his voice for a 'proper' take that never came. A shame, because this song could have been quite a nice tribute had the band made it just a little more obvious who they were singing about and played up just how much they were missing their old friend.
'This Too Will Pass' continues the theme of loss, a Clements ballad sung by Denholm that's pretty but somehow less distinguished and original than their previous collaboration 'Unmarked Car'. Knowing that the people he cares for are suffering (Dave's wife, remember, was Alan's daughter so he saw the pain first-hand more than most), he promises that time is the great healer and that in time the people around him will get used to the great upheaval in their life. Denholm acknowledges the 'dark days' but tries to match them with 'strong words' about how time washes away good times all too fast but that the bad times will go eventually too. Though most fans understandably assume that this song refers to Hull, maybe a bit of it too is about George with the references to his song 'All Things Must Pass', recorded at the time Lindisfarne were making their debut? Sadly what starts as quite an interesting song falls into the trap of cliché, while the last verse sounds a little desperate, with grief compared to a kite being flown at night and light forcing out 'shadows'. The song needs an extra something to boost it too (a middle eight would have worked wonders!) as the chorus is just stapled onto the verses and there's a lot of repetition here and very few chord changes. Denholm's vocal is a good one though, slow and sad and stately but with enough 'life' about it to make his promise of a better tomorrow sound convincing.
'Coming Good' is a bright and breezy pop song that sits in contrast to the rest of the album by being hopeful and upbeat and looking forward to the future. Fittingly it sounds far more commercial and is played with much more vigour than this album's saddest songs, with Rod's chiming Rickenbacker sounding particularly delicious. At long last, after difficult times, things are getting better and Billy's narrator feels as if he's on the path to better things, his enemies 'on the run' while he's 'walking in the sun' after years of rainclouds. Billy's best vocal on the album is joyous yet controlled and works particularly well with Dave's harmonies here - it's a shame this late-period line-up didn't use that blend of vocals more often - while the closing psychedelic Beatley harmony swirls are delightful, recalling 'Revolver'. This song also lacks variety though, with just two verses and a repeated chorus - it needs a few more to really get to the heart of this charming song, to learn a bit more about why things were so bad and how the narrator had once 'given up hope' of things working out. Still, the enthusiasm is infectious and this song's bright, carefree dance is exactly what this slightly sombre album needs.
'Candlelight' is a collaboration between Rod, Nigel and Dave and sung by the latter. This song is another one of loss and grief and struggling to keep going through hard times with the narrator feeling desperately alone and hoping for a 'candlelight' to be shining at home because he's growing afraid of the dark. The narrator is lost and everything and everybody he reaches out to for help spurns him or ends abruptly - even the radio programme he'd just tuned into on medium-wave (as a bit of 'history', this is the period when analogue stations were being 'switched off' and transferred to digital so people had to buy new radio sets - though as it happened Tyneside was one of the last regions to do so, as late as 2012). Though Denholm sings with the same low-key restraint as the rest of the album, the hint is that he's way past breaking point and past the end of his tether - he sleeps with a pistol under his pillow 'so I don't feel alone' and is haunted at night by all the bad things he's done, including 'clipping the wings of an angel' - presumably the character who might or might not be home waiting for him. The polar opposite of 'Coming Good', this song should have been titled 'Going Bad' as that's what it is, with an unusually dark and bitter feel for a Lindisfarne song (you can just imagine Jacka or Hully going 'cheer up man, have a pint and stop feeling so sorry for yourself!' by the song's end). It could well be that this a sequel to 'Unmarked Car' too, with the narrator 'looking in my rear view mirror', trying to break free of the demons that still follow him wherever he goes. Impressive in a dark and Dylanesque manner (check out Denholm's mouthorgan work), this song still feels out of keeping with the rest of the Lindisfarne discography somehow and even on Lindisfarne's saddest, soggiest album doesn't quite fit.
Rod's vocal debut on 'Freedom Square' finds the writer back doing his favourite activity of people-watching, perhaps set at the same place as 'Meet Me On The Corner' and 'Jubilee Corner' of previous songs. This time, though, Rod is back on the corner of memory lane, ere-experiencing moments from his past. We don't know how old he is but he sounds young - he's been a 'good boy' going to church (where Jesus taught him to 'be free', not stay indoors studying the Bible) even though he's secretly dreaming of the girl he fancies and wants to take her dancing, while later and at work he enjoys his sweet moments of freedom in the square at the weekend. The place has become synonymous with freedom for him now but this song isn't just personal but about all the changes that have been and gone for the much wider world. In the last verse a plantation of slaves walks through the square and 'every step' they take towards the end of their time there is a step closer towards freedom for everyone, because no one can be free while anyone is in chains. A sweet and humble 'unplugged' song, this is one of the better tracks on the album with Rod's earnest but understated vocal catching the ear alongside more Denholm harmonica, while this song also sounds much more like the 'old' Lindisfarne than anything else on this album despite featuring someone who'd never sang on one of their albums before and not much in the way of 'traditional' sounds.
Ian Thompson's only song for the group, 'Under The Promenade' shows that he had a strong grasp of the band's strengths (lyrics about overcoming adversity and twinkling mandolin-style guitar), perhaps more so than the 'oldie' members of the group in this period. Denholm sings this song about our 'hidden' darker side that comes 'out to play' every once in a while and how the narrator pretends it isn't there by indulging in it out of sight. A sequel, of sorts, to 'Devil Of The North', the narrator feels 'safe' when he's trapped under the promenade and out of sight, with his 'cell' feeling familiar. What he doesn't understand is why he feels such dark urges at all given that he's a naturally optimistic person, who knows his bread's not only buttered but 'filled with jam' while he's entrepreneurial enough to know that he has the capacity to get out of anything. He should be happy with the life he's got 'above ground' and yet there's something in his nature that keeps taking him back to the darkness and out of sight and he doesn't really know what that is. Interestingly the melody for this song focuses on the happy-go-lucky nature the narrator pretends to have rather than his dark and evil side, so much so that you might well have missed the real intentions of this song until studying it more closely - I know I did. Denholm's vocal too borders on condescending, as if the narrator is looking down on all the people around him who think he's 'nice' through and through and it's in great contrast to his usual warm-hearted vocals. An unusual track that sits uncomfortably in the middle of this album, like a dark shadow that no one quite wants to acknowledge and a brave stab at something different that's strong considering it's by a debut writer, even if it doesn't quite come off.
The Rod, Nigel and Billy collaboration 'Rock 'n' Roll Phone' is a true oddball. We said in our review of 'C'mon Everybody' that Lindisfarne were the last band that should have been doing rockabilly covers - they aren't that kind of a group at all with their biggest strengths being originality, invention and their unique way of seeing the world. Though they're great performers on their own songs, when covering other people's they struggle to compete with the drive, swing and guts you need to be a true covers band. That's the same for originals that might as well be covers like this one, with a limp plod of a rhythm section and weird lyrics about getting older and wanting to rock one last time. Presumably the narrator is calling his old bandmates up - perhaps, in fact, it's the phone-call Rod made to Billy about joining the band he oh so nearly joined twenty-five years earlier - but we don't hear that bit. Instead we get lines about getting nostalgic for younger days dancing the 'mashed potater' while feeling older and 'breathing so hard you need a respirator'. After that we get generic lines about rock being the best medicine and shaking off the blues. Unfortunately this song's self-mockery sounds all too believable as Lindisfarne struggle to cook up a sweat - to be honest even the original band struggled to play hard and loud a lot of the time so this new line-up, far more equipped for folk ballads, was always going to struggle. Only Billy's enthusiastic vocal and Rod's full-throttle slide guitar really hit their mark with everything else missing. 'Will that do?' quips Ray from his drumstool at the end - sadly no, it won't do at all, not by Lindisfarne standards anyways. Maybe the band should have gone for another take or called 999 instead?
Thankfully 'Unfinished Business' is much better, a strong and catchy Rod and Nigel song that remembers why Lindisfarne formed in the first place - spolier alert: it was to change the world and make it a better place - and wondering if that motto still applies. Rod figures that it does: the world is still such an unequal and unfair place and the poor and under-privileged still need the voice that Lindisfarne has always tried to bring them. The song starts with the narrator meeting an old friend he last saw about the same time that Lindisfarne started back in 1969 and realising how much has changed since then - and how much hasn't. 'Whatever we knew then, we ought to know it now' urges Billy on Rod's behalf, trying to spur both band and fans into believing in the old band spirit all over again. Though the narrator looks back on his old naiveté of being able to change the world with shock and horror, he still believes it deep down and knows that it's his 'job' to keep trying to make the world a better place. The last verse proves that things have all gone wrong: the narrator is old, he's made redundant from a job he never wanted any (he only took it to mark time) and wondering if they're hiring 'down at B and Q' (a general DIY chain store in Britain - apparently it stands for founders Block and Quayle which I never knew before even though they're everywhere; you learn something every day writing this site!) 'I got a silver handshake' Billy laughs darkly, 'how 'bout you?' Yeah, right, that's going to help after years of giving your life to a company - but some things are bigger than being just a job and the narrator vows to keep plugging away with his 'real' mission on earth to make it as good a place as he can. Some terrific guitarwork, with Rod's bass-like sour guitar bouncing off Denholm's bright and sunny, hopeful part, really helps the song come alive too being the perfect embodiment of what this song is about. One of the best songs on the album, this really should have been the single (in fact there never were any taken from this album as far as I can make out) - though scoring a big hit seems unlikely at this point in the band's history, if they could do it with any material then it's a song like this that returns to the band's working class roots from an older perspective and sounds like the old Lindisfarne to boot. First class.
Billy's wry chuckle 'Happy Birthday Dad' is also a pretty impressive song even if, as he himself admits, it doesn't really fit on this album. We see the song through the narrator's eyes and it's one of those where he hasn't got a clue what's happening but they clearly do and so we get choked up far more than he does. Billy's narrator doesn't recognise his children when they call to his nursing home to wish him 'happy birthday' and wonders why they're getting upset - I mean, he's having a nice day and he's only spending a little bit of time here before going home to his sweet young bride. What they know - and what he doesn't - is that she predeceased him and that he's 93, not 19 as he thinks, with all the mirrors in the room carefully hidden. Billy asks all these nice strangers to come round again next year when it's his birthday again, but they all fear that it might be his last and they bawl their heads off again, much to his confusion. I mean it's his birthday, probably his 19th, why are they getting so upset? And why do they keep calling him dad? A clever song that actually fits the alum better than its author might think given that 'Promenade' is an album about loss and hidden meanings and which just loves jumping around in time from ancient past to the future. Billy sings with just the right shade of confusion and hope in his voice, while the minor key of the song draws your ear to the underlying sadness of it all, even if that's coming from the re-actions of the character rather than the narrator himself. A very clever song that might just help the families of dementia patients.
Billy's other song the Fats Domino tribute 'Walking Back To Blueberry Hill' doesn't really fit though. Again Lindisfarne aren't a rockabilly covers kind of band, not that this Domino-quoting song is particularly in his style anyway. Billy saw Fats on TV and was hooked, becoming such a fan he took the day off work when 'Blueberry Hill' came out and went home to play it 'all day'. Up to the first verse the song works ok as a kind of reverential fan song, but it's the second half that gets confusing. Billy's walking home to be with a wife he knows is cheating on him and taking inspiration from his record collection. 'Ain't that a shame' the rest of Lindisfarne intone unconvincingly, while Billy decides to stick with her 'because it ain't over till the Fat Man sings', even though that's arguably not the theme of any Fat Domino records I know. Billy then admits that he hasn't exactly been true either, though he covers up his infidelity with a quip about 'a whole lotta things shakin' with Jerry Lee Lewis over on another turntable. Is this about being true to one artist then? Because with a 30 book series I have a lot of making up to do...Sadly though this song's heart is in the right place, it doesn't sound enough like Domino's true sound to come over as pure tribute (there's no piano for starters), while equally it sounds nothing like anything else Lindisfarne have ever done before. You wonder what Fats, who turned 74 the year this song was released and is still going strong at 88, made of this song or even if he's ever heard it. Perhaps it's best not to tell him actually - probably the album's 'other' weakest song.
'Significant Other' is a lot of fun though, with a much louder production than normal and some gorgeous shimmering Clements guitar to set the tone. Rod's wry vocal jokes at the modern trend for casual relationships, with a memorable opening verse about the narrator spotting Tom Cruise with a 'lady' at his side and asking 'hey is that your wife or your mother?' and getting the answer 'it's my significant other!' Rod riffs on Cruise's line about not being husband and wife by claiming 'folks like me, we're not like you!' and that their relationships are different. Rod throws in a verse about a shadowy junior minister up to something he shouldn't be and figures he needs a 'significant other' to come him out of trouble too. Figuring that who that significant other is should be none of our business, Rod takes the tabloids to task for always asking the question 'who was that you were with when you go down town?' figuring that the answer ;significant other' is the only answer anyone should ever have to give. Rod is clearly a music fan, quoting a whole spiel of pairings next including Neil Young's 'A Man Needs A Maid' and Richard and Linda Thompson's 'A Heart Needs A Home', before throwing in 'Peters and Lee' and the unique mix of 'Lenin and The Beatles'. The other references at the end some fans, especially foreign fans, might not get: 'Clark needed Lois' is Superman Clark Kent and Lois Lane while 'Janet needed John' refers to the childhood reading series for primary school pupils from the 1940s through to the 1960s (modern fans might like to think of Rosie and Jim, while those of us in between had Roger and his sodding Red Hat who never did anything interesting once, ever!) Performed with just the right mixture of genuine tribute to the person you need in your life more than anybody and a wry smile about how daft this song is, this recording doesn't sound much like anything Lindisfarne have ever done before either but that doesn't matter - it sounds great!
The band signed off the first time round with 'Tomorrow' - or at least the 'Mark II' line-up did in 1974. They sign off the second time round with 'Remember Tomorrow', although chances are this wasn't intentional (there were, after all, no members of that 1974 band still here in 2002). A song that does a pretty good job at summing up the album, if a little lightweight to sum up a whole career, this is a song that ties together several other threads left dangling across the album by asking not hear about the old days or worry about the future because the narrator is too busy trying to enjoy the present. 'Sure we've all got a history' Billy sings on Rod's behalf, but he's not interested in that or indeed his own - people can sing songs about him when he's gone as for now he's too busy trying to write some more. This refusal to look back seems a bit harsh - that's exactly what Lindisfarne have been doing the whole album long (that Fats Domino song of Billy's is guilty of exactly that tribute-while-alive Rod promises not to do here!) and if you can't look back to the past on what you figure might well be your final album, when can you? However there is one moment that is, at least, a true finale as Rod urges us to 'raise a glass to the past' as a 'nice place to visit' - which is surely the tribute the booze-swilling Lindisfarne always deserved - while reminding us not to imbibe too much because we'll still be here tomorrow with stuff to do. A sort of ending then and a sort of non-ending, it seemed that Lindisfarne were very much hedging their bets as this point in their career. The music, too, features many of the 'old' trappings for the first time on this album (mandolin, mouthorgan, harmonies) but uses them in a very different way, in a spiky and defensive setting while the Dylanesque timbre of this song is also quite new to a band who were more usually trying to sound like The Beatles.
Overall, then, 'Promenade' is a quirky album with some very strong songs on it that sounds ultimately like a 'stepping stone' album between the band's old' sound to a new one they were never around long enough to discover. You'd never include this album in the same bracket as some of their past masterpieces and even compared to 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' it's something of a disappointment, with far more filler tracks and an even bigger step away from what the band always represented and what they used to be. However both of these post-Hull albums remain unfairly and cruelly overlooked - no, you miss Hull and Jacka and Si greatly and the band never truly found anyone to replace them, while they never had quite long enough to settle into their new older, maturer, folkier style. However Rod remains one of the greatest songwriters of them all and by hearing his fine vocals at long last too 'Promenade' may well count as his greatest album in a personal sense. Billy and Dave get more to do than before too and are up to the task generally, even if neither seems to share the same spring in their step as on the previous LP. The result is an album that maybe only a fan could love (a lot do, looking on the forums and review sites), though general casual music fans might wander what all the fuss is about. If nothing else, though, 'Promenade' is often a brave way to bid goodbye with all those darker songs about loss and growing older (which were unthinkable in the era when Lindisfarne started) and songs about 'darker sides' and dementia, often going where no other album - even Lindisfarne albums - would dare tread. For that alone it deserves respect and far more sales than it actually got, even if Lindisfarne don't quite go out on the high that they and their loyal fanbase truly deserved.