Monday, 2 October 2017
Lindisfarne “Amigos” (1989)
One World/Everything Changes/Working For The Man/Roll On That Day/You’re The One/Wish You Were Here/Do It Like This/Any Way The Wind Blows/Strange Affair/When The Night Comes Down/Don’t Say Goodnight/Another World
‘Change has got to come and I say roll on that day!’
By 1989 Lindisfarne were celebrating their twentieth anniversary. This is rather against the odds: the band that split up three years and a trio of records into their career hating each other’s guts had somehow found a way to add another four ‘proper’ records to that tally and were on their way to becoming a Geordie institution, passing The Animals’ and Dire Straits’ output to become the Newscastle band with the longest discography in rock and roll. You can afford the band a bit of a self-indulgent grin on this album, with its overly pally photographs on the front and the triumphant title suggesting the band are best friends and always have been. Alas, ‘Amigos’ was released by a band who were already far from the best of friends. Of the six members of Lindisfarne pictured smiling on this sleeve, half of them will be gone after just one more record – and while Alan Hull couldn’t help the heart attack that killed him in 1995, behind the scenes founding members Ray Jackson and Si Cowe are already getting rather fed-up. Hailed on release as a major success story that rekindled the Lindisfarne spirit and returned the band to somewhere approaching their best, hearing this album a further twenty-eight years on reveals it to be a bit of a deception all round: that isn’t a true period late 1960s sound on this album but a 1980s version of it complete with twinkly synths and saxophones just not quite as off-putting as before and the band aren’t really best buddies - they’re just putting their differences aside to make themselves seem like an institution in one last desperate hope of getting a record. Despite some very positive reviews and an album that appealed even to non-fans in the way the last few hadn’t, the price was ultimately just too high. Jacka quit more or less on release, Si found his songs rejected and another hopeful record deal, this time with Black Crow Records, never quite flew. ‘Amigos’ is an album that, for all it’s pally and matey feel, is for my ears a hard album to love.
Which is not to say that it’s terrible. Lindisfarne are definitely closer to their ‘real essence’ than they were chasing the synth-heavy pop on ‘Dance Your Life Away’ or the retro campness of ‘C’mon Everybody’. They sound, at times, like the band they used to be with a few returns to agitating political commentary (on album highlight ‘Working For The Man’, which finally answers the question ‘what would a Rod Clements-Alan Hull collaboration sound like?’ with the answer ‘heavy!’), breezy pop singles (Alan and Marty’s ‘Everything Changes’) and there’s more use of mandolin and harmonies than on any album since ‘Dingly Dell’. The band really should have kept with their working title ‘Keepin’ The Beacon Burning’ (used as a subtitle when the pictures came out looking like ‘Amigos’) because that’s much closer to the spirit and heart of what this album is all about: raging against age and finding new ways to do the same things all over again. On those terms this is perhaps the nest album since the glorious ‘Sleepless Nights’ a full seven years before with a band who are proud of who they are, sure of where they’re going and coming to terms with the fact that they aren’t young and trendy anymore. But hard as the band try to sound like their old selves (and as great a Lindisfarne tribute act as they are on this album), they’ve only remembered half their raison d’aitre and fail to engage with much of their heritage.
As horrific as much of ‘Dance Your Life Away’ was, at least it had ambition, which was as much a part of the Lindisfarne tradition as mandolins, harmonies and – erm – breathing. With Lindisfarne’s own short-lived record company ‘Lindisfarne Music Productions’ having come to a premature end, it feels as if the band are a little too desperate to please here, a little too keen to appeal to all the fans they’d scared away with songs about Reagan, missiles, drinking and spirituality. On this album Lindisfarne want to appear as your best mates, their arms round each other or in hideous trendy sportswear on the back cover, rather than agitprop commentators at the end tail-end of the Cold War. Rather than depress us by holding up a mirror to the horrors of life as per every previous Lindisfarne album of new material, this one feels like an extension of their ‘party’ album, here as poppy escapism and singalong lighter songs. Pretty as everything here sounds, it’s also a bit hollow underneath the surface and rather less substantial to get your teeth into. No wonder every reviewer who’d forgotten about Lindisfarne hailed it as a ‘return to success’ – it sounds exactly the way Lindisfarne had always almost sounded but never quite had in terms of icing, but there’s none of the multi-tiered cakes of old here. Personally I’d rather have this band, so raw and so spirited, sounding nicely out of tune than auto-tuned.
But maybe that’s just me. I’ve noticed that my rather less Lindisfawning relatives and friends all like this album. Heck, so much one of my university flatmates loves this record she bought her own copy and she hated everything else I ever played (admittedly much of it was the Who played loud to counteract the hideous dance music being played throughout the night upstairs). It’s a safe cosy, pretty little album and there’s much to be said for an album big on melody and pop fluff. Compared to contemporary pop releases you can see why it was so popular because it sounds like everything else around at the time (something Lindisfarne had never done before really) yet with this band’s distinctive sweet ‘n’ sour sound. Every track sounds like something else: ‘One World’ sounds like Band Aid, ‘Everything Changes’ is a Geordie Proclaimers, ‘Roll On That Day’ is any decent pop act, ‘Wish You Were Here’ is Clannad with a Celtic feel from the ‘other’ end of the British Isles, ‘Do It Like This’ is Shakin’ Stevens, ‘Any Way The Wind Blows’ is a Dire Straits number if ever I heard one and ‘Don’t Say Goodnight’ is as close to a Merseybeat song as major Lennon fan Alan Hull ever came. Lindisfarne sound just enough like other people, while staying just true enough to their principles to make this a popular record with people who thought this band had gone a bit ‘weird’ since the similarly ‘please let me please you!’ purr of ‘Back and Fourth’. This album wears it’s commercial head with some pride, eager to make Lindisfarne an institution in the charts again and it’s not this album’s fault that the band never quite capitalised on that, with just too much water under the bridge for the public to really take to this album, signing with a record label that didn’t have the commercial clout of the old days (though it was as ‘local’ as could be, with Black Crow based in Sunderland, just down the road from Newscastle-Upon-Tyne) or that the band was itself going to implode in the most awful way when Alan Hull died of a heart attack a few years later, aged only fifty.
What ‘Amigos’ lacks, though, is any of the bite or integrity of yesteryear and there’s little ambition here other than selling records. There’s not one reference to politics across this album - a rarity for a band who once took on the law, town planners, The Falklands, Raegan’s missiles and who once promised to ‘bake [the Government’s] head in Gingerbread and eat them one by one!’ Instead this album’s ‘theme’ seems to be crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, a theme that crops up especially in ‘One World’ (the most hopeful and upbeat song Alan Hull ever wrote) and Rod and Marty’s singalong number ‘Roll On That Day’. Some fans have wondered if Lindisfarne were merely re-acting to the fact that the Berlin Wall had fallen, that the Cold War had blown over and that mankind’s future seemed more certain suddenly. But no: this album was mostly written in 1988 when the Cold War was still distinctly frosty and recorded in ‘Spring and Summer 1989’ according to the sleevenotes and the wall didn’t come down till November that year (personally I didn’t believe the Cold War was over until the next year when the Kremlin opened its first McDonalds – then I knew for sure it was over!) Also, this album doesn’t ‘feel’ like a happy album unless you’re paying close attention to the lyrics which aren’t printed in the CD booklet anywhere anyway (unusual for 1989): it’s not full of joy and exuberance and happiness, the way that ‘Clear White Light’ is in a deeper, spiritual sense and ‘Fog On The Tyne’ is in a sillier, more playful sense. Instead it really does sound like an album crossing it’s fingers and hoping for the best, but sure that it will be proved wrong – again.
I would like this album more if it wasn’t trying so hard to be so ‘matey’ too, at just the point when Lindisfarne were suffering their biggest crisis since the big split of 1972. I mean just look at the inner booklet where the band are hamming it up like some male version of The Spice Girls, complete with their own personas, which oddly enough are all out of character with who they really are: Rod is clearly ‘Loony Spice’, as the normally straightforward and humble bass player puts on a Homburg Hat and puts on a silly walk for the camera. Si Cowe, the most eccentric member of a truly eccentric band, looks smart and proper, wearing a sad grin as he stands still, his barely-touched guitar draped round his shoulders. Hully is leaping in the air with his cool shades on, like some young wannabe rather than one of his generations’ deepest thinking poets. Ray Laidlaw is showing off muscles he never had in his gym kit as the band’s ‘Mr Sensible’ shakes his maracas like Mick Jagger on a hot-tin roof. Only Jacka and Marty look their usual ‘selves’, with Ray holding out an album to hug an imaginary someone while grooving with a tambourine and Marty is giving it all with his saxophones and long hair in one of the most 1980s pictures I’ve ever seen. Notably the band don’t appear altogether anywhere, but in ones or threes: are they really amigos nowadays or just musicians who met in the canteen? Worryingly, despite this being their twentieth anniversary, evidence suggests the latter.
Though even the excellent ‘Fog On The Tyne – The History Of Lindisfarne’ book tries to downplay it, Lindisfarne was not a happy ship in 1989 as the band split up at least partly over the new direction the group were steering into. Ray Jackson had re-located to London: not that far in international terms but far enough from the all-Geordie band arrangement to make him feel an ‘outsider’. His mother-in-law was deathly poorly and his family needed him – but while his eye was off the ball he was horrified at what the others had been up to in his absence: signing with the ‘party hits!’ label Stylus for the ‘C’mon Everybody’ rock and roll medleys album in 1987 and making this album with the demand that the ‘commercial’ end of Lindisfarne had to be up high and the ‘creative’ element down low. Jacka also had his nose put out of joint when saxophone player Marty Cragg began taking more and more of the lead vocals on songs intended for Jacka: naturally so given that their singer couldn’t make rehearsals, but a slap in the face for Lindisfarne’s founding member who had stayed loyal to the band through thick and thin so far. Jacka also had a ‘day job’ doing advertisements, a gig that paid far more than Lindisfarne ever did and kept him busy in London – if the rest of the band didn’t seem to value him, why was he even still with them? Alas Jacka’s loss soon after these album sessions (the first time any of the band had left in eleven years’ worth of reunion records) will be a major blow and Lindisfarne will never sound quite the same again. As small a part as he plays on this record, Jacka’s vocals are all the best moments here too: he’s the only band who isn’t audibly grinning through his tracks, as he growls his way through ‘Working For The Man’ and laments better days on ‘Anyway The Wind Blows’, easily the two best songs on this album. Si, too, is suffering a crisis of confidence. After a quiet period in the mid-1980s he moves to a new house with a large pond and finds himself inspired by being around water, coming up with a string of songs that return him to the playfulness of the ‘Jack The Lad’ days and adds a quirky sound back to a band who badly need it. Unfortunately the rest of the band make it clear that this is to be a commercial LP and as middle as the road they come – poor Si’s contributions get booted out and his guitarwork gets watered down for this album too.
That’s two of Lindisfarne’s four creative voices silences across this record, which is not a good sign. Alas Alan Hull also chooses this album to creatively go to sleep. ‘Freed’ of the need to write deep political songs, Hully is just having fun across this album, writing more love songs than he’d ever written in his life and coming up with merely his ‘half’ of the Clements collaboration ‘Working For The Man’ that sounds at all like his usual style (political, angry and often sarcastic). There aren’t even any ‘party’ drunk songs to savour on this album: instead we get utopia, love, love again, retro dancing and a tearful ballad. The ‘strangest’ Hull song on the album by far is the moody ‘Strange Affair’, but alas even this tale of love going wrong is buried underneath an oompah beat and a very 1980s pop setting. Rod Clements fares better, making the most of the extra space to stretch himself, but even then it sounds as if he’s working from the idea that Lindisfarne are nothing more than a ‘pop’ band. ‘When The Night Comes Down’ and ‘Roll On That Day’ are the most straightforward and commercial of all his songs for the band down the years and only ‘Anyway The Wind Blows’ even vaguely approaches old classics.
That would matter less if this production was warm and vibrant. Alas it isn’t. Again it’s odd that Lindisfarne choose this album to emphasise just how friendly they now are with each other on the album that sounds more than ever before as if Lindisfarne are recording their parts separately. As it happens, this album was made all-together where possible, with just a few twinkly synth parts (by this album’s producer Steve Daggett on his second album for the band) and Jacka’s contributions added later occasionally. But it doesn’t sound like it: that big rich Lindisfarne sound that may have been ramshackle on occasion but was always exciting sounds bland and lifeless, as if the band are playing down the end of a wind tunnel, surrounded by way too much fog on the Tyne for comfort. The harmonies never quite blend together the way they used to, as if they’ve been pieced together later. Ray Laidlaw’s drums boom in a tinny late 1980s way, making him sound more robot than rebel as he usually does. There’s virtually no bass audible at all across this record. Si is lucky to get a guitar part on here at all and for the most part answers what everyone is doing with a smile on their face with a grumpy growl. The dominant sounds are synths and saxophone: perfectly acceptable as colour on other Lindisfarne albums, but here they’re the main course for much of the album. The only songs that really break up this mode are the acoustic ‘Everything Changes’ (which still slaps a horrid 1980s sound slapped over the top of everything) and the closing ‘Another World’ which is a bit of a cheat: it’s an instrumental repeat of the opening track with some horrid cod-panpipes blowing all the way through it.
All of the above makes me sound like some old codger moaning. While that is undoubtedly true, it’s not as if I hate ‘Amigos’ either. There’s too much that goes right here to truly hate or laugh at this album. Had this record come out with any other band’s name on the label I would have quite liked it, given that 1989 isn’t the world’s greatest year for music. At least Lindisfarne don’t fall into the traps of many of their contemporaries: there’s no rap or hip-hop section, no desperate bid to sound younger than the band are and at least Lindisfarne have shaken off the excessive synths that marred their last album. This album makes for some very lovely background music and has some pretty melodies hidden away in here, just waiting to be rediscovered (alas none of these songs stayed in the live setlist long enough for me to hear them, but I bet they all sounded much better played by a real band together on stage and with less excessive noise running through them). This album isn’t terrible, merely average. But Lindisfarne should be more than mere background noise and they weren’t an average band at all. Thankfully much will be put right for next record ‘Does Elvis Live On The Moon?’ which puts back much of the mystery and politics back into the band’s sound (alas too late for Jacka to stay, but you can’t have everything). Combine the two and you might have the best Lindisfarne album in years. Instead this album feels like a missed opportunity to start afresh by reminding the world just how creative, hungry and talented Lindisfarne always were, rather than what good listenable pop merchants dressed in sports clothes they could be.
At the time of release ‘One World’ was greeted as a grown-up and impressively contemporary re-action to modern-day living. Many fans compared Alan Hull’s passionate plea for tolerance and equality to ‘Imagine’ and revelled in the fact that one of our most ‘real’ and troubled writers was promising us a better tomorrow, in great contrast to his usual gloomy take on the world and it’s leaders. Upon release in the Autumn, just a few short months before the fall of the Berlin Wall it seemed prescient: this really was a better world and we had reason to be hopeful. Alas, hearing it from today’s perspective of terrorism and a different form of pop music this track doesn’t have quite the same impact that it would have done at the time for while this song’s heart is in the right place, its synths aren’t. To most modern ears it’s uncomfortably 1980s, with booming drums and a solo played on what sounds like a digital watch uprooting this song’s attempt at timelessness. The lyrics also seem oddly contrived by Hull’s standards, as if he was sat down and asked to keep a lid on ‘the political stuff’ and that if he had to write about the outside world to make it hopeful and happy. Hull just isn’t that good at happy and he’d already written his customary one upbeat and positive song of the decade (the previous album’s ‘Shine On’) and while this song has a much more memorable melody, with big open chords and a big singalong chorus, it lacks even that’s songs sense of beauty. Alan’s vocal sounds forced and in the wrong key (was it written for Jacka to sing?) while the lack of anything that Lindisfarny for once on this album (it’s all synths, pianos and fake synth chords) make it a bit of a drag to sit through. The problem, though, is surely more to do with arrangement and performance than composition. Alas, Hully never re-worked this track for his low-key solo performances where I suspect it would have sounded rather good as a humble passionate outpouring from the heart rather than a too obvious attempt to give this album a hit single. There are some classic Hull lines buried in this song after all: the opening invocation to the listener to ‘take you by the hand’, with the added hint that Hull is reaching out for his newly born grand-daughter Roxanne’s and wishing her a happier future than he ever had. Hull sighs that she was born into a too obviously ‘broken world’ but in what almost sounds like an AAA ‘greatest hits’ urges her ‘don’t give up – the tide is on the turn’ Roger Waters style and wishing that those in charge, ‘the men in grey… keep away’ Ray Davies style. Alas, though, the chorus which keeps cycling round the song isn’t quite as inspired and the ‘one land, one sea, one world will be’ line at the heart of this song sounds both unfinished and oddly short on syllables for a writer of Hull’s calibre. There’s a good track in here somewhere, but it perhaps tries just a little bit too hard to be an outright ‘classic’.
The poppy ‘Everything Changes’ should have been the single instead, an upbeat commercial number caught right on the cusp between the 1980s’ last love for retro 1950s numbers and a snappy Merseybeat feel more akin to the 1990s. Fittingly for a song split between two decades, it’s a song about change which started off life when Marty was doing a bit of eavesdropping in the band’s local and overheard the barmaid commenting to a friend that she knew her boyfriend didn’t really love her because his eyes didn’t ‘change’ the way they do when you’re in love, when ‘everything about you changes’. Hull was becoming good friends with Craggs and had given him the loose invitation to come round and write some songs the next time he had an idea to work on – Hull happened to be at the other end of the bar when Marty came over and whispered his idea for the song in his ear. ‘My house – tomorrow!’ Hull roared in reply and the pair came up with a fun, silly song that’s unusually straightforward and sweet by Lindisfarne standards. Clearly Marty wrote the poppy hook, which is a signature of his work, where the narrator’s voice, smile, face, heart and even his ‘day’ changes because he’s in love and walking on air and it’s one of the best things the sax player ever wrote. Hull clearly filled in the verses which are much more social – he fleshes out the character to be a cog in a ‘wheel’, throwing himself into life’s great ‘masterplan’ and figuring that he’s always going to be stuck there, ‘carrying the weight that’s hanging on you’. However, suddenly, true love changes his way of seeing the world and it’s not quite so heavy or oppressive anymore. Clearly equating this song with his now twenty-three year marriage to wife Pat, Hully makes the comment here that his life changed for the better after meeting her and that he went from feeling oppressed to being free. It’s a lovely last love song to her, with Marty’s pop nugget of a chorus at the heart of it all catchy too. Alas, like a lot of this album, the recording lets the song down. There’s nothing wrong with Hull’s strummed guitar and bouncy lead vocal which is delightfully bouncy and cute, but the loudest thing in the mix oddly enough is Rod’s snarled bass work that rather undercuts the song’s sweetness, while the synths and ‘fake’ drumming rather overpower a second that would have been better off sounding simple. As good as Alan and Marty are as collaborators, too, their voices really aren’t a natural fit in the harmony stakes. Still this is definitely one of the better album moments and Lindisfarne missed a trick not making this catchy song the lead single from the album.
The best track, though, is the long-awaited lone collaboration between Rod and Alan in Lindisfarne’s long history ‘Working For The Man’. The pair had always meant to write together but were very much ‘loner’ creators, unused to working with other people at this point in their careers. The idea for the song was Rod’s, who asked Alan to come up with a middle eight he was stuck with – oddly enough, though, the end result sounded much more like a full Hull composition than a Clements one. Written about the influx of immigrants to England’s shores, this song (thankfully) takes the opposite view of many contemporary songs and pities the worker, conned into travelling to a distant shore away from their family and ‘breaking my back till I could hardly stand’. The song is written like a warning to other employees from other lands by a band who always held their union cards with pride: beware as ‘The Man’ doesn’t are who he breaks if he gets the job done and he will do it to you too’. The poor beleaguered worker sounds like he’s working for a chain gang, with a wonderful off-beat rattled percussion part that sounds just like an axe hitting a rock and a heavy Ray Laidlaw drum part (on proper drums at last) that’s relentless. Si fits in a terrific snarled guitar part too, growling just out of reach of ‘the man’ and waiting for a chance to seek revenge. Rod offers up some fascinating lyrics about the need to keep going and pushing your body past it’s limit, which is where the album’s original title ‘keeping the beacons burning’ comes from, so apt for the band in their twentieth anniversary year. However it’s Hull’s middle eight that sticks in the memory most, a Beatley chord progression that ‘works against’ the majority of the song by forcing it’s way upwards, against the tide. ‘Working for the man you know exactly where you stand’ Jacka sighs on his colleagues’ behalf, ‘last in line and working for the man’. Jacka’s aggressive huff-puff of a double-tracked vocal that’s almost yelled is his last great moment with the band, while Marty’s dark and dirty saxophone part is impressively manoeuvred to fit the rest of the song better than normal. Ironically, by working to their real strengths and ignoring the commercial dictates of the rest of the album Lindisfarne come up with one of their best songs about ‘working for the man’ by ignoring the ‘man’!
Rod was intrigued with a saxophone-lick that Marty kept playing during soundchecks, which became more and more elaborate with every performance. ‘Bung that down on tape for me’ he asked the sax player, who forgot all about it until their next meeting when the bass player sheepishly handed him a demo of the finished song ‘Roll On That Day’. Another oddly upbeat and utopian Lindisfarne moment, this song promises that ‘change must come’ and rallies the troops into becoming a gospel-tinged number full of hand-clapping and massed vocal harmonies. The stabbing piano chords, aggressively pushing for change and a catchy chorus make it a more memorable take on the same theme than ‘One World’, but again this rather feels like the song that got away and which desperately needs a remix. This song should feel as positive and bouncy and happy as any song in the AA canon. Instead it falls horribly flat, as if it’s take seventy-three and everyone is just waiting for home-time to roll on instead. That might partly because this song wasn’t intending for Marty to sing – Jacka should have been doing it but couldn’t make the session, something which happened a lot on the making of this album. Marty was only meant to be ‘filling in’ and on those terms his throaty roar is a pretty good substitute, but it lacks the power a Jacka lead would have brought the song. The song’s arrangement also feels as if it’s been structured just so, as to be familiar to anyone whose ever heard a charity single: the handclaps, the sax solo, the key change, the gospel harmonies going ‘ooh’, even the faux soul shouting near the end – you can predict every twist and turn of this song long before it happens. The result falls a little flat, but again I say roll on that day we get a remix when this simple and sweet little song might sound infinitely better.
‘You’re The One’ is Alan Hull going back to re-writing The Beatles, with a mandolin solo just like the one Jacka played on ‘Maggie May’ (credited on the sleeve as ‘the guy who does that sort of thing from Lindisfarne only I can’t remember his name’ by a foggy Rod Stewart) thrown in for good measure (oddly enough Rod gets credit for ‘mandolin’ too though only one is featured: is this a cover-up for the fact that Jacka wasn’t here at this session either?) Like much of ‘Amigos’ it’s a happy-go-lucky song about finding your way again, which is nice as far as it goes but misses out on the meat of Hull’s darker and angrier songs. This just feels too much like other songs we’ve heard before: the narrator was lost but now he’s found, he feels glad that you’re around…no actually that’s a song by fellow AA star Justin Hayward, but it could just as easily have been from this song. The guitar twirl, meanwhile, is a dead ringer fro George Harrison’s ‘My Dark Sweet Lady’ of 1979 and as a passionate Beatlemaniac Alan probably knew that. And when Alan Hull, one of the world’s most original writers, sounds like other people you know something has gone wrong. Another oddly flat-footed performance, with drums out-banging everything else here, doesn’t help this song either where Jacka’s mandolin part – the last ever to grace a Lindisfarne album, shockingly – is the only thing to really catch the ear. That’s a shame because, yet again, there is a sweet song in here somewhere, another love song (of sorts) to wife Pat. After a live that’s best described as ‘turbulent’, that’s seen ‘peace’ and war’ and found the narrator lost walking down ‘endless corridors’, his love ‘mends’ him and brings him the stability he craves in his life. Alas this song’s central message seems to be a little bit like ‘thank goodness you’re so boring!’ which isn’t the most romantic thing Hully ever wrote! There is, at least, a great second verse – sadly hard to hear in this recording – where Alan sums up his life in Lindisfarne to date in a typically clever and witty way: ‘I’ve pulled some strokes, I’ve cracked some jokes and I’ve spent some years with boozy blokes!’ Alas, it’s a little bit too late to rescue a song which, by his high standards, is a little bit anonymous.
‘Wish You Were Here’ is the one album song that tries to do something different to usual and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on previous darker albums. Once again Hull’s narrator is longing for someone to bring stability to life, but this song is written from a much darker place. The narrator is alone, out on the road, reading the paper full of endless ‘craziness’ and ‘crying into my beer’. Only one thing can put his mind right and that’s a call back home to his loved one where it’s safe and everything is as it should be. This prompts Hull to call out his postcard cry that he wishes she was with him, to the accompaniment of Rod’s slide guitar (a sound that will dominate the final period of Lindisfarne recordings) that makes him sound like he’s trapped in Hawaii. This performance is stronger than most on this album and really makes a so-so song come alive: Hull sings the lead like he means it and there is one last chance to hear just how good Jacka’s harmony goes with his voice, ironing out the kinks and softening the blow as in the days of old without diluting the passion. Alas, though, this song needs an extra something to keep our interest and goes a bit odd in places: like a ghost, Hull tells us that he’s been trying to ‘walk through walls’ to visit his loved one but that it doesn’t work!
‘Amigos’ needs a bit more life to it about now and Hull obliged with his best song on the album, daft and simple as it is. ‘Do It Like This’ is another of this album’s throwback moments, a far more 1950s sounding rock and roll song than the genuine ones the band had been recording a couple of years earlier on ‘C’mon Everybody’. Part autobiography, part fiction, this song features a young couple out of work with lots of children struggling to date and then make ends meet across a long period, ‘each day deeper in debt’, that sounds much like the early Hull marriage. ‘Never thought I would be a teenage bride’ sighs Hully, perhaps confusing his gender, wondering how he got into this situation before telling us how it happened: all his girl had to do was ask him and he’s so head over heels in love he’d do anything. Hully has great fun in this song, contrasting his beautiful bride with a risqué curl ‘on her borderline’ (pubic hair?) with his married wife of several decades whose ‘nag nag all the time!’ – at least until night falls and she beckons him to bed, Hull breaking off for the song to see to his conjugal rights while the rest of Lindisfarne nudge and wink behind him! Lindisfarne are clearly having great fun on another of the album’s best recordings, highlighted by a silly ‘do it do it do it’ chorus, a ‘lalalalala’ backing and a grungy Hull piano backing. Hull’s vocal is a delight as he barks and blusters his way around the song, caught between comedy and tragedy on the one hand and attraction and revulsion on the other. Mostly, though, this song is triumphant: the couple have had their problems and don’t always see eye-to-eye but they’ve proved their detractors who said this teenage couple should never be together ‘wrong’. This is, of course, one of Lindisfarne’s silliest numbers and can’t compare to the very best or deepest work, but this is at least third only to ‘Fog On The Tyne’ and ‘I Must Stop Going To Parties’ as the band’s cutest flimsiest song. The music video is particularly good, with a Jacka-less Lindisfarne shuffling dance-steps to this track and Hull leaping up in the air to do his Beatley ‘wooohs!’
The final album highlight is Jacka’s final vocal for the band on Rod’s sad and lonely song ‘Any Way The Wind Blows’. In a way it’s the opposite of ‘Working For The Man’ as this narrator is a British worker forced to work abroad to feed his children thanks to Thatcher’s politics and a recession that closed the mine where he used to work. This hard worker sees himself as a ‘victim of the times’, unsure and unstable in his career as he slogs it out in an un-named foreign land, dreaming of being reuniting with his family and whom ‘society rejects – I don’t know where I’m headed for or where I’ll end up next!’ Jacka gets angry as he imagines a cold and desolate future with only a ‘box to keep me warm’, while a smart and sparky chorus bounces him from pillar to post, a bouncy but unpredictable chorus line literally pushing him around. For the most part this song is laidback and reflective rather than crusading with anger, but the sudden surge of panic in the chorus (‘Which way to choose? Which way to go?’) really catches the ear and in great Clements tradition this is a brilliantly rounded and believable song. The result is the sort of song nobody ever did better than Lindisfarne (except maybe The Kinks or CSNY): sticking up for the people who have nothing and giving them a voice. Jacka is perfect for this character-driven song and the Hull-Cowe harmonies behind him are delightful, one last great burst of undiluted Lindisfarne tradition on an album that doesn’t feature enough of that.
The curio ‘Strange Affair’, a co-write between Hull and band friend Jimmy Barrett, sounds like a medley of two already heard album songs, with the oddly Hawaiian distant sound of ‘Wish You Were Here’ combined with the lyrics of ‘Everything Changes’ in a darker mood. We don’t know why the pair wrote this song about a liar who can never speak the truth and who looks ‘strange’ in her ‘eyes’, but I’m willing to guess that this might be another diatribe against Thatcher. Certainly she’s a girl who seems to have been brought up in an entirely different world to the narrator, walking a ‘crooked mile’ with a ‘crooked walk’ and a ‘crooked smile’ and dressing up in elegant garb to impress the narrator that she’s ‘the one’. Hull tries to listen to what she has to say but soon realises that she has ‘no voice’ and hopes that one day ‘the book will be read’ with the truth of what really happened, while imaging her as a ‘frightened little girl…at the end’ (actually Thatcher has another eighteen months to go from the point when this song would have been recorded and didn’t look wobbly in power, at least not quite yet. Then again, as a former MP candidate himself, maybe Hull had insider contacts mere mortals didn’t have?) However there’s a curious switch at the end where Hull admits that he still has feelings, it’s just that his doubts make him see this mysterious woman as ‘less of a lover, more of a friend’. There’s also the chorus that keeps repeating itself over and over: why is this a ‘strange affair, strange affair, strange strange affair’? Surely after ten years in power this relationship was more of a lasting marriage of convenience than an ‘affair’? This song is impressively different and brave, the sort of thing we’ve been moaning at the rest of the album for not doing, but alas it could have done with some of ‘Amigos’ catchy choruses and straightforward commercial charms as it all sounds separate and distant to us and lacks the hook we need to really get into this song. A strange song all round, especially recorded like this with Hull’s vocal oddly tame and low-key and hard to hear in the mix, dominated by another Clements slide-guitar part.
‘When The Night Comes Down’ is Rod’s most straightforward track on the album, a big booming pop number with a terrific Cowe guitar growl and a Marty vocal that makes it sound more contemporary than most tracks on this album. Alas, though, for straightforward you could also read ‘boring’, as this oom-pah song doesn’t really go anywhere. Sounding oddly like the 1980s Searchers, this song features some heavy relentless drumming and a strummed guitar part as well as a strident pop vocal. The lyric pleads with a lover to stay for the end of the day instead of going home and has a tacked-on chorus that doesn’t really fit, even though the verses sound rather good. The lyrics are odd: the narrator compares their night so far to an ‘ocean’ (in what way? Full of tides, obsession-filled water, or seagulls? We never learn) and urges his lover to look out for the light from his ‘doorway’, suggesting the pair must live ridiculously close together. The narrator’s pleas that he has the ‘money’ for a girl to stay over against her will is a little odd too: is he really pleading with a prostitute to keep him company? Though very 1960s in sound, this song is very 1980s in outlook and doesn’t sound anything like any previous Lindisfarne track. Which is a good thing, really, as this song never quite connects even if Marty deserves extra plaudits for his strong and sturdy lead and Si does too for his growling lustful guitar howls, so at odds with the rest of this song’s distinct ‘prettiness’. Surely Si’s own planned contributions for the record couldn’t possibly weirder than this, though?!
‘Don’t Say Goodnight’ is the simplest Hull song on the record, a track that sounds deeply out of place on this album but would have been par for the course in 1964. My guess is that Lennon-maniac Hull had been stuck for enough songs to fill out this album (especially is Si’s songs were abandoned at the last minute and Jacka decided to keep his songs for himself) and turned to The Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ for inspiration. Alas copying isn’t the same as inspiration and this song’s simple chord structure and groove is at odds with another sister song pleading for a girl not to go home. Hull’s lyrics are stronger than Clements’, not because they ‘re better written but because this song successfully straddles the bigger idea that this might be the world saying goodnight at the end of the Cold War, urging the powers-that-be to give everyone a ‘second chance’ to ‘not let the evening end’. Hull may have written this song in honour of the ‘doomsday clock’, which was designed by atomic scientists in 1947 to show how close they thought the world was to atomic war (‘midnight’). In 1984 the clock had moved to 23:57 and stayed there until the end of 1989 (when the Berlin Wall collapse set the clock back to 23:43, the furthest back it’s ever been to date – we’re currently at 23:58 at the time of writing, but that figure is without Trump and Kim Jong-Un threatening to blow us to kingdom come again). This song pleads with the world that it’s wrong, that mankind still has a long way to go and that it’s ‘only half-past three!’ This song is a little too sleepy to make that point work as well as it should though and Hull’s messy vocal can’t convey even the little emotion he’s written for himself here, though, alas.
‘Amigos’ ends with ‘Another World’, an unnecessary repeat of the albun’s opening track played on tacky Northumbrian pipes (a sort of cross between bagpipes and panpipes) by guest artist Kathryn Tickell. Though born in Walsall, she was something of a Geordie local celebrity after winning the gig of ‘Official Piper To The Lord Mayor Of Newcastle’, a post that no one else had held since 1840! Like LIndisfarne in this era, she was signed to Black Crow Records and interested in promoting local bands. No one knows who suggested the crossover but you can kind of see where Lindisfarne were going with this instrumental: what more Lindisfarne thing was there to do than make a decidedly ‘localised’ version of their international plea for peace? You can imagine the band’s grandiose plans to get every region of the world to record their own versions with local musicians (this track would have sounded good on sitar!) Alas, though, once again the style of this album lets the song down. Tickell’s parts sound far more irritating and ‘fake’ than they do on her own Tickell Band album (no not a group of Mr Men Musicians despite what that sounds like!), while her playing is drowned out by a particularly wretched Marty saxophone solo. It’s also a little bit odd that out of all of Lindisfarne the only musician playing for certain on this album finale is Ray Laidlaw and their new sax player, with most of the rest of the work done by Steve Daggett on some more irritating synths. A nice ideas which doesn’t quite work.
To be fair, you could say that about a lot of ‘Amigos’. There are some cracking ideas for songs on this album and occasionally some of them really connect too: ‘Do It Like This’ is Lindisfarne’s funniest song in years, ‘Everything Changes’ one of their sweetest and Rod’s twin pairing of ‘Working For The Man’ and ‘Anyway The Wind Blows’ (which would have worked really well as an import/export medley) are some of their saddest. Some of the other songs show promise too, either in idea or lyric or chorus. Somehow, though, nothing quite comes together across this album, with every track flawed in some way or another. Even the best songs are hampered by indifferent performances and of-their-time arrangements that mean this album is never quite giving as good as it could. Hully sounds slightly down on power compared to usual and hard as Rod and Marty try they’re not quite up to filling the gap he’s left them. This is an album that’s easy to admire, in parts, but is hard to love or really get your teeth into the way you could with past Lindisfarne albums, the need to work for ‘the man’ and to sell records taking precedent over Lindisfarne’s usual quirky character traits. Unlike ‘Dance Your Life Away’, though, which was flawed nearly all the way through, all this album needs is a bit of love, care and a remix to take away the 1980s excesses that are drizzled all the way through. Oh and a band who are pulling together as best friends and ‘amigos’, the way they pretend to be on the sleeve. Alas, the loss of Jack during this album and the loss of Si during the next one will really take away much of this great band’s distinctive sound and leave them in disarray, though at least on ‘Elvis Lives On The Moon’ they will get back much of the ambition and drive curiously missing from this rather lifeless CD. Amigos, then, might never be your best friend, but it has its moments and like everything else Lindisfarne did post-1978 is badly under-rated and deserving of re-appraisal, if not quite as much as some of their other albums.
You can now buy 'Gettin' In Tune - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of...The Who' in e-book form by clicking here!
"The Who Sings My Generation"
(Brunswick/Track Records, December 1965)
Out In The Street/I Don't Mind/The Good's Gone/La La La Lies/Much Too Much/My Generation//The Kids Are Alright/Please Please Please/It's Not True/The Ox/A Legal Matter/Instant Party (Circles)
"It's a legal matter from now on!"