Hull harks back
by Jerry Gilbert
from Let It Rock, July '73 - discovered by Michael Clayton

There was no justification for prolonging the life of Lindisfarne Mark One while it suppressed the primal scream of Alan Hull.

His first solo album Pipedream, released by Charisma this month, will undoubtedly provide the bulk of the Lindisfarne Mark Two repertoire, and the songs are charged with all the depth of feeling that got lost amid the problems of a young inexperienced Geordie band sampling their first tastes of London and the hardships it had to offer - sleeping in the back of the group van and so on.
That was back in late 1970 and early '71 and during a whirlwind six months Lindisfarne's career effectively began and ended. It began and ended with the album Nicely Out Of Tune and then came the red faced charade, living on the memories, searching frantically for unrecorded material lying dormant in Dave Wood's Impulse Studios in Newcastle. Songs from the heady years of 1967 when Alan Hull surrounded himself with all kinds of unlikely paradoxes, thriving on a totally schizophrenic existence, playing in rock bands and sneaking off to Wood's demo studios where he'd record his songs as fast as they appeared. The songs ran into hundreds and all but a few stood the test.

Condensed thus, the story looks like an exaggeration but on the Fog On The Tyne and Dingly Dell albums Lindisfarne relied almost entirely on old songs hoping that the stopgaps could shelter under a strong umbrella. They partially succeeded, of course, and a general tightening up and expansion in musical concept took place from raw, acoustic string band to a solid electric rock group with a little more room to breathe and lap up the open spaces. But the songs were no longer flowing from any of the band, and when Alan was ready to embark on his solo album (while the rest of the group attempted to pick up the pieces) he went back to Impulse to check out his old demos.

When I went round to dinner with Hully earlier this year and he'd got the album together in his head. He's brought a lot of demos back from Newcastle. They were the best songs from his most productive period of songwriting and he had no misgivings about recording things he'd written five years ago. In fact he'd never been so happy. He called up old Geordie friends Kenny Craddock, Colin Gibson, Johnny Turnbull, Ray Laidlaw and Ray Jackson but by this time the internal problems within Lindisfarne had sorted themselves out. The split was final and he was free to start afresh. While the splinter band featuring Ray Laidlaw, Rod Clements and Si Cowe wanted to recapture the spirit of their early days with Brethren, Hully was definitely looking back to his embryonic days also with The Chosen Few in Newcastle; and so the sessions at Trident swan around in a sea of nostalgia, sentiment and Guinness galore. Undoubtedly he would have liked that whole session team as a permanent band, and indeed Craddock wanted to join up, as did Ray Jackson after straddling the fence for sometime. Turnbull, I understand, was also asked (further evidence that The Chosen Few might have survived better without all the business implications caused by their launch as the blue eyed boys who had won Radio Luxembourg's Search of a Star or whatever it was called). But John Turnbull has travelled a good deal since then and he's currently got too much going for him in Glencoe to sacrifice the gig for any nostalgic reasons. By March the album was complete and although Alan was still no nearer to putting together a band, Pipedream contained a whole batch of new songs to complement the old. In the Trident studios Alan had recovered his creative zest and the album found a balance of Alan Hull 1967 and Alan Hull 1973 without it showing which tracks belonged to which period.

In his songs Alan has created a freedom in much the same way as Lennon where he can shout out his griefs. He writes only about the things to which he can relate and to which he can attribute basic values so we hear about his days on the road with a band. And he sings about booze and dope and sex and temptation. Then he has a bash at money and the aristocracy in a neat little cameo called 'Country Gentleman's Wife' when he blows his high moral upstanding in the final verse by giving himself to the good lady for the sake of food and unlimited booze. Throughout the album his phrasing and timing are perfect, the structures of the songs instantly memorable whilst Jacka's harmonica work gives some of them a fond nod backwards to the Lindisfarne ensemble sound. There's nothing complex about the music - there's some really rollicking teenage licks in places with dubbed chorus adding to the effect. But stripped of all the trimmings we see the soul of Alan Hull in a series of distinctive, emotive outpourings which reach their height with 'I Hate To See You Cry', a magnificent love song where his voice cracks and strains, and 'Blue Murder' where he calls on more expletives to pull out a dusky track on which Johnny Turnbull stars with some beautifully unobtrusive guitar work. 

My mind keeps returning to Lennon, for Alan makes no attempt to write beyond his working class environment and thrusts forward between the grooves of an even beat, labouring a point for as long as he cares to. It's all there: love, sadness, extreme sentiment; not simply by resorting to a minor key but by employing the use of different textures and flavours and paradoxes. Indeed one of the paciest numbers on the album is a track called 'Just Another Sad Song'; it doesn't really add up.

Then there's 'The Money Game' in which he cleverly fits the lyrics into a bastard metre: "I know your daddy is very wealthy and that he owns half the town in which my old man worked for half a crown an hour, five days a week, he was too tired in the night to speak about the things in his head". A splendid chorus and the faintest strains Jacka's mandolin are brought in to jerk a tear.

Pipedream has created Alan Hull, folk singer. Or maybe it's the other way round. But if you like your music firmly anchored on terra firma with the only punches pulled being the occasional extra terrestrial sorties into lyrical acrobatics, plus solid theme structures and room to breathe then this is the album for you.

In a sense it's a self-portrait: Who was too tired in the night to talk about the things in his head? Who's fooling who?