PETE DAVIES - Long Way Home
Pete Davies is someone who will need no introduction to the Folk cognoscenti in the North East of England, for although a native of Bolsover in Derbyshire, we think of him primarily as an honorary Teessider, having long ago made Middlesbrough his base.
And this new album is aimed at making him better known nationwide, and is much needed at that, for a vox pop I have just done of fourteen Folk aficionados in Lincolnshire and South Wales, saw only two who knew who Pete was...and then only vaguely.
And will this CD succeed in helping him make the breakthrough?
Well, before I tell you what I thought, let me just say that I was initially not sure I was the right fit for this review.
Oh, the fact that I am not a paid-up-member of his fan club, was not a problem: one senses straight away that Pete is the sort of fellow who will have no truck with puff jobs and reviewers blowing smoke up his proverbial. He’s a very intelligent guy who knows in his bones that such slavishly adulatory reviews are worthless.
No, I had come across Pete’s work and I had appreciated it, but never felt that it had “spoken” to me. And that had made me a reluctant reviewer at first: if I could not say positive things, what would be the point of me reviewing it?
Two things finally swayed me. First, was the fact that the CD is on Vin Garbutt’s Home Roots Music label. That immediately told me something. It told me that Pete was no doubt a deal better than I thought, because Vin Garbutt takes no prisoners when it comes to sentiment: immediately one knew that an artiste had to “cut the mustard” if he was to get on Vin’s label. And quite right too.
And the second thing was this: maybe Pete was a Folk version of an Anton Bruckner. Fame was going to come late. It could be that Long Way Home was one of those CDs that come around once every blue moon. I might be missing a masterpiece.
So I said yes to the offer of a review copy. And on the whole, I am glad I did.
Right, preamble over. Down to the business of a critique. The first thing that strikes you is Pete’s fine tenor voice. Now, how to describe it, for those new to his name? Well, not as ethereal as a Johnny Coppin... but close. A cross between a Billy Mitchell and an Eddie Walker, would however be closer.
He is surrounded by some quality musicians assembled by producer Chris Johnson, himself no slouch here on keyboards. I was particularly struck by the inspired lead guitar work of Bri Dales on the five of the eleven tracks where he appears. I found myself hoping that he’d appear on all eleven. Not that Pete is particularly lacking in his own guitar work: he is very capable. But Bri Dales really speaks to one’s soul with his sublime guitar breaks...that’s the difference.
Pete however, aims at getting through to your inner core with his words. And boy, what well crafted words they are! So nice to see lyrics that scan and rhyme and make sense.
The self-penned opening number, It’s A Long Way Home, does what all opening numbers of any CD should do: it puts down an impressive marker. It kinda tells you, there is some seriously good stuff to follow. Pete’s band are immediately making an impact, and telling you that you have done the right thing in putting this album into your CD player!
And the (also all self-penned) ten tracks that follow the opener, mostly do not disappoint, although in truth, they do not quite run to the heights of that opening song: it is a clear standout track. The other songs are from the heart, and easy on the ear. The melodies are fine enough, though in truth, writing this a day after my third listening to the CD, I cannot whistle any of them.
And, I would not cry many tears if I never again heard his slightly tedious, simplistic, agitprop anthem, Don’t Come Back Here On Monday. That said, I will now seemingly contradict myself, by saying that I can sing every note of that...so strike the word “any” in the last sentence of my last paragraph!
So, to begin to sum up. Let me say that it is an album with a lot going for it, and Pete has his heart in the right place. That said, there were occasions when I felt he did not get inside his own words as a singer: for instance his song Rusted has lyrics that see him broken down and busted: and this last word, busted, reminds me that these lyrics are every bit as passionate as the famous Ray Charles number of that name, but Pete sings this song Rusted like he is at a vicarage tea party. And there were occasions when his melodies slightly jarred: that is to say that they did not quite fit the lyrics. The best example being track 2, Fat Cats, a song about the crazy disparities of wealth in our society, and where the singer says he is on the breadline...yet sings all this to a jaunty melody. If this was intentional, then it was clearly too subtle a point for me! And talking of subtle points, we come to his liner notes. Where do I even begin here?
I am sure that John Williams and Pete had the best of intentions with the photography, artwork and sleeve design. But alas, the liner booklet has to go down as a brave attempt ...but one that fails.
It fails not because all the photos of Pete are cropped so as to show him only from the chest down. I sort of “get” that. I guess that these photos are representative of a theme running through most of the eleven songs: the depersonalisation of society. Places could be anywhere; as he says “Nostalgia is not what it all used to be/There’s an image of life that you no longer see”; and heartless bosses see only numbers on a balance sheet (not human beings working for them). And so, what better way of showing this depersonalisation, than to take the head off the travelling troubadour in each of the liner photos?
No, such artfulness is not a problem. I am not sure it worked on me, but hey, I salute anyone who tries to make his liner notes have an impact.
But if that is your aim, why fill those notes as Pete did, with just song lyrics? What a waste! I mean to say, a big chance was missed here. Pete should have taken a leaf out of Vin’s book (or should that be not “book”, but the liner notes in Vin’s latest CD?!). Did Vin print song lyrics? Yes, of course he did. But he also seized the moment to tell us about the creative process behind every song. That is invaluable stuff for both the casual listener and the serious reviewer.
And lyrics are wasted on us here with Pete, since his diction is superb. One was never in doubt what words were being sung by him. The space could have been better used with him explaining the gestation period of each song.
But having decided on the cop-out of just printing lyrics rather than telling us why every song turned out as it did, Pete and his art director decide to print the words over the pictures! And in white letters...which are fine on a dark background, but seriously headache-inducing on pale blue or white sections of the pictures, as here.
Guess what? They have never beaten black on a plain white background. It is no coincidence that newspapers the world over, follow this tried and trusted formula.
So next time Pete, tell us why you wrote each song, and tell us in black on white! Till then, thanks for letting me review your album. There was much to admire there.