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Tuesday 23 April 2024

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Singing A Song In The Morning Light – Alan Hull.

Mar 10, 2024

Of course we all know Alan Hull, Lindisfarne… all those classics, ‘Winter Song,’ ‘Run For Home,’ ‘Clear White Light,’ ‘Lady Eleanor,’ – fill in your Hull faves – as well as a solo career which produced equally effective comment and consideration, ‘One More Bottle Of Wine,’ ‘Mother Russia,’  ‘This Heart Of Mine.’ His early death in 1995 robbed us of one of the keenest observers and rooted musicians these islands ever produced. Alan Hull loved his tribe, his tribe loved him, that tribe was Geordie.  That he cared so much is shot through his writing from a personal, political, social point of view, he was once banned by the BBC for his single ‘Malvina’s Melody,’ typically he smiled, played the song even more and used the incident as a badge of honour. He almost stood for Parliament but the thought of being in London so much weighed heavily, though the mental picture conjured of him letting fly in the House Of Commons is a wonderful one to savour. Alan Hull was plain speaking saying what needed to be said and saying it like it was, both in his music and his opinion.

What you might not have heard much about was his career in the 60s when he graced the ranks of The Chosen Few a Tyneside beat group amongst their number Graham Bell, Colin Gibson and Mickey Gallagher, Hull wrote all four sides of their two singles on Pye. Such adventures came to nothing, Alan moving into the care system as a  student mental health nurse whilst still writing and playing folk clubs to keep his music alive. Quietly throughout the late 60s he was also recording demoes at a small local studio run by Dave Wood, an ex roadie for The Chosen Few. Over three years Hull recorded and recorded – the whole tale is told on ‘Taking Care Of Business’ by Lindisfarne from ‘Roll On Ruby,’ – the sessions long whispered about, here the genie comes out of the bottle with four CDs stacked full of songs, some of which you’ve certainly heard, some that transformed into new guise, others which you haven’t heard and some you might not want to hear too often. You takes the rough with the smooth and glimpse occasional diamonds.

In the main these are demoes which means A.H. with guitar or piano, just occasionally he’s backed by his mates from Skip Bifferty or the proto Lindisfarne, listed here as Brethren. If you’re used to the fuller sound then the acoustic tracks could be seen as representative of Hull’s folk club set where he’d turn up with a guitar and keyboard and entrance you for nigh on two hours unplugged – before the term was a musical genre. Whilst a few of these tracks have seen issue previously, mostly on local compilations or as bonus material on CD reissues, to all intents and purposes 95% is unheard. You could call this Alan Hull’s works in progress, there are hints at paths he might have taken, Alan as a dark psychmeister anyone? Cop a load of ‘Schizoid Revolution’ or ‘This We Shall Explore’ and you might just believe, after all ‘Clear White Light,’ has trippy overtones and there’s two versions here. Even the County Judge – with a wig hat on his head – sang ” we can swing together”  and  does so on the song of the same name. Other tracks that maybe familiar ‘Scarecrow Song,’ ‘Picture A Little Girl,’ ‘Dingly Dell,’ – another blissed out trip – ‘Just Another Sad Song,’ ‘You Put The Laff on Me’ which was retooled for Lindisfarne’s final vinyl in 1975 ‘Happy Daze.’

Hull seems at his most content when he’s singing about family, here his acerbic wit and sharper lyrics are laid aside in a celebration of what really matters in life, the simple pleasure of security and love. ‘Song For a Sleeping Princess’  ‘Picture A Little Girl,’ are obviously about his daughters, the latter particularly tender.  ‘Little Things,’ like smiles and happiness hold such importance. There is much advice on how to have a good time/pass your days, ‘We All Get Drunk,’ ‘Dream Your Life Away,’ ‘Wheel Of Fortune,’ “turn for me, light the dark so I can see” sometimes things are down to chance. His heroes Bob Dylan and John Lennon run through as a subtext but what emerges at the end is that Alan Hull was his own man and owed debts to none who went before.

For a long time the spotlight has ignored this fascinating individual but two and a half decades after he left us Alan Hull is at last getting a measure of respect and due credit. He knew what he had, where he was comfortable, who and what inspired him, he made conscience decisions to keep himself grounded, rooted. His tribe was Geordie and his music is a reflection of family, community, history and characters. Through that it could come from no other place. Melody and geography are synonymous. Those beginnings are captured here, a fascinating window on a time and creativity.

Simon Jones. 




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