When he’s not taking the part of Cecil Sharp at the Folk Awards, Ashley Hutchings has a few other roles to play. In fact, if we’re talking strings to his bow, the arrow makers of olde England would be rubbing their hands with glee. From national institutions Fairport and Steeleye to The Albion Band and beyond in the guise of writer, producer, arranger, performer and broadcaster it’s no wonder Ashley Hutchings is known as the Guv’nor.
Constantly active in some form or other since the late sixties, his latest release, The Riot Of Spring And Other Historical Dramas, Large And Small, stands as an alternative to the more comprehensive 4 CD set Burning Bright but takes on a different slant in the common theme of the selection of songs therein.
Spanning the breadth of his career, the sixteen songs (plus the pivotal title track) all capture darker moments, battles, the demise of industry, unfulfilled dreams and the usual folk topics of murder and lost love. Of course, many of the incarnations of Ashley’s bands and collectives are represented, yet all seem to play a supporting role to the title track, itself inspired by a TV drama of the first ever performance of The Rite Of Spring in 1913.
An impressive and bold piece it sets the scene as an opening statement for the collection. Narrowing the album’s songs down to the darker theme works well yet still offers an impressive breadth of material which showcases Hutchings various collaborations. There are the songs which have to be there almost by default. There’s John Barleycorn which may take older listeners back to their primary school assembly halls and a slightly different take on Matty Groves; after the incomparable original, it offers a different perspective musically and makes light of the ominous story, wrapping it in a country bluegrass sound.
There’s an example of how Ashley started working with narration on the Albion Band’s Ivory Tower which is followed by another Albion contribution in the starkly simple yet stunningly effective I’m Going Away Love, the male and female vocal adding to the longing feel of the song. The Ridgeriders collaboration from the mid nineties also gets a look in, with the distinctive tones of Phil Beer, Chris While and other Albions presenting a snapshot of that very English project with the song Betteshanger Treasure, and add to that a traditional treasure covered by Steeleye on their And Now We Are Six album and many other folk influenced artists with The Trees They Do Grow High. A couple of live recordings are thrown into the mix too with Ill Omens and I’m A Poor Dressmaker where the tones of Nesreen Shah add much distinction.
If not a father figure of folk, then Ashley Hutchings stands as one of the genre’s favourite uncles. For a set of songs presenting a similar picture within a different frame, The Riot Of Spring And Other Historical Dramas, Large And Small is a package of sheer variety which in a nutshell does the Guv’nor justice.Mike Ainscoe
A collection of songs personally selected by Hutchings that span the breadth of his career, released on Talking Elephant, 29th September 2014.
1. The Riot Of Spring
2. Battle Of The Somme
3. Bonny Labouring Boy
4. I’m a Poor Dressmaker
5. Betteshanger Treasure
6. A Chromosome or Two
7. Ivory Tower
8. I’m Going Away, Love
9. The Day Came When The Doctor Called in the Relieving Officer
10. John Barleycorn
11. Matty Groves
12. The Trees They Do Grow High
13. Seven Strong Spires
14. Michael Morey’s Hump
15. The Party’s Over
16. Ill Omens
17. Two Thousand Years is a Very Long Time