1. My Eldorado
2. The Lass Of Cockerton
3. From The Diary Of A Northumberland Miner
4. The Black Poplar
5. The Caver's Song
7. The Kipple Bat
9. Teacher From Persia
10. Your Welcome Was So Warm
11. The Fallen Of Fulstow
12. No Man's Land
13. The College
The Living Tradition
The album's title jumps out at you from the lyric of one of the strongest songs on show here: Teacher From Persia. Vin's line “The I.C.I creates a desert sky in synthetic hues”, is a really poetic way of not being on the back foot – as with a word like “smoggies” - when it comes to describing the pollution from heavy industry one finds at the mouth of the River Tees. Quite right too: I, like many, find this industrialised area quite beautiful in its way.
So if we are happy with the choice of title, the question that follows is, are we happy that there is nowt synthetic – i.e. artificial or contrived - about this collection of 13 songs which represents Vin's 16th album? And before I answer that question, I need to first tell you something unusual that happened just before I put the CD into my player for my first hearing.
I was casting my eye over the 13 titles, and spotted his setting of Rudyard Kipling's If. And I figured that before I played his new version, I would dig out his earlier vinyl version from 30 years ago, and first feast my ears on that...and see how they compared. And that was my undoing. Because I had not played them in years, and one vinyl album led to another – I have all of his LPs in my collection – and it was a full three days before I resurfaced. Thrilling stuff. And I remembered why I would sometimes drive a round trip of 300 miles, just to see the man in concert.
But I don't get around much these days, and it has been an unconscionable amount of time since I last saw him in live performance. So when I came to play this CD, I genuinely wondered if his extraordinary energy had been dimmed somewhat by his serious illness of a few years back, and his health problems in the past year. After all, I am someone born in the same year as Vin, and I am a shadow of what I used to be healthwise. So could it be that Vin too, had lost the vitality that was his hallmark?
Could it, heck! Just pressing PLAY on this fine CD, and I had an instant answer. This was not a 67 year old, surely? The voice and performance seemed as vibrant as ever.
Vin celebrates an unbelievable half-century of performing in folk clubs by releasing his sixteenth album. And it’s a cracker. The man’s in abundantly fine voice; distinctive to a fault and typically arresting, every song chosen and sung with absolute, unwavering conviction; I’d swear that this latest finds Vin in even greater command of the dynamics for which his delivery is renowned. Sure, his way with a song is as uncompromising as ever; you may not agree with all matters of tempo, attack or phrasing, but you can rest assured that it will always be delivered persuasively. This newly recorded batch of thirteen tracks (twelve songs and one snappy whistle tune) presents a generous handful of Garbutt live classics (including five of his own original compositions) along with a healthy selection from the cream of contemporary songwriters (mostly from his native Teesside). The latter include the late Graeme Miles’ My Eldorado (done affectingly in a lilting calypso rhythm), Bob Fortune’s beautifully romantic portrayal of Redcar’s evening scene (Teesbay), and John Wrightson’s anthemic reminiscence Diary Of A Northumberland Miner (arguably taken a touch too briskly). The war-themed The Fallen Of Fulstow, by North Lincolnshire’s Mark Addison and John Blanks, is aptly followed by a powerful and passionate account of Eric Bogle’s seminal No Man’s Land. Vin also treats us to a delectable, lightly-tripping slip-jig setting of Kipling’s famous homily If. The pick of Vin’s own songs here is probably the tenderly elegiac The Black Poplar (written in 1999), but The Caver’s Song and Your Welcome Was So Warm are equally well crafted, with simplicity of sentiment, while The College proves a suitably cathartic look back at Vin’s formative years.
The title Synthetic Hues may imply some artificiality, but instead its adoption of the full studio recording process enables the creative use of natural acoustic backdrops that set the seal on Vin’s oft-underrated guitar skills; here, the talents of Stewart Hardy, Becky Taylor, Dave O’Neill and Kristen Peacock are deployed to brilliant effect, while Anthony Robb’s production is sympathetic and faithful to the special nuances of Vin’s unique musical personality. The disc’s attractively packaged too. Welcome back, Vin!
Albion & Beyond
Vin Garbutt - the original Teesside Troubadour... yet another excellent release from one of the hardest working performers in the business. Comprising some choice selections from contemporary writers such as the late Graeme Miles and John Wrightson, a lovely setting of Rudyard Kipling's ‘If’, choice traditional pieces and of course his own outstanding compositions. Vin as ever addresses the difficult issues that life can produce, best exemplified by his song ‘Teacher From Persia’ documenting the real life experiences of an Iranian teacher and musician caught betwixt and between - exiled from his homeland and yet invisible in his new country.
Len Holton - Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
This is an album by one of our most enduring and popular performers and those who know and love Vin Garbutt will not be disappointed... Typical of Vin, he does not flinch from controversial or thought provoking issues... Not one song fails to have an effect upon the listener... Here is a true folk singer who has something to say and says it, singing in his own native accent... This album displays his impeccable choice of material. Vin Garbutt is one of the great folk artists of his generation and this is a fine example of his work.
The Bailey Beat
It’s been a pity that in the time he should have been out on the road promoting this new CD, Vin Garbutt was taken seriously ill and unable to gig. There are some cracking songs on this album – traditional rhymes, classic items, numbers written by lesser known songwriters and sterling stuff from Vin himself. There’s even a treatment of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ which spoke to me more powerfully in song than it ever did in poetry. Topically, Eric Bogle’s anti-war song ‘No Man’s Land’ features here – and includes the famous last verse controversially left out in the version made for the 2014 Poppy Appeal. Also on a First World War theme, John Blanks and Mark Addison’s ‘The Fallen Of Fulstow’ commemorates the ‘ten young men’ of that village who went off to fight, never to return.
Accompaniment by the guest musicians is effective, especially Dave O’Neill’s mandolin on ‘Your Welcome Was So Warm’, Vin’s tribute to those who have lodged the much-loved troubadour on his travels. In ‘Teacher From Persia’ Vin covers ground spanning rock ‘n’ roll in Iranian pre-revolution days through to the ‘synthetic hues’ created by ICI in Grangetown. Teesside and its environs are never far from Vin’s subject matter: he paints a vivid picture with Bob Fortune’s ‘Teesbay’ and pays tribute to Graeme Miles in his late mentor’s song ‘My Eldorado’.
"Thought provoking, barbed, witty and always, always sung with integrity."
If you are involved in folk music in any way there are certain names that sooner or later will always crop up and who seem to have been around as long as some of the traditional songs they sing. They have inspired, set standards, broken boundaries and most of all kept the music and tradition of folk alive for each successive generation they have walked through. There is Martin Simpson, Ralph McTell, Mike Harding, Martin Carthy, June Tabor, Joan Baez, Dave Swarbrick, Christy Moore and Andy Irvine to name but a few. One name that more than deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as such illustrious company is Vin Garbutt.