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Melonstone Records MLNR001

A few days before receiving this CD for review, a friend tipped me off about it. A friend who knows what I like. He had a hunch it would really register with me. And his hunch proved right.

This is apparently Stuart’s second album (get me the first, somebody!): I say “apparently” because his first Pennies For Gold (released Feb 2011) seemingly disappeared without trace. And I note that it contained mainly self-penned songs, as does this second album. And if they are the quality of the songs here, then they are surely worth a listen.

This guy is clearly a talent. As soon as the opening track is halfway through, one can see he has put down a marker. There is an integrity to this whole album: it just feels right from start to finish.

Half the tracks see Stuart on his own: just his vocals and/or his rather authoritative guitar (this shown to good effect on the one instrumental number). The remainder see accompaniment from Jack Burnaby on melodeon and harmonium, Phil Martin fiddle and viola, and Clayton Marks on additional guitar (presumably when Stuart moves to Appalachian Mountain dulcimer).

Nice stuff. But that is not to say that the album is an unqualified success. There is the occasional own goal, like Stuart’s decision to dig up that old favourite from the Tradition, The Factory Girl. Yes we all remember the splendid version from Alison McMorland and Peta Webb, but surely if ever a song needed real artistes like them to breathe life into it, then it is this one. If I never heard it again, it would be too soon!

But the songs from Mr Forester’s own pen are a different matter. None of them are duds, and several are rather impressive. The opener I referred to, recounts a night of lust in amongst the dodgems of a travelling fair in the London suburb of Mitcham, of all places: London seems to share equal billing with Hull as the geographic location for most of his narrative songs.

His characters tell their stories very well. In Star Of The West (probably the standout track), his 60-something narrator looks back on a life of booze and fighting and prison. And does so in a language that is at once, poetic, but at the same time, quite believable. One can still imagine it coming from such a seemingly unsuccessful man’s (probably coarse) mouth. Take this brilliant description of a chap’s tattoos that tell the story of his various relationships over a longish, non-monogamous life: “And these faded old pictures all over my skin/ remind me of people and places I’ve been”.

Pure class is that. Several other songs make an impact. Like his song Duke And Little Renie, which catalogues his imagined future life of a skinhead couple, who he fleetingly spotted, after driving past their wedding on the Old Kent Road.

As someone who once worked as a salesman on that very road, I have to say that he seems to have captured the very feel of the place. As indeed he has with his songs of Hull - I write as a resident of Grimsby, just across the water – though it should be said that no track catches the essence of Hull better than his version of Mike Waterson’s famous song Cold Coast Of Iceland. His slightly understated singing is shown to good effect here, and his thoughtful delivery of the words “And a cloud of despondency fell on the town” is worth a thousand requiem masses.

Maybe on his next album, Stuart will do Mike Waterson’s equally powerful song on the injustices done to the common man: Working Chap (What A Crime). I am sure he could help resurrect a scandalously under-recorded song.

But that is the future, and this is the “now”. And before he thinks in terms of a third album, he wants to ensure that this one sells. If there is any justice, it will.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.