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HADRIANíS UNION - In Your Own Time

HADRIANíS UNION - In Your Own Time
Fellside Recordings FECD254

Hadrian’s Union are a duo linked by two cities at each end of Hadrian’s Wall. Stew Simpson, the band’s singer, guitarist and lyricist, is a Newcastle man who studied in Carlisle and still lives nearby. Danny Hart, an elegant fiddle player, has been brought up in Carlisle and studies nearby. They benefited from the support of Carlisle Folk And Blues Club and have now been picked up by the redoubtable Cumbria-based Fellside label.

The dozen songs on this 49-minute album are massively memorable. My rogue brain cells won’t stop pressing replay. “This isn’t trad folk,” I tell them. “Can’t even stick a label on it.” “But it’s bloody good,” they answer back, “so shut up and listen again…and again… and again.” Credits are shared between Stew, Danny and Mike France on fretless bass, whose fine contribution adds depth to the band’s sound. But the songs are mostly a walk around Stew’s life. The exercise is worth taking as he wrestles bravely and imaginatively with questions familiar to many. How to be true to our creative spirit and realise our talents, despite self-doubt, money pressures, and the flattening effect of everyday life? How to make the best use of our time here, for our sake and for others? How to stand up for our rights? How to deal with love’s hurt? Stew’s lyrics are darkness and light: ambiguity is shot through with searing clarity, and the mood flips between melancholy and hope. He’s a stirring singer, too, with the soul and angry edge to do his words justice.

Which songs are getting most replays? Roots And Reason is a slow, spare song with typically sweet and thoughtful accompaniment from Danny (I’d have liked to hear him let fly with a set of tunes – maybe next time?). Guess I Wanted To Be James Dean has one of the album’s strongest tunes. Wandering Winnie is about a real person who compulsively walks Carlisle’s streets. Extra finishes the album on a light note, with a Caribbean-flavoured taste of Stew’s work as a film extra.

Last time I reviewed an album by James Findlay, a very traditional singer who is also with Fellside label. Hadrian’s Union are so different, but have welded their diverse influences into music which stands in the folk tradition and reflects our challenging times. They have earned their place in Fellside’s big tent.

Tony Hendry


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.