Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mick Softley "Sunrise" (UK Folk-Rock 1970)

There are a number of influential folk music artists active first in the 1960s who played a key role in the development of the genre but whose recorded output does not now receive the acclaim given to many others. Along with Mac McLeod, Mick Softley played such a role through his late 1950s period in Paris, his travels on the road and setting up the St Albans folk club which would attract artists like his friend Donovan, Bert Jansch and Maddy Prior. He released a sole acoustic album in 1965 as the folk boom was taking off but felt burned by the experience and went back on the road for a number of years. By the time Mick has been persuaded to record again (in part by Donovan) the sixties were drawing towards their close and Mick would record his first album to receive proper arrangements and production.

Working with the rhythm section of Fotheringay and their guitarist Jerry Donohue with Barry Clarke of UK folk-rock band Trees as the instrumentalists the resulting album "Sunrise" did well enough to support two further albums but did not achieve significant commercial success. However this was no reflection upon the album itself, which brings together the experience of the artist over the years and is his defining release.

It starts with the jaunty folk-pop of "Can You Hear Me Now" with strummed guitar, rolling piano and almost a country-gospel feeling. "Waterfall" has a simpler acoustic folk feeling that is similar to Owen Hand (or Nick Drake). The vocals are excellent, expert in their informal storyteller feeling but moving and emoting in a way that enhances the song. With "Eagle" things get particularly interesting on this Indian sitar-folk song with playful flute and pulsing hand percussion. It's a great track and draws from a similar place to his friend Donovan's "Peregrine" (with its companion bird title). Listening to the gently soaring vocals he sounds like a relaxed Tim Buckley around the same time when "Lorca" and "Blue Afternoon" were released. This sound is continued on the extended last song "Love Colours" which has a very innocent hippy feeling and blissfully intense sitar instrumentation.

"Julie Argoyne" is a breezy whimsical folk-pop song that is indebted to Donovan. When asked about this connection both artists would claim a mutual influence upon each other. Mick's desire to travel and not be tied down is explored on the acoustic songs "Caravan" and "On The Road Again" which use the observation shown by early Al Stewart but to highlight the gypsy life. He brings a sad quality to these songs and they sound particularly personal to him.

A further experimental quality is shown on "If You're Not Part of the Solution, you're part of the problem" with a jazzy touch, saxophone and Indian percussion reminding of a brighter version of the Nick Drake style. "Birdie Birdie" likewise has a simple folk structure and bright melodies that seems like a less introspective Nick Drake song.

"Ship" is an epic that starts acoustically as an exploration of the developments in travel from ship, to train (with harmonica effects) and ultimately to space travel and Jupiter being an interstellar gateway. As befits the increasingly strange lyrics the music moves from acoustic guitar and saxophone to wild psychedelic electric-guitar effects and space sounds. From a simple beginning this becomes one of the most out-there psychedelic-folk epics recorded in the later part. Barry Clarke's guitar is stunning, pulling out all kinds of sounds and soaring effects whilst a folk-rock backing adds depth as the lyrics talk of ‘falling back to earth’. A fantastic often overlooked classic of the psychedelic folk style.

The more psychedelic sound continues on "Time Machine", which has a strong folk-rock sound (not of course unlike Fortheringay being their players). This has haunting lead guitar, strange lyrics about time travel and a style that seems to merge folk with Grateful Dead like extended exploration on such as "Dark Star" and towards the end the kind of acoustic power-rock The Who were doing on Tommy. We even hear an early use of synthesisers on counter-melodies that actually works well. It’s another high quality, adventurous song in an album that incorporates a number of styles but is seemingly expert at them all.


Anonymous Bannermike said...

I have never heard Mick Softley but have been curious for years. Many thanks for this album - now, at last, I will get to hear him. Cheers.

11 September, 2006 07:14  
Blogger whiteray said...

Thanks--looking forward to hearing it!

11 September, 2006 11:30  
Anonymous Ronan said...

I CAN'T KEEP UP!! It's unbelievable how much great stuff you are posting. I's all excellent, but I'm really excited at finally getting the chance to hear this. I only know a few Mick Softley songs, but what I do know is fantastic.
I'm also very grateful for the Ithaca related albums, Waterfall, Eclection etc. etc....the list goes on....
Thank you so much.

11 September, 2006 21:49  
Anonymous Mr. Pinkwhistle said...

Thanks for the re-post on this Mick Softley, which I haven't succeeded in downloading yet but am really looking forward to....More than thanks are in order for all the marvellous music you are exposing to a wider audience. The amount of care and attention you give to the running of this blog is astonishing!

15 January, 2007 00:47  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your appreciation of Mick's songs is excellent.I still have the original vinyls and remember Mick from drinking at the Green Dragon in Flaunden where he would park the van sometimes. Following a conversation with him I went to the gypsey festival in St Marie de la Mer in 1973, one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life Nick Malicka Brittany

22 February, 2008 22:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long time waiting for this great record, and when i finally find it, it doesn't sounds well. What a shame. In any case thanks a lot.

25 June, 2008 09:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks very much, my vinyl is worn out. Never thought I'd hear it again. Thanks

15 September, 2008 08:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no link to download the album.

11 August, 2009 02:47  
Blogger Simon House said...

here are the link my friends:

04 March, 2011 06:22  

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