Album Review

Various Artists – Separate Paths Together: An Anthology Of British Male Singer/Songwriters (1965-1975): Album Review

Separate Paths Together is an extensive reappraisal of all corners of the singer/songwriter genre.

Release Date:  30th July 2021

Label: Grapefruit (Cherry Red Records)

Formats: 3CD Boxset

It has to be said – when any of the labels in the Cherry Red stable take on a project, they go about it thoroughly, and with a great deal of imagination.  This latest compilation from Grapefruit is no exception to that rule. The 4-hours plus of material for Separate Paths Together has been assembled thoughtfully and comprehensively and packed onto three CDs – each with its own illustrated cover – accompanied by a wonderfully informative 40-page booklet, with an introductory note from Grapefruit Label Manager David Wells and loaded with photographs and notes on each of the contributing artists and their songs.  The caboodle is packaged delightfully in the, by now familiar, lush clamshell box.  As we’ve come to expect, it’s another beautiful package.

Separate Paths Together is the companion and follow-up to an earlier Grapefruit compilation: Milk Of The Tree, an anthology of the works of the female singer/songwriters of the late sixties/early seventies, and Grapefruit have taken much the same approach in choosing the material to be included.

Grapefruit’s first task in putting this compilation together was to ask the question: “What, actually, IS a singer/songwriter?”  The answer may seem obvious, until you think about it: surely, it’s a man, influenced by early Bob Dylan, who, with the aid of his guitar, bares his soul and innermost thoughts to an audience who are listening with varied levels of attention whilst they wait for something more exciting to happen?  Well, no – that’s not the case actually, as this collection so ably demonstrates.  Yes, the genre does encompass those who took Dylan or James Taylor as a model and who sing self-composed songs to an acoustic guitar accompaniment, but it also includes composers and performers of sophisticated, intelligent, melodic rock and pop, performers who take their inspiration from traditional music forms, those inspired by music hall and early 20th century styles, poets, psychedelicsists, jazzers and leftfield experimentalists.  And there are copious examples of each of those disparate sub-genres to be enjoyed: Separate Paths Together is, indeed, an appropriate title.

When you think about it, the term ‘singer/songwriter’ can be applied equally to such diverse talents as Donovan, Gerry Rafferty, Clifford T Ward, Peter Skellern, Kevin Coyne, Keith Christmas, Graham Gouldman, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Richard Thompson, Leo Sayer, Ray Dorset and Ralph McTell; Separate Paths Together is a celebration of that cohesion by diversity.  And what Separate Paths Together is also able to demonstrate is the rich seam of high-quality songwriting that was packed into the short, highly creative, ten-year period that the collection covers.

One thing I particularly like about this collection is that, whilst many of the artists’ names will be familiar, the material selected tends towards the deeper depths of each artists’ repertoire.  So, whilst there are plenty of hitmakers included in the lineup, there are relatively few well-known songs.  Gerry Rafferty is represented by the endearing Don’t Count Me Out, from his 1971 album, Can I Have My Money Back.  Instead of the ubiquitous Year Of The Cat, the Al Stewart contribution is the catchy You Should Have Listened to Al from 1969’s Love Chronicles.  By way of further examples, Leo Sayer’s input is The Bells of St.Mary’s; the review of Peter Skellern’s back catalogue ignores You’re a Lady in favour of the poppier I Don’t Know; from Jona Lewie we get 1975 flop single The Swan, and Streets of London is omitted in favour of the unsettling Daddy’s Here, a stunning, true, story of the break-up of the young Ralph McTell’s family.  Indeed, the only obvious (yet still welcome) selections in over 4 hours of music are John Martyn’s May You Never and Nothing Rhymed from Gilbert O’Sullivan.  Even when it comes to Peter Sarstedt, the selection is 1969 single Frozen Orange Juice, rather than its zillion-selling predecessor, Where Do You Go To My Lovely!

But don’t be misled – Separate Paths Together isn’t just a compilation of names familiar from the charts.  Refugees from the late sixties/early seventies alternative folk scene will be delighted by the inclusion of such gems as Richard Thompson’s Poor Ditching Boy – just one of the outstanding tracks on his 1972 debut solo album, Henry the Human Fly, Harvey Andrews’ heartrending Sweet Little Fat Girl, Ian A Anderson’s sad The Survivor and Michael Chapman’s timeless Postcards Of Scarborough.  Lovers of instrumental virtuosity will enjoy the inclusion of Bert Jansch’s Tell Me What Is True Love? And When I Leave Berlin from Wizz Jones, those with a taste for the leftfield can refamiliarize themselves with gems from the likes of Kevin Ayers, Kevin Coyne and Keith Christmas and those of a psychedelic leaning are catered for by Mike Heron’s Audrey, Family Man, a 1975 single from John Howard and, from former T Bones frontman, Gary Farr, Two Separate Paths Together, the song that inspired the title to this compilation.

And all of that’s just scratching the surface! There are 66 tracks spread over the three discs that constitute Separate Paths Together.  There are lots more familiar names, and, best of all, there’s lots for even the most ardent musicologists to discover – all under that huge singer/songwriter banner.

Separate Paths Together is a compilation to be treasured.  We all have periods in our lives when assurance and inspiration can be best taken from thoughtful, well-structured, lyric-rich music, and Separate Paths Together provides that kind of music by the bucketload.  This is a collection with almost limitless appeal!

Watch a video of Michael Chapman performing his classic Postcards Of Scarborough (with Martin Simpson and Steve Tilston) in 2012 below.

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