The Legends Of Tomorrow – The Weather At World’s End 1997-2022 : Album Review

Ulster renaissance man, Colin Harper unleashes his bourgeois fury and a whole lot more.

Release Date: 7th April 2023

Label: Talking Elephant

Format: CD

Funny old place, N’Orn. No really, and I don’t mean, necessarily, either ha ha or peculiar, but, irrespective of recent history, it really is another country. So who better than Colin Harper to delineate the peccadilloes and preposterousness of the province.

Who Colin Harper? Well, the chances you have read him more than read about him. It is more perhaps more as a writer he is known, with a worthy wedge of tomes behind him, on subjects as varied as John McLaughlin, Bert Jansch and Uillean Pipes, as well as having co-written, with Andy Powell, the tale of Wishbone Ash. If you are an aficionado of those big box sets that collate together the entirety of a musician or band’s output, you’ve probably read his essays; Horslips and Quintessence two such examples, amongst many, many more. (In fact, he’s quite worth the google). But he is also an angry man, railing and rallying against the perversities of the Assembly, that seldom sitting ‘government’ of the province. This has led to him teaming up with anyone and everyone on the NI musical circuit, a merry-go-round of punks, jazzers, bluesmen (and women), folk-rockers and you name it. Some of these songs reflect his rage, but more just reflect his love of a good melody and the joy of making music. This is his selection of his 25 years with a guitar, a conscience and a great set of pals.

Near impossible to cover in full; with 20 tracks and 16 different lead singers, the difficulty is what to leave out. And the first couple of songs, new ones, or revisions of almost new ones, cannot be they. Love Is All You Need is everything a song of that title should be, vibrant and sparkly US late ’60s guitar rock, with hints of Buffalo Springfield and Quicksilver Messenger Service, retro from start to the fade-out ending. Belfast rock gospel singer, Janet Henry takes the microphone and Alison O’Donnell, yes, that one, from Mellow Candle, beloved of folk-rock completists, is on back-up. Next up, for an elegiaic piano-led tune, Better Weather, reminiscent of enlightenment period Van, is up and coming chanteuse, Katie Spencer. Glorious voice, with marvellous flugelhorn alongside, care of Linley Hamilton. erstwhile Bush Turkey, Ali McKenzie, bassist here and for much of the album, plays some wonderfully graceful runs.

The next five all stem from Harper’s cassette-only debut, Nothing Is Easy. My Heart Is Broken is a busy amalgam of, largely folk-rock, if with Townshend-like powerchords and swirling organ, whereas When You Needed is one of those odd baroque constructions, popular in the pop charts of 30 years earlier, with faux strings and complex guitar picking, in both difficult time and tuning. Singing on both is by Helen McGurk, who takes lead also for Psalm 19, a raga-like musing on faith. Before that, however, is the country-ish Be The One, with Rick Monro on Bono-esque vocals, the song marred a little by some very of the day programmed drums, and Letting Go, a jaunty and propulsive rocker, featuring, through the wonders of additional 2023 remixing, mother and daughter vocals from Tiona McSherry and Miadhachlughain O’Donnell. Sister and niece, by the way, of exemplary uillean pipes maestro, John McSherry, last heard of in Irishtronica trad outfit, The Olllam.

We next get three songs from The Road To The West, actually attributed to Janet West & the Legends of Tomorrow, she being the main vocalist, and later becoming the Janet Henry featured on the opening track. Prime folk rock is the theme for Against The World, although the guitar and all over the shop drums, Liam Bradley, add a fair debt, again, to the Who. A gorgeous dobro solo, from Colin Henry adds a different lustre, taking it to a different level. The Fields Of July is then a piano ballad in the style of Sandy Denny, if, counter-intuitively, featuring a male voice, Conor Shields, ahead Brian Connor’s piano taking a jazzier turn. The lyrics show Harper beginning to display his dissatisfaction in due political process and Stormont. That Ali McKenzie bass is once more a joy, mixed high. The first ‘cover’ now appears, Ride, Ride, a song from Anne Briggs’ 1971 release, The Time Has Come. Previously unreleased, it is fair to say Briggs didn’t do it this way at all.

Billy Thorpe, the world-famous in Australia rock god, might seem an odd choice, but Harper, always a fan, chose to cover his southern hemisphere-only hit, Most People I Know Think I’m Crazy for a charity record in 2005. It is an amiable and upbeat song that, I’ll bet, is more to my ear than the original. It is a highlight, and, on checking my assertion out, I am right, the original being rather more of an acquired taste. When It’s Gone carries a hint of Simple Minds about it, courtesy Ciaran Gribben’s vocal, if allied to some rabid guitar riffage, recalling Jan Akkerman, at his rockiest. A curious amalgam, on repeated listens, it works. The spectre of The Who rears up again for Underachievement, if with better singing, Janet West/Henry again, with her strong and confident tone. The trumpet is, again, Hamilton and Ivan Muirhead adds a suitably vitriolic guitar solo. Talking of vitriol, catch the words of Underachievement, the most striking of this whole set. Sung by Susie Young, they consist a barbed riposte to the erstwhile boss who accused Harper of the same. Ouch!

Squirrel is actually about a squirrel and is an agreeable electric folk strum, enlivened, as ever, I’m guessing, by McKenzies bass, as the bass in uncredited. The guitar, however, is, coming from Andy Roberts, the Liverpool Scene, Grimms and Plainsong man. Alison O’Donnell crops up again for Aztec Energy, which, if you hadn’t twigged, is a paean to the aforementioned Billy Thorpe, his band having been the Aztecs. Remixed to add extra keyboards, it is an attractive song, complete with a wah-wah solo that wouldn’t disappoint Leslie West. In this strangely unchaotic blur of styles, Don’t Go To Nashville, as you might expect, is a, broadly, country tune, listing some of those who didn’t. Or need to. Great piano from Scott Flanigan, especially for the instrumental coda.

How many songs do you know about Northern Ireland Politicians? Well, here’s one, getting as close to punk as the mild-mannered, in appearance at least, Harper gets. Enrolling some giants of the Belfast punk scene, notably drummer, Petesy Burns and singer, Dave McLarnon. It’s fun. Albeit with a never more, or less, serious statement being made. Sticking with politics is the climate-conscious Greta Thunberg At The End Of Time, a piano, bass and, much better this time, programmed percussion. The vocals are appropriately as chilly the sentiment, provided by Wookalily’s Lyndsay Crothers, and it is another of the standout tracks. Finally, at long last, having heard only his guitar, acoustic and electric, largely rhythm, some lead, we get to hear Harper sing, for final track, Testament, which is how it feels, a lyrical testimony to his muse, and the struggle he has with it. A sweet and simple song, it feels the right place to close this resume, covering this part of his multi-faceted portfolio career. (I should add it doesn’t touch at all his largely instrumental prog-folk, of which Titanium Flag is the best known; a treat, perhaps, for another day.)

So, next time you sit down with your 10 CD retrospective set of some noteworthy legend; there is a Martin Carthy one in Harper’s pipeline, by the way, and you read the name, think back and remember he isn’t a bad musical commentator and communicator himself. Here, meantime, is the scarcely representative Northern Ireland Politicians. Enjoy!

Colin Harper online: Website (revamp on the way…) Facebook

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2 replies »

  1. Wow! If I didn’t already have a copy, Seuras, I’d buy one. 🙂 I do ‘do’ social media, though – Facebook. I plan a major website revamp soon, which is why the current one hasn’t been updated in a while. Finding the time, though…

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