Recollections of the past and contemplations of the future. Prepare to be drawn into the thought-provoking world of Andrew Ferguson.
Release Date: 3rd November 2023
Label: Self Release
Edinburgh musician, poet and novelist Andrew Ferguson is a very busy guy. He kicked off his recording career with Final Days, his 2018 debut album, and his new album, Home at last, is his sixth. He’s also written and published a novel – The Wrong Box (2017) – and, as if all that wasn’t enough, he’s also released a string of singles, been a member of country punk band Isaac Brutal and been half of not one, but two, acoustic duos – Tribute To Venus Carmichael and Bethesda Boulevard. I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty full itinerary.
Home At Last is Andrew’s most recent addition to his siasa project – the acronym means Songs in a Scottish accent – and this time out, he’s using his needle time to delve into his past, to consider his present situation and to speculate what the future might hold. The album is split into two halves, with five tracks dedicated to experiences, memories and emotions from the past, and five tracks considering the present and the future.
Home at Last is a singular offering. Lo-fi in its production, Andrew plays electric and acoustic guitars, bass, lap steel, keyboards, harmonica and kantele (a kind of Baltic zither.) He’s helped out by Graham Crawford, who adds guitar and drums, Norman Lamont (not that one…) on synths and keyboards and Audrey Russell who contributes some wonderfully atmospheric backing vocals. But, more than anything, Home At Last is really about Andrew’s deep, intense lyrics, which he delivers with a gritty voice and the unmoderated Scottish accent that his siasa alter-ego has led us to expect. It’s not an easy listen, by any stretch of the imagination; Andrew’s voice can’t be described as “tuneful,” but such is the content and intensity of his lyrics and the sensitivity of his playing and production, that I found myself drawn deeply into the heart of these songs.
There’s something almost pastoral about opening track, 20 Fathoms In. A song that explores the impact of duplicity and double-dealing, it’s given life by Andrew’s extraordinary swirling electric guitar patterns and light-touch drums and electronic effects. It’s weird, yet strangely appealing, and it’s the perfect scene-setter for the album. Indeed, scene-setting is an important feature of Home at Last, and Andrew uses the sound of the sea crashing onto a pebble beach to emphasise the feeling of hopelessness, of inability to “swim against the tide,” that forms the subject matter of the contemplative No Matter Who. Andrew fingerpicks his acoustic guitar and Graham adds a light, pattering, persuasive, drumbeat as Andrew delivers lines like: “Tomb is empty, no-one knows where he has gone, You saw the darkness of the grave before the dawn. And, if he were alive today, he’d surely let us win, no matter who was the sinner.”
There’s a couple of mini-epics on Home At Last and the fascinating From Davy Jones’s Locker is, perhaps, my pick of the bunch. The Davy Jones in question isn’t the legendary resting place for drowned mariners, rather, it’s a reference to Beckenham Chameleon David Bowie and, particularly to his Ziggy Stardust persona. The song’s lyrics imagine a one-night-only return of Ziggy to the bars of Edinburgh, and the song is littered with Ziggy references – including silver boots, twelve-string guitars and “Time taking cigarettes…” Andrew strums his acoustic guitar as he sings and, in the process, captures a real Bowie vibe.
The folky Cathedral Spire falls more squarely into the classic singer/songwriter format. The lyrics are a reflection of liaisons past, and the sensitivity of the lyrics is emphasized by the way Andrew’s voice cracks as he searches for the high notes.
Along with From Davy Jones’s Locker, the 7-minute Daughters And Sons is Home At Last’s other ‘epic,’ and, perhaps, the centrepiece of the whole album. This time, Andrew contemplates his place in society, to a grand tune that’s strikingly similar to Donovan’s 1968 piece-de-resistance, Atlantis. Andrew’s lyrics are cryptic and personal – the climatic: “Yeah, let me tell you of this golden thread, and how you set course for the sun – all you country doctor’s daughters, all you small-town lawyers’ sons” – is an example, but it’s a rousing song, and Graham’s guitar solo gives it a real presence.
If Home at Last is ever released as a vinyl album, then it will be the warm, gentle, Forgive Yourself that opens side two. It’s here that Andrew moves on from considering the past and turns his attention to the present and the future. Andrew adds some nice, weepy, touches of lap steel to his acoustic guitar, whilst Audrey’s vocal harmonies provide extra warmth, as Andrew delivers strong lyrical messages like: “Some things come from within, sometimes you need a little help; but, before you ask anyone else, got to forgive yourself.”
The sound gets suddenly – and temporarily – richer for the bluesy, simmering Meet Me, as percussion, bass and harmonica add to the atmosphere, whilst Andrew imagines a meeting with his younger self to whom he dispenses life advice. It’s lonely and almost unsettling, but it’s a situation that many of us must have similarly imagined at some point. Next up, Andrew turns his attention to the subjects of truth and love for Hieroglyphic. At a time when truth in public life is an increasingly rare commodity, it’s interesting to hear Andrew make observations like: “Truth can be so hard to find, but it’s there, in the words, in between the lines” and “The one who writes the history wins the war.” On an album packed with intense lyricism, Hieroglyphic stands out, and Andrew’s lyrics are given extra prominence by the discrete guitar and light, shuffling drumbeat that place Andrew’s voice centre-stage.
The isolation of lockdown gets its turn for scrutiny in Graduation Day. It’s another intense one with the low-key instrumentation – Andrew’s electric guitar and a semi-detached drumbeat – forcing the listener to contrate on lyrics like: “I don’t bruise so easily, but I do surely bleed. This year’s gone so crazily, it was all so hard to read.” Background music it most assuredly isn’t.
Described as “Harrisonesque,” there’s definitely a touch of The Inner Light about the interestingly-titled Bread and Circuses, the track that winds up Andrew’s contemplations of past, present and future. The title is actually taken from the writings of Roman poet Juvenal, and it’s a reference to superficial appeasement, designed to generate public approval in government by providing diversion rather than good service. Sounds familiar? With a nice descending guitar figure as its central feature, it’s a song that provides an enjoyable conclusion to an album that is often challenging, never easy, but ultimately rewarding.
Except – Home at Last doesn’t quite conclude there. There’s a bonus track and, appropriately, given the overall mood of Home at Last, it’s a version of Leonard Cohen’s 1992 touchstone, Anthem. Given everything that Andrew Ferguson has presented on Home At Last, the parting shot of “There’s a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in,” seems somehow very fitting.