Thursday, 15 March 2018

"Any Mother Doesn't Grumble" by MICK SOFTLEY (November 2016 Cherry Red/Morello Records CD Reissue - Alan Wilson Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Traveller's Song..."

Gorgeous at times - bit of a lost classic maybe – in fact why the Hell isn't this huge? Descriptive praiseworthy adjectives and so many questions...

Born to Irish parents, English Singer, renowned traveller and Folk-Club owner MICK SOFTLEY had already clocked up three albums by the time he'd gotten to July 1972's "Any Mother Doesn't Grumble" - his third and final LP for CBS Records in a 3-record UK deal. Not that Joe Public noticed. "Time Machine" and "Waterfall" from his September 1970 "Sunrise" album were aggressively promoted on two British CBS sampler albums of the period - the "Rock Buster" double set from 1970 (with Arnie flexing his torso on the cover) and "Together" - a single LP compilation from 1971 - but neither did little to improve sales.

In fact until November 2016 - this beautifully recorded/played obscurity has remained stubbornly off the digital Garden of Delights grass - a strange one in a world where Folk and Folk-Rock rarities are absolutely all the rage. And even with the enticement of having most of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay as his backing band combined with Barry de Souza and Lyn Dobson of Curved Air and Soft Machine fame also adding jazzy flourishes – the album is still 'only' listed at £40 in the 2018 Record Collector Rare Records Price Guide - a wee bit of a fiscal underestimation in my books.

At least this CD does a sweet job of reissuing his touch-a-nerve Folk and Folk Rock (also available as a Download from Cherry Red's website). Let's get to the lovely days, minstrel songs and stones on the sand...

UK released 11 November 2016 - "Any Mother Doesn't Grumble" by MICK SOFTLEY on Cherry Red/Morello Records MRLL 65 (Barcode 5013929896536) is a straightforward transfer of the 12-track 1972 album and plays out as follows (41:18 minutes):

1. The Song That I Sing [Side 1]
2. Hello Little Flower
3. Sing While You Can
4. The Minstrel Song
5. Magdalene's Song
6. Traveller's Song
7. From The Land Of The Crab
8. Lady Willow [Side 2]
9. Great Lady Of Cathay
10. If Wishes Were Horses
11. Have You Ever Really Seen The Stars
12. I'm So Confused
Tracks 1 to 12 are his 4th studio album "Any Mother Doesn't Grumble" - released September 1972 in the UK on CBS Records S 64841 (no US release). Produced by TONY COX - it didn't chart.

MICK SOFTLEY - Acoustic Guitar and Lead Vocals
JERRY DONAHUE - Electric and Acoustic Guitars
TONY COX - Keyboards
LYN DOBSON - Soprano Sax, Tenor Sax, Flute and Harmonica
GERRY CONWAY - Drums and Percussion
BARRY de SOUZA - Percussion

The 8-page inlay features the LP's original single-sleeve artwork (front and rear) but unfortunately doesn't think to reprint the unreadable lyrics. Still in its place are superb liner notes from CRAIG BRACKENRIDGE that give a potted-history of his wildly diverse musical career and subsequent 'travelling' life (he now lives in Northern Ireland and turns up at Folk Fairs there). ALAN WILSON has done the transfers and it sounds just wonderful - very clean but still with air around it. "...Doesn't Grumble" was a nicely produced album and featured quality musicians and that shows up in this transfer on every track. 

So why is the album undervalued? The first two LPs he did for CBS Records moved away from the purist Folk of his debut LP "Songs For Swingin' Survivors" on Columbia Records in August 1965. The initial pairing of his CBS trilogy - "Sunrise" from September 1970 and "Street Singer" from September 1971 - introduced cool instrumentation like the Tabla and Tantric Chanting - a magnet for collectors and lovers of Acid-tinged Folk. But CBS Records N. 3 "Any Mother Doesn't Grumble" contains only mild flourishes of that - the second half of the brilliant Side 1 opener "The Song I Sing" where Lyn Dobson gets to rip on Flute and Sax. Mostly the rest of the album softens it down - it's pretty - and on songs like "Sing While You Can" and the seven minutes of acoustic hurt in "Have You Ever Really Seen The Stars" - the vibe feels almost naked and raw. Band numbers like "I'm So Confused" and the piano-led "Traveller's Song" feel like Roy Harper being philosophical or Dylan pining in an English pub (Lyn Dobson on Harmonica).

Something called "Hello Little Flower" could of course elicit howls of Jail-That-Hippy - but his delivery is delicate - a very Donavan simplicity as he smiles at nature's garden wonders. Again with the softly-softly on "Sing While You Can" - a lone acoustic guitar and a quivering voice joined by Dobson's complimentary flute - giving the soft melody a Seventies loveliness. Blacksmiths, forges and mills get an airing in the very Ian Anderson acoustic ditty "The Minstrel Song" - gorgeous Audio too. The one and half minute "Magdalene's Song" is full of working girls, spewing factories and empty pews in churches - eventually ending up in some grotty bar with needles in arms. CBS actually tried the ridin' high acoustic "Lady Willow" with the jaunty "From The Land Of The Crab" on its B-side as a UK 45 in July 1972 - but the Promo 7" single for CBS S 8269 didn't get much feedback (looks like stock copies were never pressed). "Great Wall Of Cathay" is almost "Lady Willow" Volume 2 - Confucius knowing why they built it. "if Wishes Were Horses" is probably the most 'Folk-Rock with other stuff going on' song - Softley singing about spaceships as Dobson flits between Flute and Saxophones on a soloing spree.

"Any Mother Doesn't Grumble" isn't an out-and-out 10-star masterpiece - but a re-listen in March 2018 (46 years after the event) confirms for me that someone somewhere along the yearly time-line missed out on a serious trick here. Fans will have to own it and for the genre-curious - there's enough Folk and Folk Rock loveliness on this sweet-sounding reissue to warrant interest and even intense affection.

And well done once more to Cherry Red (and their Morello Records) for getting this lost flower out into the public domain at last. 

"Have You Ever Really Seen The Stars?" - Softley asked back in 1972. 
Well Mick, I'm looking and listening now and that's for damn sure...

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