Who is he? Who is Boo Hewerdine?
Well, I suppose for simplicity you could call him a folk-pop singer/songwriter. Not that anything is simple, is it. More of that later.
He first surfaced in 1983 in the Cambridge-based group The Great Divide; two years later, he founded cult favorites The Bible, releasing a pair of acclaimed albums (‘Walking the Ghost Back Home’ and ‘Eureka’). That’s where I first came across him, though didn’t realise it at the time. They even had a minor hit single with ‘Honey Be Good’ before the group disbanded in 1988. From there, Hewerdine teamed with Texas performer Darden Smith for a well thought of album in 1989 (‘Evidence’). His actual solo recording debut, however, was in 1992 (‘Ignorance’). Then came a brief reformation of The Bible. Solo recording returned in 1996 with ‘Baptist Hospital’ which was my second time of connection with him. ‘Thanksgiving’ followed three years later. Hewerdine may have maintained a low-key presence in the 2000s and 2010s in terms of recording output at least, but has recorded steadily on his own and sometimes in collaboration with The Great Divide, State of the Union, Brooks Williams, Eddi Reader and Chris Difford (another of my faves who he collaborated with on 2016’s “Fancy Pants”). 2017 saw the release of ‘Swimming in Mercury’ and all the while he has continued to be in constant demand as a musician, songwriter, producer, teacher, mentor and performer.
He’s even been Ivor Novello Award nominated!
Which is no surprise really, when you hear how the album kicks off with ‘The Language of Love’. Gorgeous.
My third encounter with Boo’s work has been through his Song Writing Workshops, which is all about him empowering others to achieve. You may have spotted in the odd roots review or three, that those artists have benefited from his experience.
‘Bluebirds’ has a delightful, wistful ache. He creates little vignettes with panache and shape. But it is not all finger-picked melancholy. ‘American TV’ has that evocative 50’s/Beach Boys rock lilt and is indeed worthy of mention in comparison to Brian Wilson’s talented songwriting style. Juxtapose that with the delicate celtic folk essence in his updated version of ‘The Village Bell’ with label mate Kris Drever, and the aching purity of ‘Write’.
Talking of writing, and as he himself said in 2014 around the release of his Best Of collection, “My Name in The Brackets” he explains “I had a Dansette and a handful of 45s. What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? I Remember You, Seven Little Girls. Records from that strange era between Rock & Roll and The Beatles. I would study the labels. The title, the singer, the numbers, Columbia, HMV, the stuff about rights written around the edge and most intriguing – the names in the brackets. It turned out that these people had “written” these songs. Songs could be made up. Conjured out of thin air. I decided then, at the age of seven, that’s what I would do. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument but I had an internal jukebox going on the whole time.”
He certainly has an ear for melody, for structure, for concept, for creating that mood and tapping that emotion. ‘Swimming in Mercury’ is the essence of clever simplicity, ‘Last Rays of Sun’ beautifully orchestrated with a childlike innocence, ‘Follow my Tears’ leans towards americana influence in story and sound, and ’11:59′ is McCartney-eque.
The aforementioned track reminds us that the producer in him is renowned for ideas and innovation, new ways of recording and bringing projects to completion. Check out my review of Peter James Millson on these Spirit of Progressive Rock Roots pages.
‘Microfilm’ has that Kate Rusby naivete in brief. ‘Hometown’ shows that Boo doesn’t just create beauty on the guitar, and has an almost demo quality. ‘It’s a Beautiful Night’ is nostalgic, ‘Why does the Nightingale Sing?’ has a delightful lilting tune and shows off that guitar ability.
It is easy to forget that Boo has written material for major artists such as Sia, K.D Lang, Kris Drever (Lau), Duke Special, David McAlmont, and Eddi Reader, been produced by Steve Earle and toured with Richard Thompson to name but a few. But listening to this album, you can see what they all saw in him. Quality. Worthy of a retrospective to show off his illustrious career and output.
‘Wanderlust’ has a darker Sherwin Brothers (Mary Poppins) quality to it (also reminiscent of The Unthanks’s unsettling Mount the Air), lightly string-orchestrated ‘The Birds are Leaving’ matches it’s autumn hew in music and words, whereas ‘Funny Bones’ juxtaposes the idea of being funny with a tint of sadness.
So this is a new 20 song compilation album sequenced by Tom Rose from English songwriter Boo Hewerdine’s extraordinary catalogue released (in his 60th year). The collection includes new recording, and previously digital only single tracks that appear for the first time on CD. A worthy collection that deserves a listen.
‘An Atheist in a Foxhole’ has a plaintive quality and whilst simplistic, uses clever chord change to suit the mood. ‘Last Cigarette’ might remind some people of Genesis’s ‘You have your own Special Way’ to start with, but develops into a hauntingly delicate waltz. ‘Silhouette’ closes the collection perfectly almost like a clockwork lullaby.
Going back to what he was saying about appearing as a songwriter, he said in 2014: “All I ever wanted was my name in the brackets. And it gave me this life”.
His name should not just be in brackets, it should be in lights. And not just award -nominated, but award winning. He makes songwriting look deceptively simple. So go on, you try it. And try to keep up that quality throughout your decades-long career. Not so simple, is it? Well, it is for Mr Boo Hewerdine. Here’s what the press release told me: “Boo Hewerdine is one of the greatest songwriter performers in the business and a unique talent.”
Who am I to disagree?
The Language of Love
Bluebirds – by Boo Hewerdine & Kris Drever
American TV (Radio Edit)
The Village Bell (2021 version) – Boo Hewerdine & Kris Drever
Swimming In Mercury
Last Rays of Sun
Follow My Tears
It’s A Beautiful Night
Why Does The Nightingale Sing? by State of The Union (Boo Hewerdine & Brooks Williams)
The Birds Are Leaving
An Atheist In A Foxhole
All songs Boo Hewerdine except
4 BH/ Kris Drever
7, 12 BH/ Ben Hewerdine
14 BH/ Brooks Williams
15 BH/ Rachel Haden
19 BH/ Gary Clark / Neill MacColl
Mastered by Mark Freegard
Sequence by Tom Rose
Paintings by Martin Rowsell
Design by simplymarvellous: music