A quirky, acquired taste release which takes a few spins to “get”. The 10 cuts trace the life of one Heath Common, dating back to the 60s, 70s and 80s. Poet, songwriter, performance artist and multi-instrumentalist, former music writer, headteacher and scaffolder, pal of Stone Roses’ Ian Brown. NOT the settlement in the Horsham District of West Sussex.
His third solo album, this record offers up five tales from his childhood in Halifax in the early 1960s, and then another five from his days in Notting Hill Gate, London, going into the 70s.
He is joined by some very talented players, that’s a dozen; on drums, percussion, piano, keyboards, accordion, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, banjo, table, temple bells, Damaris Nakrah, cello, Irish pipes and backing vocals/harmony vocals.
Produced by Heath, who does a lot of spoken word on the record, and plays various instruments across the album. All songs written by Heath Common and his band The Lincoln 72s, except “Basquiat and Warhol” by Common, Mark Hoyle and Patrick Wise, and “Anita Pallenberg”, by Common and Chris Halliwell.
The CD cover and the booklet features some superb artwork by Patrick Wise, which sets the tone and mood of the record; an off-the-wall, creative journey with unexpected twists and turns. There’s a moody black and white photo of Mr Common, in dark overcoat looking like ‘Cracker’ aka Robbie Coltrane or a burly bailiff.
His is a life well lived and a memory etched full of the myriad of larger than life characters he’s met and had dealings with along the way, brought to life in his songs. A born poet and story teller, for me, in the same kind of way as the late and great Ian Dury, but without as much humour perhaps. This stuff is more gritty, mainly spoken word set to music than songs in the accepted sense, but it has a certain something and it works well.
The likes of Viv Stanshall, author and poet Alan Moore, John Cooper Clarke, my late and great friend Tom Hall and even Sir John Betjeman, all spring to mind on hearing this unique collection.
The album opens with recollection of “Halifax Gala Queen”, of 1964 who was Heath’s babysitter and regaled him with tales of having tea with The Beatles at a hotel in Halifax when they stayed in the town. The cut kicks off in a gentle way and then turns into a bombastic rock opera thing. “Jack Brown” is a frantic cacophony, with a repetitive mantra about a notorious bouncer in Halifax who was “feared but fair”.
An etehral Pink Floyd ambience to “Room At The Top”, based upon memories of the deprived area of “Woolshops” in Halifax, back in the 1960s, where the large Irish community was housed. Now a shopping centre. “Spirit Of Ogden” weights in at 5.47, and at circa four minutes in, the strings and ensemble harmonies kick in, spoken word on top and it creates a glorious moment on the record. “Satori In The Sky” refers to Heath’s young life among the Notting Hill Gate/Bramshill communities; a jolly cut which conjures up a kind of Stranglers/Squeeze mood.
There are several voices on the vocals, and the credits do not attribute the main lead vocal to anyone. I suspect Heath does the mainly spoken stuff and perhaps Patrick Wise takes the “Bowie-esque” lead vocal parts. Whoever it is, he has a superb voice and is a great fit on this stuff, giving it light and shade between the spoken stuff and the more musical aspect.
It’ll be very much a Marmite moment for many, this album. It’s really Heath’s memoirs to music. Heath’s diary. Heath’s autobiography. Unashamedly self-indulgent and as far removed from commercial or mainstream as you can get. Chris Evans on Radio 2’s breakfast show, and the annoying children broadcasting on Radio 1 would hate it. I like to think had John Peel still been with us; he’d have been be all over this on his radio show. I can imagine Heath collaborating with Mark E. Smith…
In these days of streaming and downloading odd tracks from albums, and rarely does an album get heard in its entirety, this is a record one should hear track by track and in its correct order in one sitting, to fully appreciate it. Sticking out like a sore thumb in that respect, not at all “on trend”. That’s a positive.
Mr Common should sit himself down and write a musical, now. Think Willy Russell’s “Blood Brothers”. Common has that Stan Barstow / Keith Waterhouse realism and spirit that I love in a writer. You feel you know the characters as well as your kin. Even if his aim is just to have it staged in Halifax or Notting Hill – or Scarborough, where I understand he resides now – to an audience of family, friends and perhaps those mentioned in the story and the songs.
He clearly has the imagination and the talent to pull it off. I’d pay to see it; but I’d want to sit between Anita Pallenberg and the Halifax Gala Queen of 1964. Jack Brown can make sure we are not disturbed!