Album review: Heath Common, the last of beatniks

Heath Common
Heath Common

By Graham Chalmers

The last of the Beats, Heath Common’s new album Encounters With Light would have sounded pretty absurd had it been released 20 years or so ago when the ‘revolution’ was freshly dead and the end of the Cold War promised the end of ideology as an idea.

In fact, I nearly laughed out loud a few times when I first played this album, which probably says more about me than likable poet/journalist/songwriter Heath.

I soon stopped after a few more listens.

The initial shock comes partly in the style and partly in the content of these 12 new songs by this much-travelled Mancunian Jack Kerouac relocated to Harrogate.

That deep storytelling voice, more narrator than singer, those smoky reminiscences of long-gone heroes from the days of the ‘counter-culture’ – Jimi Hendrix, The Diggers, John Lennon, Lenny Bruce.

But ancient history has a way of burrowing its way back to relevance and Heath now sounds more like a visionary than an anachronism.

A quietly lively character, the music on this intimate but musically rich 12-track album sees Heath’s gravel-voiced charm in the company of a good band boasting a warm mix of accordion and flute, tabla and rock guitar, sax and keyboards, drums and temple bells.

With mild hints of jazz and East European folk music, as well as hippy 1970s rock, Encounters With Light sounds at times like Leonard Cohen had joined Gong or The Waterboys.

The ideas may not be new but there’s nothing stale about the songs he’s co-written with his band, which includes Harrogate’s own Tina Featherstone and Steve Jones.

Amid the first-person tales are a series of memorable choruses, particularly on Diggers Not Dead, Women of Lincoln and transcendental closing number We Are Lotus.

Once described as the “northern Kevin Ayers”, Heath Common proves with Encounters With Light that in these hard times, there is a place once more for dreamers.

Encounters With Light is released on Hi4Head Records of London.

More information at www.heathcommon.com