Gathering – Legends Of Folk Rock

Album Review | Hypertension | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

The names on the front cover of Gathering: Legends of Folk Rock read like a who’s who of the genre, but you tend to approach the album with apprehension, especially if you allow the accompanying booklet to fall open at the centrefold, where you would be greeted with a monochrome image of a bunch of middle aged rockers who look like they’ve just returned from the funeral of one of the Kray Twins. Nope, these are actually a quintet of living breathing remnants of folk rock’s heyday, each of whom played an important part in the history of this particular musical heritage. A quick rundown then of these five ‘made’ men. Clive ‘Sticks’ Bunker left his mark on the first four Jethro Tull albums, handing in his beads and headband right after the release of Aqualung in 1971. Ray ‘Tank Top’ Jackson was the distinctive harmonica and mandolin player in Lindisfarne but who now designs vintage bus livery pictures, making good use of his college of art and industrial design education. Jerry ‘String Bender’ Donahue was and always will be the second best guitarist to have his name emblazoned on one of Pete Frame’s ‘Fairport Convention’ family trees, but who went on to make his own distinctive mark under ‘Fotheringay’ with the late Sandy Denny and Trevor Lucas. Erstwhile husband of Maddy Prior, Rick ‘Four Strings’ Kemp was for over twenty years an integral part of Steeleye Span and who went on to pay his dues with the likes of Michael Chapman and Ralph McTell and finally, we have Doug ‘MC Albion’ Morter, one of the many players to have, in the words of Phil Beer ‘done jury service’ presided over by Judge Ashley Hutchings (The Guv’nor). Joking apart, this gathering is in some places quite inspired. Although not pictured in the centrefold line up, there is a sixth addition to the band, a singer who contributes a great deal to the songs on the album. Donahue’s daughter Kristina adds character to the recordings and provides some pretty confident lead vocals on both Rick Kemp’s “Deep in the Darkest Night” and Richard Thompson’s “For Shame of Doing Wrong”. The comparisons to Linda Thompson are inevitable. With the resurrection of the atmospheric “Lady Eleanor” featuring the wistful mandolin of Ray Jackson, we are transported back in time to a decade that saw the longest hair in Newcastle, together with the most embarrassing multi coloured tank tops in the history of woollen wear, cross the Tyne Bridge heading south for several TV appearances. Let’s not forget that it was Jackson who played the mandolin part on Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, even though that imposter Peel masqueraded as the seated mandomusician on TOTP week after week (bless him). For those who saw Jerry Donahue as something more than Richard Thompson’s shadow, on this album you only have to wait until track three before the magic manifests itself in his delightful guitar solo towards the end of “Deep In The Darkest Night”, proving once again that the guitarist provides one of the most distinctive and inimitable sounds in folk rock history, if not rock history in general. Between the folk rock and folk pop fare, there’s a distinctive bluesy atmosphere throughout the album; in particular on “Don’t Make Me Old” and “Brampton to Roadhead” yet nowhere better realised than in the heavily BB King inspired “I Don’t Want”, which is neither a pastiche nor an imitation of “The Thrill Is Gone”, but very likely a blues standard in its own right. I’m not sure whether ‘Gathering’ could ever be considered to be up there with Rising For The Moon, Fog On The Tyne or Aqualung for instance, but as a piece of folk rock history, it can certainly be added to the folk rock canon.