Ashley Hutchings with Becky Mills and Blair Dunlop – A Midwinter Miscellany

Album Review | Talking Elephant Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson

At first I wasn’t too sure about the spoken interludes on this very seasonal midwinter album, a collection of themed songs, poems, prose and reflections, put together in a short space of time by Ashley Hutchings with former Waking the Witch singer/musician Becky Mills and Ashley’s chip off the old block, Blair Dunlop.  After a couple of plays through, it becomes apparent that the spoken bits are integral to the piece.  Recorded over a couple of days in Derbyshire just as the summer leaves began to fall, the album’s overall feel is that of a live recording, in that the songs were recorded in just a couple of takes each, which brings a sense of immediacy to the project. 

Known for his popular annual Albion Christmas Band shows, the former Fairporter releases A Midwinter Miscellany to fill those pencilled-in diary dates unfortunately forced into submission and erased by the current pandemic and to provide a seasonal connection to those who will sadly be missing out this year. While dad contemplates George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, together with a little Angela Carter or indeed his own contemporary seasonal thoughts on our forthcoming “Hibernation” period, Blair delivers their co-written song “Her Name Was Mary”, with Blair in good voice.  Blair also goes on to deliver a fine duet with Becky on her own especially written “Sweet November”, while Blair’s mum Judy Dunlop makes a special guest appearance, putting Thackeray’s “Mahogany Tree” to her own melody, reminding us once again what a fine and completely distinctive voice she is in possession of.  I’m really not sure whether it would be best to play this album first thing in the morning or late at night, but either way, listening by a crackling open fire, by a tastefully decorated Norway Spruce or by a triple-glazed window overlooking a snow covered meadow, would do it for me.