Good-time sing-alongs, and surprisingly a lot more besides.
Sid Smith 2011-01-17
In their early 70s heyday Lindisfarne packed the punters into ballrooms and halls from Wallsend down to Watford. A ticket to see Newcastle’s biggest musical export since The Animals was a guaranteed knees-up with a complimentary sore throat after singing along to terrace anthems such as Clear White Light, We Can Swing Together, Meet Me on the Corner and, inevitably, Fog on the Tyne.
If, however, you can get past the jolly japes and revisit the five albums they recorded for the Charisma label, one is reminded that there was also some serious, and seriously good, songwriting to be found.
Primarily (though not exclusively) this flowed from the pen of Alan Hull, a sharp-witted and often acidly satirical writer. In addition to targeting authority figures in the establishment, he composed some startling and telling portraits of ordinary human beings at their most vulnerable.
Their 1970 debut, Nicely Out of Tune, is heavily indebted not only to The Band but a simmering infatuation with an all-purpose Americana. Intriguingly though, when their collective voices are raised in a chorus, their sometimes caustic harmonies have more in common with the traditional UK folk music landscape of the Copper Family than anything that came from Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Whilst Fog on the Tyne (1971) extended their reach and consolidated their good-time brand, the ambitious but uneven Dingly Dell (1972) is somewhat tentative in its delivery. However, confidence is one commodity that cannot be said to be lacking on Lindisfarne Live (1973), performing to an ecstatic home crowd. In strictly commercial terms, it represents the last hurrah of a band by then dogged by internal strife. A revamped line-up has 1973’s Roll On, Ruby veering toward an opulent, soft rock that sounds surprisingly durable 38 years later.
Sadly, a mid-90s ill-advised chart-topping fling with footballer Gazza, covering Fog on the Tyne, probably prevents Lindisfarne from being inducted into the English folk rock pantheon. A shame, because as this package (with bonus material and rare US mixes for completists) ably demonstrates, there was more to the band’s songbook than a few sing-along crowd-pleasers.