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Ashley Hutchings: By Gloucester Docks, I Sat Down And Wept

Ambitious drama from one of folk-rock’s true pathfinders.

Ashley Hutchings never did know how to rest on his laurels. His restless spirit has always had him seeking out the next fresh challenges, and what we have here is the welcome reappearance of his ambitious, charming concept record from 1987. Long unavailable, its title was adapted from Canadian author Elizabeth Smart’s poetic prose novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept.

Hutchings wrote most of the new music and the words, which he delivers in song, alternating with the decorous English vocalists Polly Bolton and, on I Dreamed A Dream, Christine Collister. Narration is added by Michael Pennington and Marilyn Cutts.

For many, this is Ashley’s finest hour, outranking anything he achieved in the mighty triumvirate of institutions he co-founded, Fairport, Steeleye and the Albion Band.

Pete Zorn, Phil Beer and Dave Mattacks help bring to life a love story that’s described as it develops in a range of styles, from poetic reflections, love letters and traditional passages to rock’n’roll and the graceful balladeering of Brief Encounters. Literate and compelling, it’d be worth the BBC commissioning a drama slot for it on Radio 4Xtra.