Throughout its 40-year history The Albion Band’s line-up has always been fluid, with numerous folk-rock stalwarts passing through the dressing room door. Now founder member Ashley Hutchings has left and passed the torch to his son, vocalist/guitarist Blair Dunlop, the pressure is on for this all-new incarnation of the band to prove they have what it takes to earn the name and keep the flame burning.
Their debut album The Vice Of The People is a success precisely due to the deft way in which they honour the genre’s causes and canon, and interpret them with a shrewd contemporary hand. Opening harmony vocal salvo A Quarter Hour Of Fame sets the tone for the whole thing. The 21st century’s vacuous obsession with celebrity is brought into stark relief by the more solid values and achievements of our forefathers. Wake A Little Wiser really brings that point home, contrasting our age’s ‘tinpot idols’ with the ‘ragged heroes’ who made the country great.
Throughout, Gavin Davenport’s vocal is folk and proud. His One More Day marries the band’s modern rock sound with a repetitive refrain, and it works really well. Katriona Gilmore’s fiddle lines add movement and melody, and her vocal contributions are absolutely vital. On Coalville she illuminates this theme of generations moving on, as a character escaping her family and fate by leaving that town ‘made for miners’. How Many Miles To Babylon takes the traditional nursery rhyme and sculpts a haunting song from it. A soldier returns from war to his wife and child: ‘The sand is in your yellow hair, the sun has scorched your skin,’ Gilmore sings, gently pointing to the recent blood-soaked history of the titular region.
Dunlop’s electric take on Hutchings’ setting of Set Their Mouths To Twisting has a shoegazey, Verve-style swagger to it, and Roll Over Vaughan Williams – by former Albion alumnus Richard Thompson – gets a rocky read. Yet one of the most potent moments may be the oldest. Adieu To Old England, a prison ballad made famous by Hutchings’ wife, folk legend Shirley Collins, sees the band excel themselves. Their own Thieves Song is a lovely, jaunty tune tackling poverty and greed, and affairs don’t come much more current than that.
Instrumental showcases The 2x2 Set and The Skirmish Set only confirm that The Albion Band 2012 have got the chops. The Vice Of The People bodes well for them. It proves that, in the right hands, the old and the new can more than co-exist: each can nourish the other, and flourish. You suspect Dad knew that all along.