For devotees of a long-lost 1970 album that has achieved near-mythical status, this is a somewhat magical night. Trader Horne were a short-lived British duo made up of folk singer and Fairport Convention alumnus Judy Dyble (who also sang with Giles, Giles & Fripp and The Incredible String Band) and all-round musician-writer Jackie McAuley, who’d played with Them. Named (the story goes) after John Peel’s nanny (surname Horne) and explorer Trader Horn, they toured with Yes and Genesis, did TV appearances with Cat Stevens, had sleeve notes written by Brian Patten and then split just as their big break was mooted.
Their sole album Morning Way – originally on Pye’s prog imprint Dawn – became, over decades, highly collectable, a proper lost gem, and its recent reissue is celebrated by this 45th-anniversary one-off show. The venerable Dyble and McAuley, now contentedly living other lives, seem in equal parts nonplussed and delighted to be playing the songs of their youth to a highly appreciative crowd.
What is it about Morning Way that’s such catnip to believers? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, and that’s part of the charm. It’s been hailed as everything from acid folk to psychedelia, but has lashings of blues and plain old folk. Its unique whimsy seems themed around the journey from childhood to adulthood, and it’s awash with naivety and a sense of wide-eyed wonder.
If you thought, say, early Tyrannosaurus Rex were hippy-dippy and twee, you’d find this impossibly saccharine, with elements of Christmas carols and Gaelic fol-de-riddle-o all stirred into the pot.
Yet for all the sweetness, there’s a swelling pop influence on Sheena or_ Jenny May_, and a hint of grit on Down And Out Blues. McAuley laughs at how Three Rings For Elven Kings always turns up on the net as Three Kings For Eleven Kings. Growing Man and Better Than Today have a suggestion of The Mamas And The Papas meeting Carole King and James Taylor, but with a third-night-at-a‑festival hangover twist.
The title song is as rock as they get, McAuley again chuckling as he confesses that the intro is the only reason they got labelled psychedelic.
He takes the lion’s share of between-song chat, while Dyble looks slightly dazed, peering at her massive book of lyrics, which she clutches like a security blanket. She needn’t have worried: the polite Bush Hall audience lap up every song. To them it’s a fantasy come true: like the Marie Celeste has been found, or a galleon of treasure lifted from the seabed.
For one night only, Morning Way comes back to life.