From Psychedelia to Sonnets is the name of the show that Ashley Hutchings “The single most important figure in English folk rock” is performing. That quote comes from Bob Dylan who knows a thing or two about folk music, it is nevertheless a contentious thing to say. However, as Hutchings takes us on his journey it becomes clear just what an enormous influence he has had on not just folk but all music and musicians.
The show opens with a sprightly Welcome to the World, and from there Hutchings recounts his career with accounts of writing sleeve notes for Fairport Convention re-releases, reading some out. Wearing a cap and scarf Hutchings has a vaguely Andy Cappish appearance but his manner is the complete opposite to the Geordie psycho being that of an affable fireside storyteller. It’s a style that has the audience very quickly at ease.
Songs intersperse the readings and poems. There’s a couple from the Rainbow Chasers – Chimes at Midnight was sublime. There are stories like the one about Fairport Convention meeting Jimi Hendrix, and the late Brian Glover’s efforts to both wrestle and appear in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, on the same evening. He muses on his writings and the wonderful poem come lyric and song of the One-Eyed Owl, accompanied by Becky Mills and Ruth Angell is a highlight.
And Becky Mills and Ruth Angell are pretty much the perfect accompaniment for him, this may be based on his works but they are an integral part of the performance both singing and playing, The Song of Two Bridges with their dual roles was beautiful.
Another highlight of the show is when they each tell a tale and sing about their sons. From Mills’s Leeds Lullaby via Hutchings poem Crocodile Line to Angell’s Day of Days, it’s very touching, not mushy in any way. The show closes with a reprise of Welcome to the World and another wonderful story of an album (Twangin‘ n’ A-Traddin) that tanked but had a great time putting it together.
It’s a two hour or so show, with an interval, and does require some concentration on the part of the audience during some of the longer sections, By Gloucester Docks comes to mind, but it’s worth the mental investment. Ashley Hutchings is a unique multi-talented artist, and these spoken-word and song shows feel like a natural progression. With fifty years in the music business and ninety albums, this writer hopes there's plenty more to tell
"If 45 years ago someone had predicted that a rock bass player would almost single-handedly
transform the image of Morris dance in this country and provide so many of the sparks that have
led to a tectonic shift in the way England looks at its own musical traditions, they would have been
called crazy. Call me crazy, but having known Ashley for 47 years, having been the beneficiary of
his acute ears in tipping me to the music of Nick Drake, as well as having enjoyed many collaborations
with him over the years, I have to say that nothing he accomplishes surprises me"