Encounters [album]


Review by Narc Magazine by Joe Fowler – 22/05/15


Rating 4/5

Like a musical sommelier I am getting hints of Radiohead, memories of Pink Floyd, a moment of Jethro Tull and a suggestion of Steeleye Span with a definite John Cooper-Clarke nose. These clear influences protrude throughout the album, Women Of Lincoln for example seems to be a nod to Another Brick In The Wall and Alison Gross, with a bit of jazzy flute for good measure. The theme of setting poetry to music works very well and is relaxing in its tone, but the recording quality could be better; it sounds a little like it was recorded in someone’s garage, but in many ways that adds to its charm. Very hard to pin to a particular genre, Encounters With Light has universal appeal.

Review by Liverpool Sound & Vision by Ian D Hall – 01/05/15

“Encounters with Light shines brighter than a national monument that’s been polished within an inch of its life.”

Rating 9/10

It has been mooted recently that the art of poetry is one that is dying. Not only is that a preposterous notion to bandy around but one that deserves contempt by all poets playing their trade for the one perfect sentence and certainly should be treated with scornful derision by anybody who takes the living, breathing sentences of Heath Common and pays them the same courtesy that one would pay the likes of Jack Kerouac. Poetry in such hands is not dead, it’s not resting, it is abundant and playing cerebral havoc as has Encounters with Light that Heath Common provides.

If the last album, The Dream of Miss Dee, was the 21st Century British music equivalent of The Road, then this latest album is The Town and The City, the aspiration of a man whose life stretches out before him, a man who doesn’t put a foot wrong in his pursuit of the long game, a man whose musical genius and guarded word play just leaves you breathless and quivering with anticipation for what is to come.

Encounters with Light has the feeling of being sat in an old bar, the type with spy holes, where secrets are sworn and oaths made in blood. The bar dimly lit, resistance fighters looking around with nerves of steel as they make sure there is an escape route free at all times and in the corner, a man with life in his eyes plays a song so radical that all stop to hear him finish.

These are the songs of freedom, of movement and inventive honesty. They have a structure and whimsical authority all of their own and yet they are bound by one common thread, the sincerity of a man asking his listeners to go with him on the journey, to take heed of the cautionary tales and act with openness; it is a journey frequented and mused upon and it is delicious in its intent.

Tracks such as Two Immortals, the stunning Diggers Not Dead, which has such a beautiful backing vocal supplied by Mandi Leek, Ray The Cat, Lenny Bruce and the terrific Angeline Albertine really do perform musical cartwheels in front of the listener, they bat away every convention in which the snide and malicious bemoan the poetic heart and leave them cursing for proving them wrong.

One of the great unsung heroes of his generation, Heath Common truly understands what it means to tell a story worth listening to. Encounters with Light shines brighter than a national monument that’s been polished within an inch of its life.

Review by Louder Than War by Michael Ainscoe – 16/05/15

“…he’s a writer of originality who treats his words as one ingredient in a recipe which combines music and a healthy portion of Northern adorned observations in a unique mix…”

Rating 8/10

Mike Ainscoe reviews the new album by Heath Common – songwriter, lyricist, poet and former Melody Maker and Guardian music journalist.

Heath Common. Not the settlement in West Sussex but the man for whom it seems a shame not to roll out the marvellous quote from the Congleton Chronicle : “What Jack Kerouac would sound like if he came from Manchester” – the songwriter / poet / performance artist is nothing less than a phenomenon who should be required listening as an example of a sprawling imagination and sheer originality.

His ‘The Dream Of Miss Dee’ debut album was a rambling odyssey of words and music including references to beat poets, zen as well as the lovely diversion which is ‘Manchester Summertime’, and the album which introduced the world to Heath Common. He’s now back for more and this time with his own band who provide the backing to accompany his musings.

As you can expect from Heath Common, he picks up on all sorts of characters to populate his thoughts and match the atypical musical arrangements in his songs. There are reflections on the death of Hendrix, the legacy of John Lennon and he explores the exploits of the notorious jail breaker, Ray ‘the Cat’ Jones, the latter a diatribe set against a jazzy background which verges on musical theatre.

Not one to take time for introductions, within half a minute of the opening track ‘Icarus’ the impression is set that you’re going to be taken on a flight of fancy to a place that’s somewhere that little bit bizarre and outlandish. The spoken word lyric makes his Northern roots quite clear while referencing Jimi Hendrix, Ronnie Scott’s and Soho Square before breaking into a jazzy rock instrumental and low mixed female wailing in a cross between ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ and a Twilight Zone soundtrack.

‘Angeline Albertine’ immediately follows and drifts into a French musical vibe, a common thread throughout the album, with a lyric of seduction into the exotic. Elsewhere, in ‘Reflections On Francis’ he talks of being frightened about what he might find if he excavated his memory; whether or not it’s autobiographical it’s an apt comment on what must be going on in his mind. Same in a line from ‘Lenny Bruce : “Don’t judge me until after tomorrow, or maybe some time after I’ve died” – perhaps a tongue in cheek anticipation that his genius will go unrecognised and unsung until he’s been a long time gone. Or maybe just a slight dig that this is art with which you have to invest some time and thought. All the while there’s the development of a distinctly Mediterranean musical feel yet all sorts of influences pop in. When you wonder what the connection is during ‘Lennon’, there’s suddenly a reference to Candlestick Park and ‘Love Me Do’ incorporated into the smoky backing.

Pick of the tracks? Probably the dreamy ‘Women Of Lincoln’ where the pastoral flute episode develops into the sort of guitar/vocal thing which you might have found latter day Pink Floyd/Roger Waters doing, before the folk ambience and the inevitable accordion kicks in again.

Once again, Heath Common has created another alternative world of seemingly random, yet more likely well thought out meditations, all accompanied by a soundtrack which adds to the unorthodox nature of his musical philosophy. Beat poet, performance artist – whatever you want to call him, there’s the essence that he’s a writer of originality who treats his words as one ingredient in a recipe which combines music and a healthy portion of Northern adorned observations in a unique mix.

Review by Yorkshire Evening News by Graham Chalmers – 13/05/15

“Heath Common proves with Encounters With Light that in these hard times, there is a place once more for dreamers.”

The last of the Beats, Heath Common’s new album Encounters With Light would have sounded pretty absurd had it been released 20 years or so ago when the ‘revolution’ was freshly dead and the end of the Cold War promised the end of ideology as an idea.

In fact, I nearly laughed out loud a few times when I first played this album, which probably says more about me than likable poet/journalist/songwriter Heath.

I soon stopped after a few more listens.

The initial shock comes partly in the style and partly in the content of these 12 new songs by this much-travelled Mancunian Jack Kerouac relocated to Harrogate.

That deep storytelling voice, more narrator than singer, those smoky reminiscences of long-gone heroes from the days of the ‘counter-culture’ – Jimi Hendrix, The Diggers, John Lennon, Lenny Bruce.

But ancient history has a way of burrowing its way back to relevance and Heath now sounds more like a visionary than an anachronism.

A quietly lively character, the music on this intimate but musically rich 12-track album sees Heath’s gravel-voiced charm in the company of a good band boasting a warm mix of accordion and flute, tabla and rock guitar, sax and keyboards, drums and temple bells.

With mild hints of jazz and East European folk music, as well as hippy 1970s rock, Encounters With Light sounds at times like Leonard Cohen had joined Gong or The Waterboys.

The ideas may not be new but there’s nothing stale about the songs he’s co-written with his band, which includes Harrogate’s own Tina Featherstone and Steve Jones.

Amid the first-person tales are a series of memorable choruses, particularly on Diggers Not Dead, Women of Lincoln and transcendental closing number We Are Lotus.

Once described as the “northern Kevin Ayers”, Heath Common proves with Encounters With Light that in these hard times, there is a place once more for dreamers.

Review by Scarborough Evening News by Mike Tilling – 05/15

“…Each Piece is Homage to Landscape of Popular Music…”


Review by The Press by Dan Bean – 10/06/15

“…the astonishingly deep spoken word fits the album perfectly….”

Rating 4/5

Heath Common, Encounters With Light, Heath Common (Hi 4 Head Records)
RIGHT out of the gate, this is an interesting one. The album opens with Icarus – a cautionary tale and look-back at the life and untimely death of Jimi Hendrix. But rather than a simple, straightforward song, the track is a strange echoing mix of Twin Peaks-era Angelo Badalamenti music, subwoofer-troubling spoken word, with hints of Pink Floyd and Nick Cave thrown in to boot. Next up is Angeline Albertine – in the style of a Russian dance, with that same ridiculously low vocal, but fun and catchy like a Half Man Half Biscuit number, in tribute to a Bohemian gin-drinker. Reflections On Francis is a touching track, covering regret and memory and name-checking Charles Bukowski, while Before Lennon is another spoken=word number, a charming dirge with a sinister twist on the former Beatle’s Love Me Do. Essentially poetry set to music, Encounters With Light won’t be to everyone’s liking. Similarly, Common’s vocals are an acquired taste, but like Billy Bragg’s voice perfectly suits the music only he can create, the astonishingly deep spoken word fits the album perfectly.