In what seems to have become a relentless, burgeoning and ever diversifying musical climate it is so easy to lose sight of what first attracted you, so with the release of The Last Of England the opportunity to reflect, rekindle and have a resting point to recharge the batteries came as a welcome tonic. This first release from Gordon Giltrap and Paul Ward has seldom been out of my listening rotation since it arrived a few weeks back. A stunning release, the beauty of which took me completely by surprise.
Backtracking to last year and I was delighted when I heard that Gordon Giltrap was to release a new studio album in 2017, one to be added to the collection without hesitation. So cards on the table – yes I am a huge fan of his music. Gordon is one artist who, regardless of what he turns his hand to, I can pretty much guarantee I will enjoy. A musician who has honed and perfected his own unique and instantly recognisable acoustic guitar style, which he so readily embeds within the melodic and captivating framework here.
The unknown quantity on The Last Of England was keyboard player and producer Paul Ward. I am sure that most will be unfamiliar with the name, including myself, as apart from a couple of now out of print studio releases in the early nineties, he has not followed a commercial career writing and performing his own music. The good news is, and I’m happy to report, his contributions to the album are inspired…
As alluded to above there is very little from Gordon Giltrap’s catalogue that has disappointed, although his last release with Oliver Wakeman, which was heralded as his return to the progressive fold, didn’t quite tick all the boxes. Ravens & Lullabies was very well received, however the inclusion of vocals from Paul Manzi and Benoît David and the more commercial AOR rock slant made the album a somewhat mixed bag for me, much preferring the instrumental pieces that sat in between the songs. Not a bad album per se and I mention Ravens & Lullabies purely as, once I had heard of the release of The Last Of England, I hoped that Gordon would return to the instrumental music he so excels at.
Delighted to say he has and the first seven pieces, falling under the sub heading The Brotherhood Suite, and which according to Gordon take their inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelite school of art, create an absorbing and moving suite. The title track opens proceedings and Paul Ward’s sumptuous orchestrations not only set the tone, but lay the foundation for Gordon’s wonderfully ornate and captivating guitar. Those familiar with Gordon’s work across the years will be mindful of similar collaborations where he has embellished his guitar with orchestrations, or even with a full blown orchestra, so kudos to Paul Ward that he has produced these impressive arrangements with a collection of vintage and modern keyboards, guitar synths and samples.
I immediately sensed more than just a fleeting familiarity with the music from the The Brotherhood Suite and a bit of searching through the memory banks revealed that five of the seven pieces formed the latter part of Gordon’s collaborative album with Rick Wakeman, the delightful From Brush & Stone released in 2009. More digging and I eventually found my copy of the album. Now I believe there are earlier, out of print, live recordings of the The Brotherhood Suite, which would be really nice to hear. Regardless, what Gordon and Paul have achieved here not only builds on those orchestrations from From Brush & Stone, but take the music to a whole new level, no better illustrated than in the opening track with its haunting landscape.
I’m not going to attempt to select highlights from these arrangements, however and for the purposes of this review I might offer one, the stunningly beautiful The Light Of The World with Gordon’s achingly touching guitar enveloped in layers of warm choirs and soft synths. Suffice to say that the first six pieces take us through an enchanting pastoral landscape, capturing the romanticism of Vaughan Williams, Field and Elgar, with lush arrangements that both soothe and absorb. In fact only the concluding tune of the suite, Work, breaks the serene tranquillity with its symphonic prog orchestral percussion, strident string sections, Gordon’s nimbly fluid guitar – all reminiscent of his fine work during the ’70s.
If the album finished here it would certainly be worth the admission fee, however seven tracks still remain and although they take us down a less orchestrated route they compliment what has gone before admirably. The eponymous solo piece, Loren is a moving tribute to the late wife of Bert Jansch, whereas those who have had the pleasure of catching Gordon’s captivating solo performances will delight at the arrangement Sadie In May, dedicated to his daughter.
The delicate Ania’s Dream is a wonderful marriage of guitar sympathetically underpinned by church organ, whilst the liveliest track is saved to the very end. A Promise Fulfilled sees Fairport’s Ric Sanders adding his distinct violin, who along with Gordon and Paul offer a rousing conclusion to The Last Of England.
So there we have it and not a single mention of any TV holiday programme theme tunes… ;0)
In light of the media coverage which heralded the release of the Ravens & Lullabies project, it’s a shame really that this latest collaborative album hasn’t quite received the press coverage it so richly deserves – especially as it marks two notable celebrations. The Last Of England, the first release in 2017 from Angel Air Records, marks their 20th anniversary this year and it also acts as a precursor to the celebrations of the professional career for Gordon Giltrap, which will shortly enter it’s fiftieth year.
Gordon Giltrap and Paul Ward have produced something rather special here and a release that ranks very highly in the GG catalogue. The Last Of England is a wonderful testament to Gordon Giltrap and his music…
01. The Last Of England (8:27)
02. All The Days Of May (3:40)
03. Spring (3:01)
04. Elegy (Chatterton) (5:18)
05. April Love (1:45)
06. The Light Of The World (3:07)
07. Work (4:12)
08. Loren (3:00)
09. The Anna Fantasia (5:16)
10. This Father’s Love (3:57)
11. Sadie In May (3:16)
12. Ania’s Dream (4:30)
13. Plas Oriel (2:52)
14. A Promise Fulfilled (3:32)
Total Time – 55:53
Gordon Giltrap – Guitars
Paul Ward – Keyboards, Guitar Synths & Orchestrations
Ric Sanders – Violin (track 14)
Record Label: Angel Air Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 20th January 2017