Released in 2017, The Last of England was very special, the opening six pieces taking us through an enchanting pastoral landscape, capturing the romanticism of Vaughan Williams, Field and Elgar, with lush arrangements that both soothed and absorbed. The remaining tracks primarily featured Gordon Giltrap’s unique and instantly recognisable acoustic guitar style. The Last of England still ranks as one of my favourite releases of the last decade, and one that left a desire to hear more collaborative works from this duo.
A bit of a shame then that I completely missed Scattered Chapters when it was released in July last year. Although it would appear I am not alone as there seems little in the way of reviews, by the ‘progressive press’, of this album from Paul Ward and one of England’s national treasures, Gordon Giltrap. In stark contrast to the somewhat overrated Ravens & Lullabies released back in 2013 – but let us not add a sour note to this review…
So, putting the oversight to rights I can unequivocally say that Scattered Chapters is a praiseworthy successor, and in some respects, eclipses The Last of England. Not for one moment would I change any part of The Last of England, however it did feel like an album of two halves. And whilst Scattered Chapters firmly follows in its footsteps, the sequencing of the album and the stronger collaborative nature of the tunes makes for a more cohesive end result.
Much, I suspect, is down to the fact that Scattered Chapters became a multimedia project, coming to fruition during the first lockdown. With all the music written, Gordon came up with the concept of tying the album in with a book and contacted his good friend author and composer Nick Hooper (perhaps best known for his two original scores for the Harry Potter films) who returned with a series of short stories to accompany each of the eighteen tracks. The idea was then broadened, combining the music and stories with various pieces of artwork. Eighteen artists submitted paintings, ceramics, glass art and jewellery reflecting the stories and music. Images of their artwork are reproduced in the book.
The album opens with Starfield, which according to Gordon was written in about 20 minutes on an old Squier Strat which he bought in a carboot sale for £20. For those non-musicians, a Squier Stratocaster® is an entry level guitar series made under licence by Fender®. Musically Starfield sets up the album wonderfully with Gordon’s elegant layers of guitar augmented by Paul Ward’s delicate string arrangement and wispish synths. Stratospheric…
The title track follows. A joyous folk inspired tune with interweaving guitar and whistles (courtesy of Paul Ward’s keyboards). Given the track and the album was written during lockdown it is a testament to Gordon and Paul that during such difficult times such a bright and heart-warming piece emerged. Wonderful, like a welcome breeze on a hot summer’s day. Now at this point, part of me wants to continue extolling the delights of each and every track on this album, and although each track stands up on its own merit, much like its predecessor the overall charm and enjoyment is greater appreciated by listening to the album as a whole.
Scattered Chapters is in many respects a deeply personal album and this shines through on each and every piece. A glance at the track titles eludes to this and to touch on just a few of them: Through Braden’s Door is a heartfelt lament to Gordon’s grandson, following the death of his father, and Gordon and Hillary’s son. Equally touching is Precious which features actress Jenny Hanley’s narration of Hillary Giltrap’s poem of the same name. The longest piece on the album, The Melody Weaver’s Son pays tribute to orchestral arranger Del Newman, whose credits include Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart and Elton John, to mention just a few. He also worked with Gordon on the 1998 Troubadour album.
The album’s guest musicians include Rod Edwards, who undertook the arrangement of the aforementioned Through Braden’s Door. Drummer Ian Mosely, who first appeared with Gordon on the The Peacock Party (1979) appears on Turning Earth, a track which harks back to Gordon Giltrap’s ‘progressive’ albums from the mid to late seventies. Played in 6/8, it’s bright and breezy and full of melodious and lyrical themes. Finally, in my review of The Last of England I made a quip that there was not a single mention of any TV holiday programme theme tunes… Now I have several versions of Heartsong and seeing it on the track listing brought a quizzical smile. What might this latest version bring? Invariably with a nod of approval, this time a Celtic vibe is provided by John Devine’s whistles and uilleann pipes.
Gordon has undertaken numerous collaborations over the years – this latest one with Paul Ward surely must rank very near to the top. The vast majority of the album has been written by Gordon, with a three tracks from Paul. Throughout, Paul has truly grasped the essence of Gordon’s music and together they delivered a stupendous collaborative album. As always, Gordon Giltrap’s elegant and graceful guitar work is a joy to behold, something I have been fortunate enough to enjoy for over half a century. His music has a timeless quality and, much like a fine wine, it has matured with age…
With Scattered Chapters, Gordon Giltrap and Paul Ward have once again produced an album of immense charm and great beauty.
01. Starfield (6:18)
02. Scattered Chapters (2:44)
03. Nordkapp (5:09)
04. One For Billie (3:43)
05. Sharing Days (2:43)
06. A Cottingley Secret (5:04)
07. Through Braden’s Door (2:23)
08. The Constant Friend (4:22)
09. The Kissing Gate (1:44)
10. Requiem (5:09)
11. She Who Gently Smiles (3:14)
12. The Work of Angels (3:28)
13. The Stars Look Down On Linda (4:17)
14. The Wounded Healer (3:19)
15. Turning Earth (4:22)
16. Precious (1:26)
17. The Melody Weaver’s Son (7:04)
18. Heartsong (3:07)
Total Time – 69:36
Gordon Giltrap – Guitars
Paul Ward – Keyboards, Guitar Synthesisers, Orchestration
Rod Edwards – Keyboards (track 7)
John Devine – Pipes & Whistles (tracks 14 & 18)
Ian Mosely – Drums (track 15)
Jenny Hanley – Narration (track 16)
Record Label: Psychotron Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 13th July 2022