Duncan Parsons - I'm Here, All Weak

Duncan Parsons – I’m Here, All Weak

I’ve never been a huge fan of compilation albums 😯 which may not be the greatest opening line for this new anthology. I’m Here, All Weak however is one that actually works, drawing attention and highlighting the solo albums of composer, multi-instrumentalist and drummer Duncan Parsons. A name familiar to many as the sticks-man with the John Hackett Band, and for those who have been fortunate enough to see them live, not only a quality player, but also somewhat of a ‘character’ – something that is evident across his six solo albums and is hinted at in the title of this release. The compilation showcases the diversity of Duncan’s writing and performance skills, nimbly crossing numerous genres: progressive, rock, jazz, folk, classical, minimalism, New Wave, experimental, and so on. The actual albums are even more diverse, taking an imaginative and contemporary look at music that stylistically might have emerged some fifty years previously.

Let’s S: Kip to 2014’s C​:​ Ore, where each of the eleven tracks is denoted by a letter from the alphabet (A-K) followed by a colon and a word, to create or imply another, exempli gratia – F: Lower. Selected tracks from C​: ​Ore are the aforementioned F: Lower, which eschews its ten minute predecessor, concentrating on the main song and leaving out the wonderful acoustic guitar intro courtesy of Nick Fletcher. [Edit correction – the acoustic guitar is performed by Duncan]. J: Oi! is closer to the original and features guitar legend Gary Boyle, along with Steve Hackett, Ton Scherpenzeel and more. The album boasts some well known musicians, along with John, Jeremy and Nick from the JHB, however regardless of these luminaries the tracks are chock full of great music and performances: Thomas Chan’s jazzy violin in C​:​ All (which you might want to pop over to Bandcamp to hear) and John Hackett’s flutes and Ben Eckersley’s cello on E: Motion are standout tunes.

Representing Duncan’s solo debut, Abandoned Buildings, we have four tracks. Lavender Rose and Gonville take us down a funky path with some fine bass work, strong arrangements, nifty synth lines and mention here to trumpeter Raul D’Oliveira on Gonville. Wond’ring A’lowed is a delightful, bittersweet, acoustic ditty and in a similar vein Footnote in Your Heart tells of love lost.

We now move forward a decade to last year’s On Earth, As It Is which takes “The Lord’s Prayer as a framework”, exploring “themes of trust, anger, forgiveness, responsibility, temptation…” The original album opens with a twenty three minute epic, which calls upon a whole host of guests, and along with those already credited we have John Helliwell, Dave Bainbridge, Leland Sklar and John Steel – mentioning just a few. For obvious reasons, this compilation doesn’t feature the the opener Heaven, instead, and tempting us in, are ‘radio edits’ of the quirky but wonderfully infectious Lead Us Not and the somewhat lyrically strange and musically quirky This Day. And the word ‘quirky’ offers a key to understanding Duncan Parsons’ music. It’s left field, whimsical and somewhat unorthodox, well written and arranged, expertly performed, more than often mischievous, and something we discover on 2020’s Common Sense Dancing. Furry Leaves, for instance, is Duncan’s take on a ‘popular ditty’ by German composer LvB – I’ll leave the who and the what down to you. The grand piano is eschewed for an electronic version, more suited to the rather jaunty and swaggering jazz/rock romp here, which features, as an added bonus, a blistering solo from Nick Fletcher…

So far I have likely painted a somewhat ‘flippant’ Duncan Parsons, which in turn may give the impression he may not take his music too seriously. Well I can assure you he does, but perhaps doesn’t take himself too seriously? Across all the albums, and wonderfully captured on Common Sense Dancing, is the ‘serious’ musician. Represented here by Long Summer Days, part four of Mellotron Suite, which is just sublime. Equally fascinating is the nigh on thirty minute epic Where Shall We Go. The track is presented as a ‘radio play’ with two walkers discussing “the history of Ordnance Survey maps based around a walk in the Peak District”. Duncan suggests the tone is reminiscent of The Detectorists TV show, although the attention to detail did, at times, draw me to Michael Palin’s excellent ‘The Testing of Eric Olthwaite’ from Ripping Yarns. Where Shall We Go is a delightful pastoral travelogue with musical accompaniment befitting the setting. Again a visit to Duncan’s Bandcamp site is highly recommended…

Two albums remain, Music for Stairlifts (Vol 1) and Music for Stairlifts (Vol 2): (Adapting Silent Films) For the Radio, and both albums look to the more experimental and minimalist side of Duncan Parsons. The instrumentation has been stripped back with only guitar, bass and keyboards used – so NO drums. The chosen track from (Vol 1) is the tongue in cheek titled The Last Mango in Powys, whilst Shuffling Penguins and Embers are selected from (Vol 2). Both these albums struck home fairly quickly, as over the last decade or so I have decidedly taken to the ‘minimalist’ approach to music. All the tracks employ the sparsity of instrumentation, creating space and atmosphere. There’s a hypnotic and cyclical arrangement to the majority of tracks from both albums that pull the listener in. Last, but by no means least, are two new pieces. Enchanting acoustic guitar, jolly synth lines and children’s voices make up the cheery Queenie and Elmo at the Museum, whilst Dr W (pt. iii) takes us down a slow burning, bluesy rock route.

Not sure if my overall view of compilations has changed much, however this particular one has done an admirable job of showcasing the music of Duncan Parsons. A thoroughly congenial precursor for what has turned out to be an interesting voyage of discovery. I’m Here, All Weak stands up in its own right, whilst offering an enjoyable and entertaining glimpse into Duncan Parsons’ musical world. So… if you are in the mood for some cleverly written, catchy and lyrically observant music, then look no further than I’m Here, All Weak.

01. Lavender Rose (4:44)
02. Lead Us Not (Radio Edit) (3:59)
03. Furry Leaves (2:21)
04. Wond’ring A’lowed (2023 Version) (4:04)
05. Shuffling Penguins (4:46)
06. Ladybird (Edit) (5:42)
07. Gonville (2:05)
08. Queenie and Elmo at the Museum (Previously Unreleased) (2:50)
09. Dr W (pt iii) (Previously Unreleased) (3:54)
10. Footnote in Your Heart (Alternative Mix) (3:14)
11. The Last Mango in Powys (4:29)
12. This Day (Radio Edit) (4:21)
13. Long Summer Days (Acoustic Version) (2:54)
14. F: Lower (Song Edit) (3:40)
15. Embers (4:35)
16. J: Oi! (Alternative Mix) (4:42)
17. Take Me By The Hand (5:12)

Total Time – 67:38

Duncan Parsons – Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Drums, Vocals (throughout)
~ With:
Guest Musicians – Way too numerous to list H:Ere

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th October 2023

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