Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Richard Thompson
Henry The Human Fly!

Released 1972 on Island
Reviewed by argyle_heir, 16/05/2004ce

I won’t beat around the bush here- this album is an utter gem. One of the greatest I’ve bought in recent times (and I’ve bought a fair few). Yes, I paid silly money to obtain my CD copy (it’s out of blummin’ print now, as is the case for much of RT’s work) but I honestly don’t care when from beginning to end the songs are so brilliant.

Surprisingly the stunning folkie virtuosity, which was such a major part of his earlier work with Fairport Convention is absent on the whole. Opener “Roll Over Vaughn Williams” is drenched in trippy flanged Stratocaster licks and features a stunningly intricate solo or two but for the best part Richard puts his creaky lyrics to the fore, placing them on an aural bed of sweetly strummed acoustic guitars, accordian, harp and even a brass section on the surreal “Mary & Joseph” (an, ahem, ‘alternative’ look at a day in the life of Jesus’ ma and pa).

The majority of the material on offer takes a short while to take in- particularly the album’s brooding centrepiece “Wheely Down” (a haunting raga-inspired drone song) and closer “Twisted” with it’s deliberately tricky time signature changes and odd lyrics. Repeated listens soon pay off though and before you know it you’re addicted.

In my own experience, the songs I find I’m drawn to again and again are the likes of “Shaky Nancy”, “Painted Ladies” and “The Old Changing Way”. The first two are stark and slow- mournful, minor chord-dominated ballads that sound as weary as the hills but are as beautiful as a smoky autumn afternoon. “The Old Changing Way” is more optimistic- a winsome waltz with some beautiful harp tinkles and a breathtaking series of shifting chords.

Light relief comes in the form of more rocking songs like “The Angels Took My Racehorse Away” (listen out for the lovely backing vocals from RT’s ex-Fairport colleague Sandy Denny and his then wife-to be Linda Peters and some cool accordian malarky), the rousing “Cold Feet” and the jaunty but spooky “Nobody’s Wedding”.

This oddly comforting mixture of ghost-like balladry and pseudo-traditional story telling paved the way for the first Richard & Linda album "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" which has since eclipsed "…Henry… "in terms of both critical acclaim and sales ("…Henry… " has gained notoriety for the fact that it shifted so few copies on its release- it is in fact the worst selling album in the history of Warner Brothers Records!). While the praise upon the former is justified, in my books it seems odd that "...Henry…" has been consigned to an existence in obscurity when it’s just as good (if not better) than its ‘follow up’.

Do yourself a favour and hunt this one down.

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